Skipping Stops, Then and Now

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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!

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Mid-Market Comeback


PCC No. 1060 enlivens the scene at Seventh and Market Streets. (c) Melissa Wuschnig.

In his Chronicle column today, former Mayor Willie Brown said of the mid-Market area, “After decades of nothing but talk, that area is really taking off.”
Decades is right. I grew up on Market Street. My family had delicatessens between Fifth and Sixth and between Fourth and Third in the 1950s (and one at Fifth and Jessie as well). As a kid, I watched the stretch from Fifth west gradually deteriorate, as solid working-class stores like Weinstein’s folded and the respectable second-run theaters morphed into porn houses.
One of the selling points I made over and over for the F-line was the prediction (hope, really) that the colorful vintage streetcars would provide the truly attractive kind of public transportation that could stimulate infill development in the not-so-great parts of the street, by connecting them to the more vibrant parts of Market in either direction.
A lot of factors have played a role in the rejuvenation of mid-Market of course, led by Mayor Ed Lee’s staunch advocacy for the district (continuing what his predecessor, Gavin Newsom, started). No question the tax incentives for tech businesses coming to the area have been important, along with several other programs.
We believe the F-line streetcars are part of that positive stimulus for mid-Market, too, and Mayor Brown agrees. He wrote today, “The best part, however, continues to be the historic trolley cars. At $2 a ride, they’re one of the best tourist attractions in the city.” Unlike the rest of Muni, the trolleys actually run on time. Not that it matters, since the people riding them don’t appear to be in any hurry. If you’re lucky, you get the open-air car, which makes the ride all the better.”
While we concur with Mayor Brown, we do feel strongly that the F-line is, and must continue to be, about San Franciscans as much or more than visitors. It carries thousands of residents to and from work, school, shopping, and recreation every day, especially on the stretch from Castro to the Financial District.
Within a year or two, a couple of thousand new housing units will be completed along that stretch of Market, and the F-line will be their “neighborhood trolley.” So we need to ensure that the service meets the needs of locals first.
That’s why Market Street Railway is deeply involved in advocacy for the Better Market Street Project, which aims to remake our main street from Octavia to the Ferry over the next five years. You’ll be hearing more about our proposals soon in this space and in our member newsletter, Inside Track. We hope you’ll join us and help keep the F-line at the heart of Market Street.

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Chron plays Catch Up on Market Street

John King, the Chronicle’s urban design writer, has a good piece today about some aspects of the proposed Market Street redesign. They’re about six weeks behind us though, when it comes to discussing the number of streetcar stops that should be retained as part of the revamp of our main street.


A key goal of the Better Market Street project is to make the street better for transit and bikes.Autos? Eh, not so much.

John called us to get our take on the possible reduction of F-line stops from 12 to either 9 or 6. We told him we had an open mind on the subject, provided of course any changes helped speed the flow of transit along the street. As one example, we suggested that replacing the current stops at Fourth and Fifth with a larger, fully accessible stop at Powell might actually be an improvement, while freeing vital street space for other uses (like a bike track) in the constrained area next to the BART escalator shafts where the streetcar stops are now.
Bottom line: it’s all about thinking carefully about what works, rather than reflexively assuming every stop has to remain. We all want the F-line to load and unload more quickly, to reach the boarding islands quicker and more reliably and to avoid getting stuck behind other traffic unnecessarily.
Your opinion counts here. Either leave a comment below or (preferably) give feedback direct to the Better Market Street Project. Click the comment button at the top of that web page.

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Mustn’t Miss Display at Our Museum – and On Market St.

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Poster of 1914 image by John Henry Mentz, part of the Treasures From the Muni Archive Display on Market Street and (in this case) at our museum on Steuart Street, very close to the spot where this image was taken.

As part of Muni’s centennial year activities, Mayor Ed Lee has unveiled a new, multi-faceted display that brings the history of Market Street, and its transit, to life. Part of it centers on our San Francisco Railway Museum. SFMTA (Muni’s parent) has partnered with us (Market Street Railway) and with the online non-profit Historypin, to create a cool window into our storied main street’s past.

It’s all based on Muni’s photo archives, long unavailable to the public, but now coming into view, thanks to the efforts of archivist/photographer Heather Moran. Our museum features a wall of fantastic large blow-ups of shots taken by Muni photographers (and their counterpart at the old United Railroads, John Henry Mentz) over the past 110 years. Outside the museum, more great archival photos, tied to our physical location — just across from the Ferry Building and its famed streetcar loop (preceded by a colossal cable car turntable before the 1906 earthquake and fire).

But that’s just the beginning of the show. On many Muni passenger shelters along the downtown part of Market Street, you’ll find historic photographs of that very location screened onto the glass itself. Each one of these has a QR code, which, if you scan it with your app-equipped mobile phone, will take you to a spot on the Historypin site that shows you more photos of that same location over the decades. (Don’t worry; if you don’t have all that capability, you can see all the photos linked to the shelters in one place.) Additionally, SFMTA has set up a supporting photo archive site.

In announcing the exhibit, Mayor Lee said, “San Francisco is excited to launch the ‘Treasures from the Muni Archive’ exhibit to engage the City about Muni’s rich past and begin the celebration of Muni’s centennial. The high-tech features of this exhibit make history come alive and represent San Francisco’s commitment to innovation.”

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin added, “With nearly 30,000 photos in the SFMTA archive, we are pleased to have such a unique way to share them with residents and visitors. We are grateful to our long-standing partner, MSR, and one of our newest partners, Historypin, for making this exciting exhibit possible.”

MSR President Rick Laubscher hailed the multi-faceted partnership that made this possible “Our City has one of the richest transportation histories in America,” he said. “We salute Muni for the work it is doing in preserving its own precious archives and sharing them with San Franciscans and visitors alike through this project. We’re proud to help on this and other activities marking Muni’s centennial.” The shelter photos are scheduled to be up through the end of March, but we plan to keep our exhibit up all summer.

By the way, many of these images come from the great book on Muni’s first hundred years written by our members, including the late Cam Beach, the late Phil Hoffman, Bob Townley, Grant Ute, and Walt Vielbaum. You can get it at our museum, or in our online store.

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Thank You, SPUR!

SPUR is one of the great urban planning non-profits in the world. Formally named San Francisco Planning and Urban Research, the organization is widely respected as a powerful and responsible advocate for making our city more livable as well as economically strong and esthetically beautiful. Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher was one of four San Franciscans honored last week with Silver SPUR awards, given annually for helping make “San Francisco and the Bay Area a better place to live… — Read More

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