Muni’s historic streetcars, and the people who love them, keep gaining media attention, both in their hometown, and far afield. For your Thanksgiving weekend reading pleasure, we’re sharing two stories from the San Francisco Chronicle, and its associated website, sfgate.com.
Both stories show how the historic streetcars continue to attract new generations of fans, thanks in part to Market Street Railway’s continuing efforts aimed at exactly that goal. It’s a core part of our mission to keep the past present in the future, by making it relevant and delightful to younger San Franciscans and visitors.
First, some laughs. There’s now a comedy car on the F-line, at least once in a while. Here’s the story of the F-Bomb Comedy Train. A group charters a streetcar (in the case of the most recent event on November 25, a “Mint Milano“, and runs the F-line with performances by local comedians along the way. Next event is supposed to take place in January, but no specific date yet. The group says they’ll post info when available on their Facebook Group, where you can sign up for email notifications. So, please don’t ask us; it’s their gig, and we love it! (Note that part of our advocacy efforts in the coming year will be gaining SFMTA concurrence to expand opportunities for groups and people to charter historic streetcars and ride them on other lines besides the F and E.
Second, an in-depth story about one of our valued volunteers at our San Francisco Railway Museum. He’s 16-year old Alex Key, profiled by the Chronicle‘s talented writer Sam Whiting. (Note that Chronicle content is kept behind a paywall; we think the link above should work, but if it doesn’t, a summary: the article recounts Alex’s amazing memory for transit history, current lines and stops (not just on Muni rail lines, but every Muni bus line BART, and other Bay Area transit systems as well), and his pleasure at helping visitors out with directions.)
We are very proud of all our dedicated volunteers, who interpret San Francisco transit history to our museum visitors, and often to E- and F-line riders as well. If you’d like to join our volunteer corps, just send an email to email@example.com.
A wide variety of Pride-related items, including tee shirts and stickers, are available through Chris’ personal website, transit.supply. Chris is donating all the profits made from these items purchased this month to local Bay Area orgs that support LGBTQ+ people: Oakland LGBTQ Community Center, Larkin Street Youth Services and Trans Lifeline. That’s almost $5,000 so far.
Happy Pride Month! And a reminder: various parades and gatherings will lead to bus substitution on the F-line this weekend, including most Sunday, June 30 for the Pride Parade on Market Street. Visit sfmta.com for the latest information.
On April 12, 1919, the first L-Taraval streetcar hit the rails, overcoming obstacles to begin a century of service that continues today.
The Twin Peaks Tunnel had opened fourteen months before, bringing fast streetcar service from downtown to the nearly empty southwestern quadrant of the city. Initially, there was just one line, the K, but property owners in the areas above and west of the tunnel, who had paid for its construction, expected – and demanded – more. So, Muni negotiated with the private United Railroads to share the tracks of URR’s little used Parkside line on Taraval Street between 20thand 33rdAvenues. URR wanted the city to share the Twin Peaks Tunnel in return for sharing this track and Ocean Avenue track for the K, line but the city refused and paid cash for the rights instead. Muni then laid tracks from West Portal via Ulloa Street, 15thAvenue, and Taraval to connect to the Parkside line tracks, allowing the L to open as far west as 33rd Avenue.
There was little development west of Twin Peaks in April 1919. United Railroads, by far the dominant transit company compared to the 6-year old Muni, did run downtown from the area, but by slow surface streets (Ocean Avenue and Mission to the south, 20th Avenue and Haight to the north), making it faster for downtown workers to take ferries from Oakland than to take the long way around Twin Peaks by streetcar. At first, the L streetcars stopped at West Portal, where riders had to transfer to K-line streetcars to . go through the tunnel and along Market Street. Muni used its full-sized streetcars for the L-line shuttles at first, but as soon as smaller “dinky” single-truck cars were delivered for Muni’s hill-climbing Union Street line in 1922, a few of them were dispatched to the L, where they were big enough to handle the still-sparse ridership.
By early 1923, the L-line tracks reached Ocean Beach across the sand dunes and by the end of that year, the shuttle was replaced by service through the tunnel to the Ferry Loop, using full-size streetcars. The Twin Peaks Tunnel service significantly accelerated the development of blocks along the new, fast streetcar lines, while blocks deeper in the central Sunset District languished as sand dunes, with only the odd house here or there. In 1928, the Muni matched the L-line on the northern edge of the Sunset by building the Sunset Tunnel under Buena Vista Park and opening the N-Judah line.
In 1937, Muni took advantage of federal funding through the Works Progress Administration to extend the L line south from 46thAvenue and Taraval to Wawona Street, very close to the popular zoo and Fleishhacker swimming pool, heightening competition with the competitor’s 12-line on Sloat Boulevard.
Muni took over its competitor (renamed Market Street Railway in 1921) during World War II. The 12-line on Sloat Boulevard was included in the purchase. It featured a private right-of-way in the middle of that broad roadway, and could have been used as a tool to spur higher-density residential development on that corridor, if only the Sloat tracks had been connected at St. Francis Circle to use the Twin Peaks Tunnel. (The giant Parkmerced development at the south end of 19th Avenue, and the nearby Stonestown shopping center, which both arose after the war, benefitted from Muni’s adjacent M-Ocean View line, which used the tunnel, but had been little used after it opened in 1925 and had even been shut down for a time for lack of ridership.)
One factor that weighed against Muni keeping more streetcar lines in that period was rising labor costs. San Francisco voters had mandated two operators for each streetcar, although only one for a bus. This caused Muni to substitute buses for the outer ends of the K and L lines on nights and Sundays in the early 1950s, and studies were done to see if it was feasible to convert the Twin Peaks Tunnel to bus operation. (It wasn’t: too narrow.) Approval of single-operator streetcars in 1954 ended this existential threat to the L-line, and it has been an enduring part of Muni’s streetcar network ever since, converting to light rail vehicles in the early 1980s when the Twin Peaks Tunnel was connected to the new Muni Metro subway under Market Street.
More recently, Muni has moved to improve safety on Taraval Street by building boarding islands for L-line trains, and has shortened L-line trips by reducing the number of stops on Taraval.
Today, the Parkside District is a vibrant, diverse neighborhood made possible, and still kept moving, by the L-Taraval. Muni is planning various centennial events, which we will keep you informed of here. SFMTA’s Jeremy Menzies has dug into the archives for a great story, and the Examiner has a nice tribute to the L-line here.
Today is Transit Drivers’ Appreciation Day. It’s a hard job, and it has gotten harder over the past decade with the increase in traffic on our streets. Muni has painted more “red carpet” lanes for their vehicles’ (and taxis’) exclusive use, but many automobile drivers ignore them.
If you have a favorite SFMTA operator, one you think provides good service and makes your day a little easier, fill out a commendation form. It just takes a couple of minutes. Or when you exit a Muni vehicle today (or any day), just share a simple “thanks”.
As for the photo above, we borrowed it (with permission) from Muni’s Twitter Feed. That’s Mike Delia on an F-line PCC at the Castro and 17th Street terminal. Hat’s off to Mike and all other Muni operators who provide safe service to their 720,000 daily riders.
Nothing has improved San Francisco more in the past 30 years than the transformation of its waterfront boulevard, The Embarcadero. The city’s mayor at the time, Art Agnos, bucked some strong special interests to achieve the removal of the double-deck Embarcadero Freeway in front of the Ferry Building, replacing it with a surface roadway, pedestrian promenade, and — of course — streetcar tracks. Mayor Agnos was aided in all this by his deputy mayor for transportation, the late Doug Wright… — Read More
In recent decades, memorable African-American leaders have made history in San Francisco transit. There’s Curtis E. Green, Sr., the first black general manager of a major US transit agency. H. Welton Flynn, first black San Francisco City Commissioner, and leader of Muni’s governing boards for many years. Larry Martin, a powerful and persuasive head of Muni’s operators’ union. For this year’s Black History Month, we’ll reach back further in time, to highlight three women and one man who broke barriers… — Read More
The librarian for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bill Van Niekerken, comes up with some dandy articles by digging through the newspaper’s voluminous archives. Somehow, we missed this great story and photos, showing three double-deck London Transport buses coming to, and driving through, San Francisco on a cross-country British tourism promotion in 1952. The photo above shows one of the RTL-type buses (predecessor to London Transport’s famed Routemasters) on Market Street at Eighth, sharing the street with three “Iron Monster” Muni… — Read More
‘Tis the season to show off holiday spirit in all kinds of ways. The San Francisco Chronicle is both reporting and demonstrating that spirit with our most iconic transit vehicles, the cable cars. You can see the publication’s handiwork on Powell Cable Car 1 (pictured in the photo by Val Lupiz above, complete with Victorian-costumed guests), one of eight cable cars decorated this year in a growing campaign led by Val, Jeremy Whiteman, and Frank Zepeda (MSR members all), and supported… — Read More
It’s amazing how Muni’s historic streetcar operation has garnered fans and created fantasies all over the world. The wonderful “fictional image” by artist Garry Luck above is an example. It came to our attention today as part of a post and comments in a Facebook group called Blackpool’s Transport Past. It’s a modification of an artist’s conception of a decapitated version of Blackpool, England “Coronation” Tram 663. (The name refers to their construction date, 1953, the year of the… — Read More
As you can see on our recap at the top of the main page, Muni Heritage Weekend was a real humdinger. What was especially great was the large number of families that came out to enjoy the vintage vehicles. SFMTA had some specific events to attract kids including cable car bell ringing practice with 10-time champion Carl Payne, design your own streetcar, and more. But the vehicles themselves are what the families loved. Here are some photos that show it.… — Read More
Lots of buzz about the new $2.1 Salesforce Transit Center holding its grand opening Saturday, August 11. For example, this story in the Examiner, worth a read for the historic context. Or this one, about the incredible park atop the terminal. Or this one, about the loonnng delay in getting train service (commuter and high-speed to LA) into the terminal in the afternoon. But in this post, we’re inviting everyone to the new center’s bus deck at 1 pm… — Read More
The headline above is a great quote from a great story in Curbed SF about a dad and his two kids riding every Muni line terminal to terminal this summer. This installment includes the F-line where they rode the newest PCC to return to service following rebuilding, Car 1050 (pictured above in yet another calendar-worthy photo from Traci Cox). The author, Mc Allen, describes rolling along The Embarcadero on the “retro delight” PCC, “exceptionally maintained as rolling museums”. Along… — Read More
Dashiell Hammett was born May 27, 1894. He essentially created the modern detective novel. His most famous fictional character was Sam Spade. To celebrate Hammett’s 120th birthday, and the enduring greatness of the Spade character, we’re providing a link to a Feature article that appeared nine years ago in our member newsletter, Inside Track. It tells the story of how Hammett wove his own rail riding experiences in San Francisco (both streetcars and cable cars) in to his novels. Check… — Read More
The Twin Peaks bar is right at the F-line Castro terminal. Photo (c) Elrond Lawrence. We’re not in the business of promoting booze, but San Francisco is, after all, a great drinking town, and if you’re going to do that, you need a designated driver. How about letting an F-line operator fill that role, by patronizing establishments along the route? Our friends at Thrillist have put together a list of bars and restaurants all along the F-line with dandy libations… — Read More
Underneath the very intersection of historic transit in San Francisco, in the basement of the old Emporium (now a food court named — wait for it — the Food Emporium), is a shiny new Walgreen’s. Kind of a mini-Walgreen’s, actually. There are a couple of bigger ones within a block or two (are drug stores multiplying like Starbucks?) Anyway, just so you don’t think you’re dealing with some kind of national chain or anything, they’ve got a sign saying they’ve… — Read More