Fort Mason Streetcar Extension Update

Eastern Fort Mason Tunnel entrance at the foot of Van Ness Avenue.The Examiner has a comprehensive update today on the proposed historic streetcar extension to Fort Mason. It tells the story better than we could, so click on that link above and read it for yourself.

We’ll just add that we have been working on this for a very long time. It had gotten snagged in an unrelated matter. Not long after the Environmental Impact Statement had been certified in 2013, the National Park Service announced it would study the possibility of moving the Alcatraz ferry landing from Pier 31 to Fort Mason. This attraction, which draws over a million visitors a year, would have overrun Fort Mason, with or without a streetcar line, in our opinion. We opposed it, as did Fort Mason Center, which operates that center for nonprofits. So did the Fisherman’s Wharf merchants and numerous other groups that do support the streetcar extension.

The threat of moving the ferries led Supervisor Mark Farrell, who represents the Marina, to put a hold on moving the streetcar extension forward until the Alcatraz ferry location was settled. Now it is; it’s staying at Pier 31. Supervisor Farrell has told us he supports the streetcar extension and this grant application.

The uncertainty in Washington over, well, almost everything, but specifically National Park Service funding does raise a question over how much longer it will take to get the extension built (the post of money funding the grant the Examiner discussed is approved, but we still have to win it!). So one of the things this grant would study is the possibility of an interim terminal short of the tunnel, with the tunnel rehabilitation (about $10 million) and Fort Mason loop to be done in a Phase 2.

We still hope the entire extension can be done all at once, but this is a sensible approach given what’s going on in DC. An initial extension that got closer to Ghirardelli Square and Aquatic Park and within easy walking distance of Fort Mason would have the great benefit of being able to separate the terminals for the E- and F-lines, which currently share the same single-track terminal on Jones Street. That would improve the operating reliability of both lines.

We’ll keep you updated on the status of the grant application. We thank SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin and his staff for their support of the grant, and our Board Member Carmen Clark for her efforts in working with SFMTA staff and that of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, in preparing the grant application.

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Support for Fort Mason Extension

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The long-proposed historic streetcar extension west from Fisherman’s Wharf to Fort Mason Center is gaining momentum.

What you see above is how the terminal inside Fort Mason could look. The streetcars in the photo would turn left just before that wall at top and enter the historic 1914 railroad tunnel to reach Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, then on to the Ferry Building and beyond.

Yesterday, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency presented a unanimous resolution to the SFMTA Board of Directors supporting the extension. SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan responded with his own strong support for the extension.

Several members of the public added their public endorsement, including Marina District resident Mike Wilmar. Fort Mason Center Board Chair Jim Chappell recounted how the lack of direct Muni connections to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain makes it hard for many non-profit groups to base themselves at Fort Mason. Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher offered his opinion that the project may have been slow to take root within SFMTA staff because the environmental work, now complete, was performed by the National Park Service, whose property forms half the extension’s 0.85 miles. Now, though, with various obstacles cleared away, it’s time to move forward, he said.

The photo above is taken from the National Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement. It’s a huge document, but you can download individual chapters, or the whole thing, here.

There is much more to this story, and we will have it for our Members in the next issue of our quarterly newsletter, Inside Track. (If you’re not a member, you can join now and get the current issue sent to you, or request it electronically.)  We will also post further developments in the story here. Also, there is a new Facebook group, independent of Market Street Railway, that also supports the extension. On Facebook, search for “@fortmasonstreetcar” or “Bring Streetcars to Fort Mason Project” and Like that page. Visible public support, especially from those who work and live along the route, in the Marina District, at Fort Mason, or in Fisherman’s Wharf, is critical to its success.

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Our E-line Vision Gaining Attention

In the wake of several successful weekends of vintage streetcar service the length of The Embarcadero on the E-line, the Curbed website posted a story on our vision for an extended E-line service today. That, in turn, spawned a post on SFist.
Curbed drew on the document we’ve been distributing around town, which you can download here.

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Recently restored E-line PCC streetcar No. 1008 switches off the F-line tracks onto the connector track that will take it the rest of the way on The Embarcadero during America’s Cup service August 25, 2013. The special E-line connector track has been in place almost a decade, waiting for the full-time startup of the line. Refurbishment of this car and others allows for full time E-line service to begin as soon as Muni funds it. Brian Leadingham photo.

The downloadable document goes into detail about the many benefits we believe an extended E-line will bring to the city, especially that of augmenting transit service for the city’s fast growing Eastern Neighborhoods, while alleviating some of the overcrowding on the Embarcadero section of the F-line. (See the note below about our revised proposal for an extension all the way through Dogpatch.)
Market Street Railway envisions continuous vintage streetcar service from Fort Mason past Ghirardelli Square and Aquatic Park, then sharing existing F-line tracks through Fisherman’s Wharf and along The Embarcadero to the Ferry Building. The E-line then uses its own tracks, already in place, for three blocks until it joins the N- and T-line tracks at Folsom. Stops along this portion of The Embarcadero have already been constructed for the vintage streetcars and used successfully during the America’s Cup Service.
Then, after passing the Giants’ ballpark, the E-line would follow the current T-line tracks to serve all of Mission Bay and Dogpatch before terminating at Muni’s existing light rail facility at Illinois and Cesar Chavez Streets, just north of Islais Creek. (Note: the downloadable document shows our proposed E-line southern terminal near Pier 70, but since it was published, Dogpatch neighborhood and business leaders have urged us to advocate a longer extension to serve their entire community. We’re joining them in supporting this longer extension, noting that no additional track is needed for the E-line to reach the Cesar Chavez terminal, as it would loop along the western edge of the existing light rail yard.)
The best part about the longer E-line extension through Mission Bay and Dogpatch is that by taking advantage of an existing track turnaround loop, any of the almost 50 vintage streetcars in the operating fleet today could carry passengers on the E-line. Right now, the southern terminal Muni’s using for America’s Cup E-line service, on King Street next to the Caltrain depot, can only be served by streetcars than can operate from either end, like the one pictured above. Double ended vintage streetcars comprise only about 20% of the fleet. There are enough vintage streetcars available for both the E- and F-lines right now, if single-end streetcars could be used on the E.
In an era when projects costing hundreds of millions, even billions for relatively short distances are being built or bandied about, we think a Muni line using its most popular vehicles to serve San Francisco’s fastest growing residential area (Mission Bay/Dogpatch) where all the needed track is already in place is a pretty good idea. Download our vision paper, read through the details, and see what you think.

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