Do We Want Fewer F-Line Stops on Market?

As we’ve mentioned, Market Street Railway is one of the many stakeholders involved in the Better Market Street Project. The project was triggered by the need to physically repave our main street, but has grown into a wide-ranging re-envisioning of Market, with a process that includes four city agencies, a dozen consultant companies, and numerous interest groups (including us, the Bicycle Coalition, pedestrian advocates, business groups and more).
The city team leading the effort presented a status report to the SFMTA Board of Directors the other day. Stories about it appeared in both the Chronicle/SF Gate and SF Streetsblog. Both, however, missed what we think is the most important story for transit riders: possible elimination (or “consolidation”) of stops on Market between Octavia Boulevard and Steuart Street, the boundaries of the project.

Currently, there are 12 island stops in each direction in that stretch for the F-line streetcars. The presentation slide above (click to enlarge it) shows two options for reducing the number of island stops. (A third option is to leave the stops just as they are.) The “enhanced” option would remove three of the 12 stops (a reduction of 25%). The “rapid” option would cut the number of F-line stops in half, leaving just six, mostly aligned with the BART-Muni Metro stations, and perhaps relocated from street corners to mid-block. (Don’t take this slide too literally. For example, it shows no island stops between Third and Drumm Streets, leaving both the Montgomery BART Station and the new Transbay Terminal unserved — inconceivable that’s not a mistake.)
This concept was presented to us a couple of weeks ago by Muni staff. As they explained it then, the idea would be to speed up downtown service on the most heavily-used surface routes, including the F-line and two or three arterial bus routes (possibilities include the 9-San Bruno and the 71-Haight-Noreiga), in effect making them Limiteds through downtown. Other Muni lines would run in the curb lane with more frequent stops and would in effect serves as Locals.
As part of the transformation, the remaining islands would be made longer and, where possible, wider, eliminating the few that are not currently ADA accessible. Prepayment could be instituted, as at T-line stops, and traffic signals could give priority to the track lane Muni vehicles. You can ([view or download the entire presentation here]:(http://www.sfmta.com/cms/cmta/documents/6-19-12item13bettermarketst.pdf))
This project does not affect stop spacing on the rest of the F-line. On upper Market, the F is the only surface line, the Metro stations are farther apart than they are downtown, and the street grades make walking greater distances less comfortable for many. So F-line stops every block seem appropriate to us there. We’re intrigued, though, with the concept of reducing the number of stops along that part of Market where there are several lines serving the curb lane to carry riders going only a block or two. It makes some sense to focus on speeding up lines that people tend to ride a long distance, including the F. But there are tradeoffs involved, as noted in the project’s own Design Drivers report (p. 13): “…recognize that best practice evidence cautions against long stop spacing for local stop services in a downtown environment.”


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One of the busiest F-line stops, Wharf-bound at Fourth and Market, is too narrow to allow an ADA ramp, thus denying access to disabled people. That’s because the boarding island, which predated ADA and is thus "grandfathered," sits parallel to a BART/Metro escalator entrance, which narrows the street. Moving some downtown F-line stops to mid-block would allow wider islands with ADA access and faster boarding for all riders, while leaving more space for other street users by removing the current constrained islands.

While the actual work on Market would not begin until at least 2016, it’s very important that F-line riders and supporters take the time to study the options and make their views known now…both to us, through comments on this post, and directly to the city team. They will be holding two public workshops and a webinar in mid-July. Details here.
Experience with these kinds of projects shows that those who are at the table early can have the greatest influence. This is your chance to make your voice heard on how the F-line will operate through downtown for decades to come. Take advantage of it!
For our part, we will be listening carefully to feedback from our members, whose support makes our advocacy possible, so if you’re already one, either post your comment below or send us an email. If you’re not, we invite you to join Market Street Railway.
We’ll share our position on future F-line downtown stop spacing with you here when we have formulated it. In the Better Market Street Project, we are fully supportive of better bicycle and pedestrian environments on Market (yes, at the expense of further reductions — though not necessarily elimination — of automobile traffic). However, our primary focus, as you’d expect, is on improving the rider experience and efficiency on the Muni lines that serve Market, most especially, of course, the F-line.

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“Seattle’s Classic Waterfront Streetcars Stuck at Dead End”

The headline above adorns a sobering story in the Seattle Times about the dangers of taking streetcars for granted. It’s not about the new, modern South Lake Union line, which has already spurred a second line under construction and a plan for several more lines (on top of the newish light rail system).
It’s about the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line, opened in 1982 through the relentless efforts of its namesake, a long-time Seattle City Council member who died in 2004. George Benson believed the city’s dowdy waterfront would be helped by attractive public transportation. His personal advocacy made it happen. Five ex-Melbourne W2 class trams built between 1925 and 1930 (and identical to Muni’s No. 496) tooled along between the International District and central Seattle, mostly running alongside the surface street known as Alaskan Way, a rough equivalent of The Embarcadero in San Francisco.


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Ex-Melbourne tram No. 605 on the Seattle Waterfront Streetcar line before it was shut down in 2007.

Beside the waterfront streetcar line, there’s another similarity to San Francisco: a double-deck freeway obscuring that waterfront boulevard and holding back its renaissance. After pitched political battles that went on for decades, Seattle is finally tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct because it’s seismically unsafe. (Cue Yogi Berra: “Deja vu all over again.”)
The forthcoming demolition of the viaduct would probably have required a temporary shutdown of the waterfront streetcar, if it hadn’t already been “temporarily” shut down five years ago when its modest maintenance barn was ripped down for an outdoor sculpture garden and Metro — Seattle’s transit agency — kept finding excuses not to build a temporary replacement maintenance facility. (As we told Metro at the time, the cheap and simple facility created at Duboce and Market for the Trolley Festivals of the 1980s worked just fine for five years.)
The New York firm tasked with designing the reborn Alaskan Way (the freeway traffic is going into a tunnel) said last year they’d prefer pedicabs (those tourist contraptions you see on The Embarcadero) to vintage streetcars as part of the plan, but the City of Seattle now says streetcars may possibly fit into that new streetscape after all. But maybe modern ones, as on the other planned Seattle lines, instead of the Melbourne trams.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Times published an update saying that Metro is now listening to offers for its five ex-Melbourne trams, and that interests from St. Louis were out last week to kick the tires and may make an offer.
If there is a lesson here, we think it’s this: you cannot take what you have for granted. That’s especially true of projects driven to initial success by a single champion or a small group, no matter how much power they might have had at the time. You have to build an enduring constituency for such projects, both bottom-up (from merchants and neighborhood groups that benefit) and top-down (from elected officials, transit board members, etc.) The Seattle experience shows what can happen otherwise.
By the way, we (Market Street Railway) did consider the possibility of trying to acquire the Seattle trams awhile back, but believed Seattle supporters of George Benson’s dream should have every chance to resurrect the service there.
For the record, the five Melbourne trams are said to be in good condition, with the doors on one side sealed off (meaning they would have to operate as single-end cars in San Francisco or be restored to their original configuration. With open-platform center entrances, they require two operators, a significant cost consideration. And they would require significant electrical work to be put into service. (Similar work on Muni’s second Melbourne tram, No. 916, being done as the stretched-thin maintenance team has time, started more than two years ago, and is still not done.)
MSR continues to believe — and advocate — that the highest priority should be completing restoration of streetcars Muni already has. We specifically would like to see four streetcars in Muni’s possession restored that are double-ended and can be operated by a single-person crew: 1924 Market Street Railway Company home-built streetcar No. 798, 1923 New Orleans “Streetcar Named Desire” No. 913, 1926 Johnstown, Pennsylvania streetcar No. 351, and 1927 Osaka, Japan tram No. 151.
We really depend on members and donors to help us achieve goals like this. If you’d like to help us achieve our goals by volunteering, you can do that too. We hope you’ll support us.
Oh, and if you’d like to get our future posts delivered direct to your email inbox, click here.

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More Business for the F-line

There has been a lot of talk about the coming explosion of residential housing on mid-Market (several thousand units either under construction or firmly committed between Seventh and Van Ness). We haven’t heard as much about the expansion of housing on upper Market, but Andrew S. Ross has a nice overview on sfgate.com.


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Two new residential units totaling 200 units will be served by the F-line stop at Duboce and Market, from which this shot was snapped. Another 113 units are coming to Market and Octavia, just two blocks east.

The largest three developments, totaling 310 units, are sited in the long stretch between the Van Ness and Church Muni Metro stations, meaning the F-line will serve as their Muni line of choice. While the popular conception of the F-line is of jam-packed streetcars, there’s currently available capacity almost all the time from Castro to Powell Street at least. What happens when this combination of upper Market and mid-Market housing comes on line, though, remains to be seen.
As we’ve mentioned before, we are participating in the Better Market Street Project, which covers the section of our main street from Octavia to the Ferry Building. We’ll be pushing for changes that help all Muni service, including the F-line, operate more efficiently, to carry residents along all of Market to their destinations more quickly and safely.

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Mid-Market Madness, Continued

No sooner did we post a story about a man, apparently curled up on a boarding island on mid-Market rolling under an F-Market & Wharves streetcar, did we see this post from SFist pop up, showing a disturbed woman attacking an F-line streetcar (No. 1079) at Fifth and Market, and then herself being attacked viciously by another woman. Here’s one of the two eyewitness cellphone videos that appears on the SFist post.

Thank goodness for the presence of mind of the streetcar operator, who kept the car stopped and only left the controls to chase off the jerk who took advantage of the situation to casually tag the car’s windshield. It’s all on the video.
As we mentioned in our last post, Market Street Railway is committed to working with SFMTA to improve safety for F-line streetcars, operators, and passengers along the line, especially in mid-Market. We’re also committed to helping the Mayor’s economic revitalization plans for the area by showcasing the F-line streetcars as an efficient, attractive transit connection to attractions in both directions.
But as anyone knows who has tried to walk mid-Market Street in broad daylight, let alone nighttime, scenes like this have to become less common for the area to reach the goals the mayor has set for it.
We admit it: we were too PC (politically correct) in our earlier post, where we lumped in folks like this with those immersed in their own cellphone or earbud worlds as “people who are disoriented or distracted in one way or another.” The cellphone and earbud crowd can indeed endanger themselves, and vehicles, by obliviously stepping into traffic when they shouldn’t, but that’s nothing compared to people who seemingly have no idea where they are or what they’re doing. And in this video, we have two such, fighting each other, with a jerk tagger on top of it. All in broad daylight on Market Street.
Seeing this video reminded me of a personal experience a few weeks ago that I had chosen to ignore: walking to a meeting at SFMTA headquarters and being verbally threatened out of nowhere by a man at Tenth and Market who followed me up the street screaming the most personal kinds of profanities and waving his fists. Again, not an uncommon sight on mid-Market.
If this sort of thing isn’t somehow addressed, the current realities of mid-Market may be its future realities, no matter how much effort property owners and the Mayor’s Office make.

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Muni Maintenance Woes Make Headlines

SF Weekly is out with a comprehensive story on problems with Muni maintenance. The piece is written by Joe Eskanazi, who has reported incisive stories about Muni before, including this 2010 story with Greg Dewar. The story focuses on archaic practices, especially in the procurement and installation of parts. It’s very much worth reading, and it jibes pretty closely with what we have observed over the years. It may seem shocking to some that Muni operations will apply pressure to… — Read More

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New Video Highlights First Muni PCC Era

We’re carrying a new video at our San Francisco Railway Museum that will be of interest to both San Franciscans and railfans. Cover art from the DVD box for "Municipal Railway Vintage Scrapbook". Click to enlarge. The DVD offers 90 minutes of motion picture footage chronicling Muni in the post World War II period, through the early 1980s. The video includes route maps of the original Muni lines, with footage from most of them. Early footage features the “Iron Monsters”… — Read More

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Accident Highlights Market Street Challenges

A man was trapped under an F-line streetcar (PCC No. 1074) on Friday, as reported by ABC7 News as it happened: SFGate.com reported that after being freed by firefighters, the man’s injuries were fortunately found to be minor. The article continues, “The man, who was about 50 years old, may have been trying to get into the back door when the trolley pulled away from the station, said Paul Rose, a transit spokesman. But Sierra Burns, 25, said she saw… — Read More

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Remembering Art Michel, 1927-2012

Art Michel was remembered at a funeral service yesterday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in San Francisco. Art passed away on May 28. Today would have been his 85th birthday. Art was past president of Market Street Railway, as well as serving as our secretary for several years and as a board member for many years. In honor of his service, we named him Director Emeritus when he retired from our board, the only board member to be thus honored.… — Read More

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Big Red Cars — Beyond Disney

The anticipation is building for the unveiling of the upgraded Disney’s California Adventure theme park in Anaheim on June 15 (three months late). We talked about the replicas of the legendary Pacific Electric Big Red Cars that will run down the main drag of the park. Now that it looks like the opening is actually happening, here’s the second part of that story we promised. If you’re headed to Southern California, whether visiting Disney or not, consider taking the time… — Read More

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What Does “On Time” Mean For the F-line?

The online Bay Citizen, which continues to undertake the kind of journalism that a good daily newspaper should, is out with a detailed report on Muni’s on-time performance, line by line. Not surprisingly, the F-line doesn’t measure up well. The article shows that the F-line has the fifth worst on-time record in Muni, behind three LRV lines (the L, M, and K/T) and, the worst of all, the 76-Marin Headlands weekend recreational route. (The three cable car lines don’t appear… — Read More

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