Seats are going fast for a first-time opportunity to tour the cable car system on the biggest cable car ever built: Sacramento-Clay “Big 19”, at 34 feet a full seven feet longer than Powell cars, and at 136 years, the oldest operating cable car in the world. And you can ride it on Mason and Hyde Streets, as well as California Street, in a four-hour exclusive charter on November 9, starting at 11 a.m., with lunch included from the famous Buena Vista Cafe at the foot of Hyde Street.
The cable car just reentered service after a 77-year “vacation” and operated on California Street during Muni Heritage Weekend. But this extended charter includes a ride up and down the famed Hyde Street Hill, plus a run out Mason Street, Columbus Avenue, and Taylor Street to Fisherman’s Wharf, as well as the full length of the California line and the connecting trackage on lower Hyde Street, only rarely operated with riders on board.
Best of all, the ticket ($125) is tax deductible, because your ride benefits the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, our nonprofit friends, who will use the proceeds to provide turkeys (delivered by cable car!) to people in need in Chinatown and other communities. This is going to be a hot ticket, with limited ridership to give everyone breathing room. So sign up before it’s too late at this Food Bank page. The great gripman Val Lupiz, who is a lead organizer of the event, will be at the controls of Big 19 for the charter. You don’t want to miss this.
This morning, operators on Muni’s E-Embarcadero and F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar lines started rolling their destination signs past “Fisherman’s Wharf” and stopped at “Pier 39”, the big visitor attraction a block east of what’s traditionally considered the Wharf. And those Wharf destination signs are supposed to stay dark for at least a full year, maybe longer, while the city makes changes to three blocks of Jefferson Street, from Powell to Jones, changes that do NOT include the F-line tracks or overhead wires themselves.
This morning, city officials lauded the project in a ceremony under the Fisherman’s Wharf sign at Jefferson and Taylor Streets. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, confused riders at Beach and Stockton, one of the busiest streetcar stops, struggled to find where to board their F-line cars for Downtown or E-line cars for Caltrain.
Muni had posted confusing signs (a key one already graffitied) at the Beach and Stockton stop. The sign, missed by most intending riders, instructed them to board “across Beach Street”, where the Pier 39 garage and a patch of grass sits. Muni had a couple of young “ambassadors” out there handing out fliers, but they sometimes gave contradictory information about where to go.
We had been told last week that the new Ferry-bound stop would be across Stockton Street on Beach, but there was no signage of any kind there, leaving riders to guess where to stand, and choosing several different locations amid the thick ficus trees, which shielded them from view of the F-line operators. At least we didn’t see any intending passengers passed up while we were there.
The signage needs to improve dramatically and quickly, and we have sent Muni our observations and recommendations about this already.
Meanwhile, on the first day of the new arrangement, a PCC streetcar encountered a track brake problem, backing up at least a half-dozen streetcars behind it because the overhead power had been turned off on the straight track beyond Pier 39, which would have been an easy place to store a disabled streetcar and keep the line moving. Several operators immediately suggested that one block of power on the straight track, between Pier 39 and Powell Street (not in the construction zone) be turned back on for this purpose. Muni management told us they’re considering this.
It remains to be seen how this year-long cutback of F-line service to Pier 39 affects the various businesses at the Wharf. Muni has instituted a shuttle bus to carry F-line riders from Pier 39 to the Jones Street terminal four blocks away, but bus ridership was scant the first morning, with many F-line riders going straight into Pier 39.
The construction taking place is the second phase of a plan to make Jefferson Street, which runs the length of Fisherman’s Wharf, more pedestrian-friendly while discouraging automobile use. The first phase, completed a couple of years ago, widened the north-side sidewalk on Jefferson for two blocks between Jones and Hyde Streets and put in fancy paving that designers said would slow down automobiles. On these two blocks, modern Danish streetlights and poles were installed, and those same modern poles will be added in between the existing streetlights that hold up the F-line overhead wires on the other three blocks. (Note: we initially reported the Danish lights would replace the existing poles on those three blocks but that is incorrect. Sorry.)
While it certainly would have been possible to phase the work so that the F-line could have been back in service before next Memorial Day, that wasn’t done, and the Wharf merchants have apparently acquiesced in this extended construction schedule.
Market Street Railway has offered to help the merchants see what can be done to get the E- and F-line streetcars back sooner, but unless something changes, you’ll see “Pier 39” as the destination of all streetcars heading north on the waterfront for at least a year.
This year’s San Francisco Fleet Week (October 7-14) saw more vintage streetcars participating than ever. It all came together quickly, once SFMTA (Muni) was able to sign up operators for overtime work.
Melbourne Tram 496, celebrating its 90th birthday, ran the E-Embarcadero line for several days, passing its country’s new destroyer HMAS Brisbane, berthed at Pier 17. And while there were no ships from the Swiss Navy in port this year for Fleet Week, “EuroPCC” 737, painted to honor San Francisco’s sister city Zurich, ran the full F-line a couple of days.
We will be working closely with Fleet Week leaders and SFMTA to try to make next year’s event even better, from a streetcar participation perspective. Thanks for this year’s help to Randy Catanach, SFMTA chief of rail maintenance; Craig Raphael of special transit operations, and Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum.
Take a quick ride on Blackpool Boat Tram 233 during San Francisco’s Fleet Week, where you’ll see a slightly newer boat, the US Navy’s first stealth destroyer, USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), and get the sights and sounds of this authentic 1934 streetcar from England on a perfect fall day. You can ride the boat until Sunday afternoon, October 13, at 6 p.m., as part of Muni’s tribute to Fleet Week. And it’s FREE!
UPDATE, FRIDAY MORNING, OCTOBER 11 — The Boat is out today as well, a bonus day! The copy below has been adjusted to reflect this. Thanks to initiative by staff at SFMTA, led by Randy Catanach, chief of rail maintenance, one of Muni’s two 1934 Blackpool, England, open-top Boat Trams will cruise the waterfront from our San Francisco Railway Museum to Pier 39 on Fleet Week Weekend — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 11-13, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.… — Read More