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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Best Version Yet of Iconic 1906 Movie

In 1906, it didn’t get more high tech than this iconic 12-minute movie, filmed from the front of a cable car headed down Market Street. If you’re a San Francisco history buff (or transit buff), you’ve probably seen it before, but not like this. A new digital transfer by the noted film archivist Rick Prelinger breathes more life into it, sharper and wider-screen. (Back then, the image was captured to the edges of the film, even between the sprocket holes; this version includes that.)

Surprisingly to us, the film had never appeared in a narrated version, explaining exactly where you are and providing the social and economic context of what you’re seeing. Market Street President Rick Laubscher, a San Francisco historian and former journalist, did that several years ago, and has now updated that narration with new information that has come to light. Additionally, we have added sound effects by Mike Upchurch to provide some atmosphere.

Thanks to film historian David Kiehn, we now know that this iconic film, by the Miles Brothers, was shot on or about April 14, 1906, just four days before the great Earthquake and Fire. (It was previously believed to have been filmed in August 1905.)

To commemorate the 113th anniversary of the April 18 catastrophe, which ended an era in San Francisco, we have posted this new version of the film on YouTube. We will be providing it through our online store and in our San Francisco Railway Museum in coming weeks.

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London Buses in SF: 1952

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

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Big Boost for Mid-Market F-line Loop

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… — Read More

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See ‘Lost Landscapes’ Dec. 4 and 5

  Our friend Rick Prelinger, creator of the Internet Archive, has been making special programs of vintage films of San Francisco for over a decade now. Rick has collected a wonderful mix of home movies, commercial film outtakes, travelogues, and other celluloid representations of our city, and invites the audience to shout out their reactions. It’s the ultimate interactive show! This year’s event is extra special, because Rick has made the best restoration yet of the famed “Trip Down Market… — Read More

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Rainy Day on Market, World War II

  Weather forecast says rain’s on the way for the Bay Area. As good a time as any to share this photo of Market Street, looking east from Fifth Street, taken during World War II (likely 1943 or early 1944). Rich detail in this photo. The blue and gold N-Judah on the outside track is trying to squeeze past the automobile so it can catch up to the competing 5-McAllister streetcar (with the flashy “zip stripe” on the side) of… — Read More

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Hoodline Reports on Our Agenda

The popular San Francisco neighborhood news website, Hoodline, reports on Market Street Railway’s priorities for improving historic streetcar service. We appreciate the coverage and hope it helps move these items closer to reality.  The tremendous popularity of the F-line has made a major impact on service quality, as anyone who tries to ride knows.  We do feel strongly that the line can operate more efficiently than it does and become even more popular with locals, including people moving into the many new residential… — Read More

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Wires, Yes. Super Bowl Week Streetcars, Still No.

Social media and their news media followers seem to be celebrating yesterday’s announcement by the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee that they will not seek to take down Muni’s overhead wires on the first two blocks of Market Street after all in the week before the Super Bowl, when that area and the adjacent Justin Herman Plaza will be turned into a big party for the NFL and its corporate sponsors. But it seems they misunderstand exactly what happened.  Yes,… — Read More

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Backlash Against Removing F-line wires for Super Bowl

Seven months ago, in April, we ran the photo above and this story. We based it in part on a Chronicle story that mildly said the F-line streetcars would have to be “rerouted.” We knew of course that they meant “bustituted,” since you can’t reroute streetcars without moving the tracks and overhead wires. We looked at the artist’s conception of the “Super Bowl village” on lower Market Street and noticed that there’s no tangle of overhead wires showing — the ones… — Read More

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Clearing Cars from Market Street

Market Street is fundamentally different today: private automobiles, including ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, are banned from turning onto the city’s main drag between Third and Eighth Streets. SFMTA, Muni’s parent, implemented the changes in support of the Safer Market Street initiative, designed to reduce the number of bicyclists and pedestrians hurt on Market. The Chronicle has a good story on this.  We thank them for the use of the photo above, by Liz Hafalia. The new… — Read More

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New Development Fee Could Benefit Streetcars

The City of San Francisco is proposing a new fee on new market rate condo and apartment construction that will raise an extra $14 million per year for transit. The Chronicle used an F-line streetcar passing a new upper Market development to illustrate the article about the fee. More than fitting, since every single new proposed residential development along Market for the past few years has used F-line streetcars in the illustrations of their proposed project. Clearly, the developers think the historic streetcars… — Read More

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Driver Takes Stupid Pills

We get that driving an automobile in San Francisco is not easy, but c’mon! From our friends at SFist comes this photo taken last Thursday by Kendall Willets. Willets reports that the driver of the SUV tried an illegal left turn from the right lane from westbound Market onto southbound Tenth Street.  No injuries, no damage to the streetcar, which has been back on the road. As San Franciscans know, left turns off Market throughout downtown (except onto Drumm Street) have been banned… — Read More

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Private Bus Rear-ends PCC on Market

One of those fancy private buses that are now very common in San Francisco rear-ended PCC No. 1009 on Market Street Thursday evening (September 5), putting the streetcar into the body shop for repairs. The website SFist ran an article that wrongly stated that the historic streetcars are accident prone (offering only a link to articles mostly about bus and LRV accidents). But it does contain several good photos, so if you want to look at different angles, click here.… — Read More

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