Sunday Sightings

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Quite a lot to see downtown on Memorial Day Sunday. For starters, many of the F-line streetcars were flying new flags for the holiday. These come through the hard work of Joe Hickey, one of our members, who puts them up on the cars. For a number of years, purchase of the flags has come thanks to cash donations from member Dennis Frazier and in-kind donations by member Jim Giraudo. Thanks, guys!
Besides American flags on each car, we try to put the right state or city flag on each PCC (as shown on L.A. Railway car No. 1052 here. Not all the cars have flag holders; that’s another thing we’re working on for Muni’s centennial next year, when we hope to have special flags for all the cars. (If you’d like to donate for that, please feel free.)

Lots of folks downtown for the holiday weekend; great to see the stores crowded, not to mention the streets, sidewalks…and F-line boarding islands. Time to plug our advocacy efforts on Market Street. Specifically, at this boarding island at Fourth and Market, we’d like to see a wider (or relocated) island that can better handle the hordes that try to board the streetcar here, with a ticket machine and proper signage to cut down on the number of people queued up to try to feed their dollar bills into the farebox. The operator of this car was doing a great job of coaching, coming out of his seat to help riders get on board, but when his follower (PCC No. 1062) caught up to him, he finally closed the doors and took off (again, the right thing to do). He was at that one stop more than five minutes and if No. 1062 hadn’t arrived, it would’ve been ten. This is not an uncommon problem, and it’s solvable.

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A couple of blocks away on Powell, another mess. Muni’s parent agency, SFMTA, is diverting all traffic except buses and taxis off lower Stockton Street now so that Central Subway construction can begin. Great, except that much of that diverted traffic then turns onto Powell southbound, just looking for a way to get across Market.
Powell Street was completely jammed with automobiles from Sutter south to Ellis, where autos are forced to turn. They, in turn, were blocking that intersection, holding up cable cars departing the terminal. And cable cars coming south routinely took ten minutes or longer to go the four blocks between Sutter and the terminal. A few no left turn signs onto Powell and signage diverting autos to underused streets, like Mason or Jones, would get both the automobile users and the cable cars to their destinations faster and make one of what we call our “ambassador streets”, lower Powell, much more attractive for pedestrians, many of whom are here to spend their money (including sales taxes).

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San Diego Streetcar Dream Closer to Reality

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We love volunteer-driven efforts. Why not? That’s really how the F-line got started more than a quarter-century ago. Now, after a ton of work, a collaboration between a transit agency and a non-profit group (hey, just like here) is about to begin enhancing another California city’s downtown.
We talked about this two years ago, and just last week, they rolled out their first finished streetcar, No. 529, which as No. 1122, served the J, K, L, M, and N Muni lines for 25 years starting in 1957 (it ran its first 11 years in St. Louis, where it was built). Title to the streetcar was formally transferred from the non-profit to the transit agency on May 26. As early as mid-July, it will become the first PCC to operate in San Diego since 1949 (its number was chosen to extend the sequence of the original PCCs, which topped out at No. 528).
Initial operation will be weekends and holidays only on a clockwise circulator line around downtown San Diego, linking Petco Park (the Padres’ home) the convention center, Gaslamp Quarter, waterfront, the commuter/Amtrak train depot, and the main shopping districts. It will use the existing “San Diego Trolley” (actually light rail) tracks and overhead (which explains the ghastly pantograph on the roof of No. 529). Much credit belongs to San Diego Vintage Trolley, Inc., headed by Harry Mathis.
The tireless volunteer efforts of Harry, project manager Dave Slater, and their volunteer team (which includes several Market Street Railway members) have earned much needed political support, including a local city council member, Nick Gloria, who represents the North Park district on the far side of Balboa Park from the Silver Line. That neighborhood was once served by PCCs running from downtown through Balboa Park, and the council member would like to see history repeat it himself. He recently posted photos of the renovated PCC to his Facebook page.

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No. 529 reproduces the message carried on San Diego’s original PCCs, promoting the streetcar as a way to reach Balboa Park and the zoo. Boosters hope this nostalgia becomes fact in a few years with a streetcar extension through the park. (Muni’s homage to San Diego, PCC No. 1078, doesn’t carry the Balboa Park message because we have a park of that name of our own, but the F-line doesn’t serve it, except on trips to and from the carbarn.)

To make the line really useful, they need more streetcars, and Mathis and company know it. They have two more ex-Muni 1100 class cars (all of which were purchased from a collector in South Lake Tahoe) and three other PCCs from other venues that are restorable. They’re hoping that putting No. 529 into service will spur fundraising for additional restorations.
By the way, just as they’ve taken ex-Muni streetcars and put them into San Diego livery for you, so we have honored San Diego by restoring a streetcar that spent its earlier life in different cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul and Newark, NJ). No. 1078 is now getting rewired but will be back on the F-line soon. We did learn something from the San Diego folks, by the way. The roof is actually supposed to be a rusty red instead of the brown we used. We’ll see if we can tweak that when No. 1078 needs repainting.

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Reenvisioning Market Street


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Market Street near Second, 1930s

Those catching up on their reading over this Memorial Day weekend should take a look at this SF Streetsblog post about Market Street’s future. The city has been planning to repave our main stem in 2015, but the project has grown into a comprehensive reenvisioning of what a main street means to a city in the 21st century.
The reduction of automobile traffic on Market in the past year or so has greatly stimulated more bicycle use; provision of safer-feeling bike lanes on some blocks has accelerated that trend. Accordingly, our friends at the Bicycle Coalition are deeply involved in the planning effort for the “new” Market Street.
We at Market Street Railway want to spur a similar level of advocacy and involvement behind improving conditions for transit on Market, specifically the F-line. Streetcars are, after all, not only a traditional part of Market (rail transit on Market goes back to 1860!) but also pulse inside that artery. The steel ribbons of track run continuously from Castro to the Ferry Building, figuratively tying the street together its entire length. And more than that, providing truly attractive transit throughout the corridor.

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Market and Powell today, Peter Ehrlich photo.

We believe the F-line is even more essential to Market’s future than it is to its present. Streetcars extend the walkable range for pedestrians. As an example, frequent F-line service would make it possible for Financial District workers to patronize lunch spots in mid-Market, when it develops. Similarly, residents in such forthcoming developments as the 2,000 unit Trinity property at Eighth and Market can pop up to Upper Market/Castro for convenient shopping as well as down toward Union Square, distances too far (or too lengthy in terms of time) for many to walk. (Before you say it, allow me. Yes, buses can provide the same link, but the evidence is clear that many riders prefer rail, and we’re talking about discretionary trips here.)
Two of our board members, Nick Figone and Todd Lappin, are participating in the public planning process for Market Street, along with MSR member Jeremy Whiteman. We hope everyone interested in the role streetcars play in keeping Market Street vital will make their voices heard, whether they’re MSR members or not (though we’d love you to join our organization of course).
We’re focused on these issues, for starters:
– More attractive streetcar boarding islands, enlarged where possible
– Ticket machines at the busiest stops, combined with Proof of Payment (POP) operation and refined signal timing to reduce the time F-line streetcars spend at stops.
– Better signage to make the streetcars easier to use for non-regular riders
– Additional controls on automobile traffic on Market where such actions would make transit and bicycles move more quickly and safely.
On a personal note, I lived through the last redesign of Market Street, following BART construction in the late 1960s. My family ran a delicatessen on Market at Grant Avenue and we, along with the other businesses, were promised a grand boulevard without those nasty old streetcars. Hah! Fooled them! Yep, the planners wanted almost all the transit off Market (except diesel shuttle buses). Now they’ve learned that attractive transit contributes to the street’s vitality, rather than sapping it. Trouble is, the redesign didn’t account for the retention of transit boarding islands in the center lane, nor for the rise of bicycling as a means of commuting. So this is our chance to get it right.
This project is just getting underway so it’s a great time to get involved. You can find information on how to participate here.

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Rollin’ on the River

The Mississippi River continues to burst its banks along much of its southern course, but here in Memphis, it’s down a bit from its peak. The spot all the news cameras focused on, the foot of Beale Street, is still a pond, but that should be dry within a day. All the while, the city’s Riverfront streetcar line, which uses ex-Melbourne W2 class trams (though not in their authentic livery like Muni’s No. 496), rolls on.
Even at “high tide,” the Riverfront line’s tracks were several feet above the lapping waters, but it was nervous time for awhile. Much of that water on the right is usually land! This stop, Union Street, is the low spot on the Riverfront line. The line climbs the hill from here and crosses Beale, two blocks south, on a trestle. They call Memphis “Bluff City,” because the downtown sits on high ground overlooking the river, and the Riverfront line, about a half-mile from here, runs directly in front of a new group of exceptional (and very expensive by Memphis standards) homes with commanding river views.

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Just a Few Seats Left for Trolley Tour May 22

We’ve still got a handful seats left for our exclusive trolley tour on Sunday, May 22 from 1-3 p.m. You’ll get a private ride on the F-line with knowledgeable guides from San Francisco City Guides and Market Street Railway describing the history of sites along the way. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon. C’mon along! Click here to learn more and sign up while there’s still space. ***UPDATE MAY 17: The tour is now sold out! We’ll let… — Read More

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