F-line to return in May, Hyde cable later this year!

Mayor London Breed told a group from Fisherman’s Wharf this morning that F-line vintage streetcar service will return to the full length of the route, from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf, in May.

Cable car service on the Powell-Hyde line (only, for now) will resume as early as mid-summer, but many details remain to be worked out and that date could change. There is no word at this point when service on the Powell-Mason or California lines might resume.

It is our understanding that initial F-line streetcar service will be provided for eight hours a day by the streamlined PCC cars only, with operator protective shields to be installed around the operator’s position, as is done on the buses. For further operator safety, the same operator will keep the car all day, taking it out of the barn and bringing it back at the end of the shift, as is currently being done with buses and light rail vehicles.

This will limit F-line operation initially to eight hours a day, with exact hours to be determined in consultation with merchant groups along the line. (Pre-pandemic, the F-line operated 18 hours a day, with most F-line cars staying out the whole time, with one operator relieving another in the middle of the day.) The time between cars (service frequency) will be less than the approximately 6-8 minutes pre-pandemic and will depend to some extent on demand

It appears resumption of full-line F-line service will be brief, however. Work to replace the tracks between Fifth and Eighth Streets as part of the Better Market Street Project is slated to begin this fall and could last up to two years. Market Street Railway is working hard to convince the Department of Public Works, which is in charge of the project, to stage the work in a way which gets the tracks done in the shortest amount of time possible so that streetcar service can resume. During whatever period the tracks from Fifth to Eighth have to be out of service for replacement, we are working with SFMTA in hopes of operating double-end streetcars from the Wharf to the crossover at Fifth Street, with single-ended cars providing additional service along the waterfront between the Ferry Building and the Wharf area.

Market Street Railway has worked very hard for months now, side by side with Muni’s operator’s union (Local 250A) and numerous business and neighborhood groups to get the iconic cable cars and F-line streetcars back on the street. We thank Mayor Breed and SFMTA leadership for finding a way to return these symbols of our city to the street during these challenging budget times. They’ll send a sign to the Bay Area, California, and the world that San Francisco is back in business.

We will have a complete report on this for our members in the new edition of Inside Track, our quarterly member magazine, due out next week. Click here to become a member and get it. We’ll send you the last two issues as a bonus.

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

F and E line streetcars take their layovers at their new terminal (for at least the next year) at Pier 39.

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.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed (in blue, center) leads city officials in a “groundbreaking” ceremony for the Jefferson Street Public Realm project, which will shut down streetcar service in Fisherman’s Wharf for a year or longer. The area where they’re standing, a parking lot, will become a public plaza.

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.

You can see where to park, but not where to board the streetcar on Beach St. opposite Pier 39.

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.

Multiple streetcars were backed up the first day of the F-line service cutback when the car at the head of the pack developed a track brake problem at Pier 39. Joseph Macasocol photo.

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.

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Thanksgiving 2017

This Thanksgiving we’re grateful for all the workers at SFMTA (Muni) who operate the historic streetcars and cable cars and keep them on the streets and looking good.

We’re grateful to the SFMTA Board of Directors and Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin for their strong support of historic transit in San Francisco, and to those on their staff who share their commitment.

We’re especially grateful to our members and donors who make our advocacy possible.

And we’re grateful to be part of a dynamic evolving city that protects its past and integrates much of it into the present and the future.

One current example: this photo was taken at lunchtime the other day from the main dining room of the newly (and wonderfully) renovated Fisherman’s Grotto No. 9 on Taylor Street’s Restaurant Row at the Wharf. What was a tired (albeit historic) restaurant is fresh and new, but still displaying old-time Wharf tradition (along with a fabulous Crab Louis, by the way).

And the views! Golden Gate Bridge to the west and, oh yes, streetcars to the south, with the fishing fleet as a foreground object. The shot above was snapped with an iPhone, but we expect the ace volunteer photographers among our members to get some much better shots soon. Importantly to us, this shot symbolizes how vintage streetcars have become so integrated into the fabric of our city. Even as a detail in a photo, they just fit in — as they have done for 125 years in San Francisco.

And since food’s on our mind today, we’re grateful for many other traditional San Francisco restaurants that still deliver the goods: Sam’s Grill on Bush near Kearny, John’s Grill on Ellis (which Dashiell Hammett took the 20-line streetcar to reach), and Scoma’s at the Wharf. And don’t forget bars like the Buena Vista Cafe at the end of the Hyde cable.

Happy Thanksgiving, San Francisco!

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“Service Improvement” on the F-line? You decide.

If you’re riding the F-line this sunny Saturday morning, you’ll find fewer streetcars out there, and longer wait times. But not to worry, it’s a “service improvement.”  Who says so? Muni.

Muni’s parent, SFMTA, sent out a blog post entitled “More Muni Forward Service Improvements Roll Out”. The F-line is mentioned. But when you click through to the story, it’s, well, a different story.

After listing other “improvements” (including cutting back a major crosstown bus line to eliminate transfers to the 14-Mission), they take on the F-line.  “As we fine-tune service to better match demand, a few routes with extra capacity will also see reductions in service, [including the] F Market & Wharves line in the morning and afternoon.” Well, we see the F-line every single day, with every car passing by our San Francisco Railway Museum. Tell the folks stuffed on board the cars about the “extra capacity” they don’t need.

Oh, but wait, Muni then goes on to explain: “Note on the F Line: In recent months we’ve seen issues with streetcars and buses crowding at the line’s terminal at 17th and Market streets. This slight reduction in service frequency is expected to help make the line more reliable.” Huh? If the streetcars are crowding the terminal, it’s because of poor line management. And who is responsible for that? The riders?

Beyond the facts of the rollout, there’s the way it was done — with zero public outreach. After this story was posted, we got an angry call from the Fisherman’s Wharf Community Benefit District leadership, asking what we knew about it. The answer: nothing, because we learned about it from the public notice along with everyone else. Turns out the Castro Merchants weren’t informed either. So there was no chance for suggestions of other ways to solve whatever issues might have arisen.

After we learned of this, we did call Muni service planner Julie Kirschbaum, who told us something different than what the official release said. She said the issue was a shortage of both streetcars and trained operators for the F-line. But the fact is that there is not a shortage of streetcars for current operations, and Muni has gotten around the training issue, which has now dragged on for over a year, by assigning buses to regular F-line runs. Has that changed? We weren’t told.

In any event, we are going to be looking very closely at this, working toward further adjustments at the next sign-up period in a couple of months, and advocating for F-line service improvements that are actually improvements. We’ll keep you posted.

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Fleet Weekend Service Adjustments on E, F

The weekend of Fleet Week (that’s Saturday-Sunday, October 8-9 this year) is one of the most crowded weekends along The Embarcadero with pedestrians, motorists, and transit riders all jamming in along the waterfront to see the Navy ships, the Blue Angels air show and more. This year, the Italian Heritage Parade takes place Sunday on top of it all, closing Jefferson Street (and the F-line route) through Fisherman’s Wharf for a time. Muni has just announced some service adjustments for… — Read More

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E-Line Startup Looks Set for July 25

As readers of our member newsletter, Inside Track, learned last month, Muni’s second historic streetcar line, the long-awaited E-Embarcadero, now looks set to start up for initial weekend-only service on July 25.  Officials of SFMTA, Muni’s parent, were comfortable sharing that date with local blog Hoodline. UPDATE: E-line startup moved to August 1. The E-line, providing single-seat service the length of The Embarcadero, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Giants ballpark and the Caltrain Depot, has been a goal of Market Street Railway… — Read More

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Photos of the Moment: A Different View

The other day, we talked about helpful Muni operators on the Boat Tram. Here’s a different angle on that, literally. The cruise ship Crystal Symphony called at Pier 35 yesterday, with relatives on board. A tour gave us the chance to snap a few shots from a vantage point San Franciscans rarely experience. That includes sweeping views of the Wharf area with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, and, in this case, two F-line streetcars, No. 1053 (Brooklyn) approaching… — Read More

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