Streetcar-cable car shutdown

Residents of six Bay Area counties have been ordered to stay in their homes, except to buy groceries or medicine or visit doctors, until at least April 7. They may take walks as long as they remain at least six feet away from people who are not members of their own household. This unprecedented action triggered ripple effects on public transit, including the shutdown of E- and F-line historic streetcars and all three cable car lines for the duration of the shelter-in-place order. 

Essential services, including police, fire, and enough transit for essential trips will continue to be provided.  The cable cars and a shortened F-line from the Wharf to the Ferry Building will be served by buses, while the E-Embarcadero line has been suspended altogether. Riders looking to go from the Wharf past the Ferry Building up Market will have to transfer to Muni Metro at Embarcadero Station or to a surface bus. 

Muni leadership said the bus substitution is being undertaken in part because the cable cars and historic streetcars have no partitions between operators and riders, unlike the light rail vehicle and most buses.  Market Street Railway agrees with the temporary substitution, as operator safety must come first.  Our San Francisco Railway Museum is also closed until the shelter-in-place order is lifted, as are all non-essential businesses in the Bay Area.

There is no point in speculating how long this shutdown will last. “At least through April 7” is the official language, but officials have made clear it could be longer if public health requires it. As you have certainly read by now, these measures are being taken to “flatten the curve” of infection – that is, keep the number of cases requiring treatment at any one time within the resource capabilities (beds, ventilators, etc.) of hospitals and clinics. This could mean that requiring people to self-isolate may go on for some time beyond April 7. We just don’t know.            

We salute the dedication of all transit operators at this time of extra challenges, including those who have been operating and will again operate Muni’s cable cars and historic streetcars. 

We will continue to report meaningful developments here. Be careful out there!

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Car-free Market Speeds Up F-line

A new study, plus research by our board member Chris Arvin, shows that the first month of the ban on private automobiles on Market Street is making Muni operations, including the F-line, faster, according to this story in the San Francisco Examiner.

For the F streetcar, in particular, the impacts are “really noticeable,” Arvin said. Most morning commute streetcar trip from Ninth and Market streets to First and Market streets took more than 15 minutes. Since the car ban, about 65 percent of those trips are now under 15 minutes, according to data he compiled.

San Francisco Examiner, February 26, 2020

The photo above shows the last PCC built in North America (Muni Car 1040) on the first morning of car-free Market, January 29. You’ll note the motor scooter and private car next to it. We’ve seen occasional violations of the car ban, especially at night, but that’s to be expected in the initial weeks. SFPD and SFMTA parking control officers herded strays off the street with a warning; SFPD is supposed to start issuing tickets for violators soon.

As an early and vocal supporter of the auto ban on Market, we’re encouraged by these early results. We thank Chris for his initiative on this.

We continue to push hard to implement the F-line improvements that are part of the Better Market Street construction about to begin, particularly the addition of a short-turn loop on McAllister Street and Charles J. Brenham Place (Seventh Street north), which will allow additional F-line service to be scheduled on the busiest part of the line, between the Wharf and Civic Center (service to Castro would not be affected). The project will also consolidate F-line stops downtown and make them all accessible (several are not).

All in all, it’s a very good start.

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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… — Read More

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107 Years Ago Today

On December 28, 1912, ten shiny gray streetcars with brick-red roofs lined up on Geary Street, from Kearny Street to Grant Avenue. The first, Numbered 1 in gold leaf outlined in black, opened its black scissor gate. Up stepped the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, James Rolph, Jr. From his pocket, he took a Liberty Head nickel, with a large “V” on the back (people knew back then that was the roman numeral for “five”). He… — Read More

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Jeff Tumlin New SFMTA Leader

Bay Area native and long-time San Francisco resident Jeffrey Tumlin will take over Muni’s parent agency, SFMTA, on December 16. Mayor London Breed announced Tumlin’s new position as Director of Transportation at a City Hall news conference this morning, subject to appointment by the SFMTA Board of Directors (expected to be a formality). Tumlin will take over the permanent job held by Ed Reiskin for the past eight years until Reiskin announced his resignation earlier this year. SFMTA’s Director of… — Read More

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Pier 39 is now E/F-line terminal for at least a year

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… — Read More

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Fabulous Fleet Week

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. Muni’s 1934 Blackpool Boat Trams delighted riders with open-air rides in perfect weather past Navy Ships tied up along the Embarcadero. Some lucky riders, like our Board member Chris Arvin, got to see the Navy’s famed Blue Angels flight team streak by as they rumbled along the pavement… — Read More

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A Stealth Boat

USS Zumwalt

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!

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Boat to Cruise on Fleet Week Weekend

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

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Back On Track — After 77 Years Off!

Early this morning, a cable car originally constructed in 1883 became Muni’s oldest operating transit vehicle. Early this morning, Sacramento & Clay Sts. cable car 19 made a full trip on the California Street line pulled by the cable. It was the first time this cable car was pulled by a cable on the street in 77 years, since its retirement in 1942. This news, and these wonderful photos, come from Market Street Railway member Traci Cox who documented the… — Read More

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Crazy Day on the Waterfront

Yesterday (July 25) was an action-packed day on the waterfront, and included an opportunity seized, and one missed. Here’s what went down. E-and F-line service north of the Ferry Building was disrupted by a power problem at the Wharf and a couple of streetcar breakdowns (not sure if they were related). This occurred around the time EuroPCC 737 arrived at Don Chee Way to go into service. Inspectors sent several cars south on the E-line to get out of the… — Read More

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Thank You, Ed Reiskin

Note: A version of this article is contained in the current edition of the Market Street Railway magazine Inside Track, reaching mailboxes now. It has been updated here.   By Carmen Clark, MSR Board Chair and Rick Laubscher, MSR President Edward D. Reiskin, Director of Transportation (the top executive) of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, is moving on from his post. His last day in the office was this week. We at Market Street Railway will greatly miss his… — Read More

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Melbourne Tram Subs for Boat This Week

The popular 1934 Blackpool (England) open-topped “Boat Tram” encountered a problem at the end of its service week last Wednesday and is being worked on this week, so 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 will substitute for it on the special waterfront service Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Muni assures us they’ll make every effort to return Boat service as quickly as possible. The Melbourne tram is a sweet ride, and with windows that drop all the way… — Read More

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