A Great Book You’ll Want to Own – or Give!

We are really proud to announce the arrival of a wonderful book that is both a labor of love and a product of passion for our city’s transit system. It will make a great gift for anyone who loves San Francisco history or urban transit, or who would just get a kick of seeing how our town used to look.

San Francisco’s Municipal Railway: Muni, chronicles the first century of America’s first big city publicly owned transit system with a stunning array of photographs, many never before published, from a variety of sources.
The commentary, expressed largely through incisive photo captions, is first rate, as you would expect given the combined expertise of the authors: Market Street Railway board member Walt Vielbaum; Grant Ute, founder of San Francisco Railway Archives; historian Bob Townley; the late Philip Hoffman, Market Street Railway historian and board member; and the late Cameron Beach, SFMTA board member and former Market Street Railway vice president. The passing of Cam and Phil earlier this year robbed our city of enormous knowledge. This book, whose manuscript they completed just before they died, is both a tribute to them, and part of their considerable legacy to San Francisco.
The authors are donating all their proceeds to Market Street Railway in support of our historic preservation efforts. If you buy the book at our online store or at our San Francisco Railway Museum, we will receive a much higher net amount from your purchase than if you buy it elsewhere. This is an Arcadia book, but it is in a larger format and of higher quality than their standard “Images of America” series.
You’ll have hours of enjoyable discovery with this 144-page book, you’ll be helping Market Street Railway, and you’ll be paying tribute to the dedicated work of the authors.

And don’t forget it for friends and family on your holiday list!

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Hats Off to a Fabulous Photo Website

For years, we’ve used the photo website of the San Francisco History Room in the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) and found some great photos we’ve used in displays at our San Francisco Railway Museum and in our member newsletter, *Inside Track* (always with permission, of course).
It’s a good site for the technology available at that time, but now comes a labor of love by two San Franciscans that makes the SFPL’s historic photo collection much more useful.


A sample photo picked off the OldSF.org website: a Muni streetcar turning onto Geary from Market Street, 1914 or so. SF Public Library Photo.

Dan Vanderkam and Raven Keller put together a fabulous site called Old SF. It uses geotags (they’ve applied almost 13,000 to the library’s photos so far) to plot the location of the photos on a Google map. You can select the time period you want to visit (any duration between 1850 and 2000!) and different sized red dots show you how many photos were taken in a specific location. Of course, you can zoom in and out on the map to navigate across the city. Clicking on a dot brings up all the thumbnails from a location; clicking on any thumbnail brings up a larger photo.
The caveat here is that the size of all photos is limited by design. They’re not large enough for most uses (but tolerable on a website if you don’t expect a lot of detail). If you really want a photo, though, you just click on the Library link in the lower right and you’re taken directly to the SFPL website where you can order a full-size scan or print of the image.
Our fedoras are off to Dan and Raven for this great service to San Francisco history. We hope there will be a way on one of these sites, though, to allow “crowdsourcing” to get dates right.
For example, the photo at Geary and Market illustrating this post, which we grabbed at random from the map, is dated “August 1911” on the SFPL site but the presence of that Muni streetcar at that spot makes that impossible, since Muni didn’t begin operation until December 28, 1912, the line wasn’t extended onto Market until June 25, 1913, and that class of streetcar didn’t begin appearing on Muni tracks until 1914.
If the SFPL offered a comment box on each photo, they might get a lot of valuable information, just as they do now from several of our members who review and label their transit photos the old fashioned way: at tables in the History Room itself!
But no grousing intended. This is a big step forward. If you’re a history buff, check out oldsf.org, but warning: you’ll be there awhile!

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Bus Museum Open House on Sunday

While we tend to talk most about streetcars and cable cars at Market Street Railway (because they’re operated daily by Muni), we’re interested in historic transit of all kinds, including buses.
Our volunteers have done restoration work on both vintage trolley buses (including one of Muni’s first ten, built in 1941) and motor buses (including one of the gasoline buses Muni bought in 1947 for its aborted attempt to kill off the Powell Street cable cars). We have advocated with Muni that they operate these rubber-tired historic vehicles on occasion, as they used to do with one of the trolley buses. We haven’t been successful recently, but we’ve proposed it again as part of Muni’s centennial activities in 2012 and 2013.

Niles Canyon Line bus.jpg

Pacific Bus Museum’s vintage GM "Old Look" coach stands sentinel at Grace Cathedral earlier this year during the memorial service for SFMTA Director (and former MSR vice president) Cam Beach. The bus is painted in our namesake’s "zip stripe" livery, but lettered for "Niles Canyon Lines," the route it runs carrying people to the rail museum there.

Meantime, our friends across the Bay at the Pacific Bus Museum stay busy in their laudable efforts to preserve rubber-tired transit history. They’re holding an open house this Sunday, August 28, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at their facility, 37974 Shinn Street, in Fremont. They’re including a hamburger/hot dog barbecue, display of their buses, and a flea market. Admission (a donation to the museum) is $5 for adults, $2 for kids 12 and under.
Sounds like a fun outing for any bus fan.

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How NOT To Make Friends For your Transit Product

There’s an outfit down in Silicon Valley — SMT Rail — that thinks they have a better idea for mass rail transit. But the way they’re marketing it isn’t going to make friends in San Francisco at least.

Their promotional video, which our friends on Muni Diaries found on YouTube, is so ludicrous, it’s hard to imagine anyone taking them seriously. Their idea is an updated, tech-rich version of a concept more than a century old: an upside-down monorail with the cars suspended from the rail (rather than riding on top as at Disneyland).
The giant faux pas is not the system itself (about which, more below). It’s where they chose to “demonstrate” it in their video: the F-line right-of-way along The Embarcadero. The surface level streetcars have been wiped out, replaced by this erector-set of towers and beams. At 2:52 in the video, you see a tangle of them about 30 feet off the ground going in all directions in front of the Ferry Building! Earth to SMT: we tried elevating transit on the waterfront once. It was called the Embarcadero Freeway. And it was loathed (except by some who used it as a handy off ramp, aesthetics and urban liveability be damned). And we tore it down.
To make their self-inflicted political wounds worse, the destination signs they show in the stations overwhelmingly show “Stockton Street.” Does that mean they’re aiming to supplant the Central Subway, too, with an aerial structure through the heart of Chinatown? (And it gets through the Stockton Tunnel how?)
Fact is, this kind of “pod transit,” where you summon a small vehicle that takes a few people to a specific destination, has been dreamed of for a long time. And small vehicle, automated aerial “people movers” (with less technology) have demonstrated their reliability and practicality at many airports, including SFO. (They’re building a pretty long one between BART and the Oakland Airport right now.)
IF the public would tolerate aerial structures in cities, that concept might indeed be effective in more places, IF the capital and maintenance cost of myriad pods (needed to move volumes like the F-line currently generates) were affordable. But it doesn’t seem like very savvy marketing to show the erector-set and pods replacing streetcars that Muni’s own Transit Effectiveness Program called “beloved.” And certainly not if they block views that so many people fought so hard to reclaim along our waterfront (even more beloved).
But hey, this same video shows the same little pods zipping across empty desert as the narrator intones, “Imagine San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than two hours” — 30 percent faster than the High Speed Rail project promises! And completely powered by thin-film solar panels on the rail — an unprecedented accomplishment. AND you can take your car in the pod too!
Yes. Well. Maybe the F-line is safe for a little while after all. 🙂
Oh, and on the subject of vehicles blocking views (yachts instead of pods), read John King’s story in today’s Chronicle. Wonder how many people knew that we could end up with a permanent yacht harbor replacing the spectacular open-water views on the E-line segment between Mission and Harrison? We didn’t.

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A Brighter “Bumblebee”

F-line PCC streetcar No. 1057, painted in tribute to Cincinnati, is known to many of its fans as “The Bumblebee” because of its eye-popping yellow paint and stripes (admittedly dark green instead of a bee’s black). Well, now it’s even more eye-popping following a renovation by Muni’s maintenance team, including an entirely new roof, body repairs, and a complete repainting. Thanks to Jeremy Whiteman for this great photo! The Muni maintenance team who restored and repainted Cincinnati PCC No. 1057.… — Read More

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Congratulations, San Diego!

This week, they publicly unveiled San Diego’s new PCC streetcar. Here’s a video clip.   On August 27, the streetcar will start weekend service on a clockwise loop called the Silver Line around downtown, using the San Diego Trolley (light rail) tracks (that’s why it has to have that pantograph). The streetcar itself, No. 529, is an ex-Muni car, bought secondhand from St. Louis Public Service in 1957 and retired in 1982. (And yes, you sharp-eared ones, the TV reporter… — Read More

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Welcome, Ed Reiskin!

Market Street Railway is delighted to join many others in welcoming Ed Reiskin as Executive Director/CEO of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The Chronicle’s Rachel Gordon has an overview today of what he faces in his new job. We’re pleased that he has already asked to meet with our leadership and learn more about our support activities for the F-line streetcars and cable cars, and we’ll be doing that in the next few weeks. We agree with the Chronicle… — Read More

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The 5 Returns to its Historic Route

As our friends at SF Streetsblog reported today, the SFMTA has restored Muni’s 5-Fulton bus line to two way operation on McAllister Street inbound from Hyde to Market. Bravo. 5-line streetcar inbound on McAllister at Larkin, 1941. It will go straight to Market, unlike the successor trolley buses that had to detour down Hyde for decades. By the way, Market Street Railway volunteers are restoring the twin of this streetcar. That car, No. 798, is the only one of 250… — Read More

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Calling Melbourne. Come in, Melbourne!

Was blind, but now I see. The one problem with the otherwise wonderful NextMuni system on the F-line is that the vintage car fleet wasn’t wired for it. When you looked at the live F-line map we helped NextMuni build, it only showed those streetcars with GPS units mounted onboard, which until recently included only the PCC and Milan cars. For people waiting at a stop, this invisibility meant that the shelter display might say that the next car was… — Read More

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