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.
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!
The US Department of Transportation has granted San Francisco $15 million to help pay for the first phase of the city’s vision to remake Market Street. Here’s the news story, and here’s the city’s official website for the project.
Included in that first phase is a critical improvement to the F-line historic streetcar service, shown above: a bi-directional loop track at Civic Center, using the short first block of McAllister Street and the northerly extension of Seventh Street (called Charles Brenham Place) to allow F-line streetcars to reverse in either direction. The streetcar tracks are a little hard to see in the drawing above, but you can click the drawing to enlarge it. (The green markings show bicycle paths/crossings.)
The loop turns right off outbound Market Street, just where the old 5-McAllister streetcar did, then turns left onto Charles Brenham’s southbound curb lane, where there is a ADA ramp and layover space. The tracks diverge there to allow either a left turn to return toward the Ferry Building, or a right turn toward Castro. Another switch allows inbound streetcars on Market to turn onto McAllister and then return outbound.
Market Street Railway is delighted that Muni staff embraced our recommendation for its exact location. There is no other place on Market Street where a turning movement like this can be carried out in such a short length of new track. And the location is convenient, dropping passengers off within a short walk of City Hall, the Main Library, and the Asian Arts Museum, and right next to newly restored landmarks such as the hot Proper Hotel (which the loop literally loops around) and the venerable Hibernia Bank Building at Jones and Market (the location, coincidentally, of the terminal of the old Jones Street cable car shuttle, which closed in 1954).
This loop will add immense flexibility to the F-line. First and foremost, it is the most efficient and effective way to increase F-line service along the highest ridership stretch of the route, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Union Square/Powell Street area downtown. Today’s F-line service levels are constrained by terminal capacity at both ends. There’s not enough room for additional streetcars laying over at the ends of the line without blocking street space. This has been a sore subject at the Castro end of the line in particular, where 17th Street is narrow and residential almost right up to the terminal. Layovers are kept shorter there than at Fisherman’s Wharf to minimize the problem, but adding more service to Castro (that usually isn’t needed west of Powell) would inevitably clog the terminal there.
There is a turnaround spot at 11th Street and Market, near Van Ness; not a loop but a “wye”, where streetcars have to turn onto a stub track on 11th, and then back out onto Market, a much more difficult move than in past decades because of changed traffic patterns and the routing of the 9-line articulated buses onto 11th. The wye is actually the last remnant of Muni’s original H-Potrero streetcar line, and was never optimally designed for reversing streetcars.
Muni’s initial plan when the loop is completed is to add extra F-line service from the Wharf area to the loop to alleviate some of the current crowding. This would likely happen from late morning through late afternoon. Of course, the loop is important for other reasons as well: it will give Muni the ability to balance service and reduce bunching on a regular basis to fill gaps; allow the majority of the F-line to keep operating when part of Market Street is temporarily blocked, and provide a place to load a chartered streetcar or divert a streetcar with an operational problem from the main line.
The Better Market Street program is a comprehensive revamping of San Francisco’s Main Street, to give more priority to transit, provide bicyclists with separated bike paths, and improve pedestrian safety, while preserving the street’s historic elements, including the landmark “Path of Gold” streetlights (which also hold up the Muni wires).
The project, which stretches from Steuart Street at the foot of Market up to Octavia Street, is currently under environmental review, scheduled for completion in 2019, with the first phase of work, between Fifth and Eighth Streets, and including the streetcar loop, to start construction in 2020. Market Street Railway was a strong advocate for making the stretch with the loop into the first phase of work. We’re delighted to hear this news.
Even in the 1930s, transit stop spacing was an issue in San Francisco. Click to enlarge.
This pair of notices from our namesake (Muni’s privately owned competitor from 1921 to 1944) recently came to our attention. They would have been posted inside Market Street Railway streetcars, probably in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to win rider acceptance of wider spacing of streetcar stops.
No question that the main reason the company president, Samuel Kahn, initiated the change was to cut costs by shortening trip time. For the private company, every nickel (then the standard fare) counted, and the more trips a crew could make in a shift, the more nickels the company counted.
The same arguments in the posters apply today, and are being made today by Muni in its efforts to speed up service as part of its Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP). Our non-profit supports Muni in these goals.
We also support them in the proposals to reduce the number of F-line stops on the downtown portion of our main street, something neither the old Market Street Railway nor Muni ever attempted way back when. It’s all part of the Better Market Street project, which we’re involved with (along with myriad other groups). We’ll explain our views in detail in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, due out in September. To get our newsletter and to support our efforts to improve and extend historic streetcar service, please join us!