Boat Tram Marks Market Street’s New Era

Mayor London Breed (red suit) disembarking from the Boat Tram at Fourth Street after leading the celebration of a car-free Market Street.

Can a tram be entrancing? Sure seemed that way yesterday at the ceremony at the foot of Market Street celebrating the elimination of private automobiles on San Francisco’s main thoroughfare.

After an opening serenade by eight-time cable car bell ringing champ Byron Cobb and a round of speeches that included Mayor London Breed, SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, and several mobility advocates (from Walk SF, the Bicycle Coalition and MSR’s Rick Laubscher), the celebrants boarded the vehicle SFMTA chose to symbolize the new era of Market Street. Not 1912 Car 1, Muni’s flagship streetcar. Not a PCC, the stalwart streetcar of the F-line. But the streetcar that makes everyone smile, Car 228, one of Muni’s two 1934 open-top “Boat Trams” from Blackpool, England.

(L-R) SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, Mayor London Breed, and Boat “Captain” Angel Carvajal pose onboard during a stop.

Might seem like a detail, but it’s important. New SFMTA boss Tumlin said again at the event how much he loves the Boat Trams. He has already said publicly that he hopes to see them operate even more this coming summer than the two-day-a-week operation of last summer.

Then there’s the Mayor. She was guest of honor at our San Francisco Railway Museum ahead of last year’s Muni Heritage Weekend (August 22-23 this year, by the way). We were celebrating the return to the Sacramento-Clay cable car “Big 19”, which she rode — and continued to ride, beyond the pre-arranged place she was to get off. “Just one more block,” she said then.

“Ride with us up to the 30 stop”. Mayor Breed and new friends before boarding the Boat.

This year, same thing. Just before the Boat Tram left the “dock” on Steuart Street, she encountered a group of senior citizens looking on in curiosity. She asked where they were headed; they said ‘Chinatown’, and she responded, “Hop on. We’ll let you off where the 30 bus crosses.” (Love a mayor who knows the routes.) The mayor herself was supposed to get off at Second Street, and the police motorcycles had stopped for that. But the mayor motioned them onward, riding two more blocks to Fourth Street.

Maybe that’s because she was being given impromptu instruction on operating the Boat by ace Muni motorman Angel Carvajal. At the parade beginning, she was invited to step on the air whistle to start the show, and she proceeded to stand next to Angel headed up Market. He told her that Mayors Feinstein and Lee had operated vintage streetcars in the past and asked if she would like to try. She did, with gusto, letting Angel handle the controller while she operated the brake valve, quite smoothly.

Smiles for Miles: Rookie Operator and Instructor Angel Carvajal.

Bottom line: like a lot of “immigrants” over the past century and a half, the Boat Trams have found a lasting home here and are indisputably San Franciscan now. We at Market Street Railway are very proud that we brought both of them to San Francisco as gifts to Muni, and even prouder that they’ve become so beloved, not only by riders, but by SFMTA and city officials as well.

Gradually, we’re seeing more international streetcars making regular appearances on the E- and F-lines. Melbourne 496 (1929) was out in regular E-line service yesterday, while Brussels/Zurich “EuroPCC” 737 (1951) was on the F-line all day. And the boat itself starting picking up regular passengers after the mayor disembarked (at the direction of SFMTA transit chief Julie Kirschbaum), and then operated the rest of the day in regular service.

We do expect regular operation of the Boats this coming summer. We’ll keep you updated on the details. We’ll also be updating you on how car-free Market Street is working out, particularly for the F-line. Here’s a thoughtful piece on the possible challenges from the Chronicle’s urban design critic, John King.

Thanks to Phillip Pierce, Erica Kato, and all the others at SFMTA who make this celebration run as smoothly as, well, the Boat did.

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Boat Tram to Help Celebrate Car-free Market, Jan. 29

At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, January 29, Market Street will wave good bye to private automobiles from 10th Street to the Ferry. The boat tram will help.

Boat Tram 228 on Market Street with riders in costume celebrating famous San Franciscans in history, for the Centennial of San Francisco Streetcars parade in 1992. MSR Archive.

To symbolize the continuation of rail transit on Market (which began in 1860!), Muni has chosen one of its wildly popular 1934 open-top streetcars from Blackpool, England (both of which came to San Francisco thanks to Market Street Railway). The boat will join a parade up Market from Embarcadero Plaza at Market and Steuart Streets following speeches and general hoopla that starts at 11 a.m. We’re told that after the ceremonial ride, the boat will provide public shuttle service all afternoon on The Embarcadero between our museum and Pier 39. Rides will be free, so come on down. (In the event of rain, we’re told 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 will substitute for the Boat. Either way, it’s a nice nod by Muni to its international streetcar fleet.)

Private autos have driven freely on Market since, well, private autos existed. Even in the days of four streetcar tracks, automobiles were free to drive along the street, with the exception of the period of BART construction during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when they were restricted.

To see how crazy it was in early automobile days, click below. (You can buy this video at our museum or online store):

As bicycle and pedestrian traffic grew on Market in the past decade, the City implemented some rules to turn eastbound private autos off Market east of Van Ness. The changes that go into effect on Wednesday are permanent, and represent the initial implementation of the Better Market Street Project which will in the coming decade remake the city’s main drag with protected bicycle lanes, the ban of all vehicles except Muni streetcars and buses from the track lane along Market east of Gough, and other changes that should result in faster, more reliable F-line service, along with better safety for all users of Market Street, We’ll be talking more about this in the next issue of our member magazine, Inside Track.

Come on down Wednesday morning (Jan. 29) at 11 a.m. and bid farewell to private automobiles on Market!

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Future Meets Past in Muni Art

A few days ago, we were honored to participate in awarding prizes to the winners of this year’s Muni Art Program, organized by San Francisco Beautiful, whose write-up notes, “The 2020 Muni Art Project theme, ‘Hidden Gems of San Francisco’ is the fifth year that the The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), San Francisco Beautiful and The Poetry Society of America (sponsors of Poetry in Motion®) have collaborated to bring art and poetry to Muni commuters.”

As it turns out, one of the “hidden gems of San Francisco” is actually in Colma, the city of cemeteries just to the south. The art program involves ad-sized cards mounted in 100 Muni buses (we have asked that they be put in the historic streetcars as well). Each card includes a poem, which is illustrated by an artist reacting to the poetry.

One of the art cards is a collaboration between poet Tess Taylor and artist Vanessa Farjado, and involves time travel, both forward and back.

TRAIN THROUGH COLMA

But will anyone teach
the new intelligence to miss the apricot trees
that bloomed each spring along these tracks?
Or the way afternoons
blazed with creosote & ponderosa? Spring evenings flare
with orange pixels
in the bay-scented valley— where in the algorithm
will they account for
the rippling ponies
that roamed outside Fremont?
When the robots have souls, will they feel longing? When they feel longing,
will they write poems?

Tess Taylor (c) 2020, all rights reserved
Ex-Market Street Railway Car 950 at Molloy’s tavern on Old Mission Road, Colma, c.1948. Courtesy FoundSF

The poetry muses on the rise, and limitations, of Artificial Intelligence, seemingly in the context of today’s BART trains, which do run through Colma (note the reference to Fremont, among other examples). Yet the artist chose to illustrate it with a representation of the days of streetcar service through Colma. Specifically, it appears was inspired by the photograph above, of a 14-Mission streetcar running extended service to the cemeteries located along the old 40-San Mateo line. The venerable saloon Molloy’s, occupying a building constructed in 1883 and still there today (below), shares both the photograph and the art.

Of course, the poet could intend ‘Colma’ to be metaphorical, rather than geographical, an allusion to the death of poetry when ‘the robots’ take over. We’ll leave that to those more literary than we are, or perhaps muse further on the subject over an Irish Whiskey at Molloy’s, which we visited today.

Molloy’s now, 1655 Mission Road, Colma, from Google Maps

We love the way the Muni Art Program gives riders a chance to spend a little travel time being enriched by words and images. As new SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin noted at last week’s City Hall ceremony, “Art connects people. Transit connects people. This is a perfect combination.”

To which we would only add, “Especially when it also connects the past to the present to the future.”

Muni Art Bus at City Hall ceremony, January 9, 2020. SFMTA photo by Jeremy Menzies
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