Van Ness and McAllister, Nov. 1, 1917

This photo from the SFMTA Archive was taken exactly 100 years before the date of this post, on November 1, 1917. No streetcars in the picture, but we do see important infrastructure: the poles that hold up the wires that bring power to the streetcars.

We’re at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street, looking northeast across Van Ness. City Hall, then new, sits on the southeast corner of this intersection. Across Van Ness, we see an apartment building with ground floor retail that’s still there. If you click the photo, at left center at the corner of Redwood Street, you can see a shop offering vulcanizing services (presumably for tires). Van Ness is so wide, and so devoid of traffic, that automobile drivers felt free to park perpendicular to the curb — or parallel, whatever they wanted.

On the left, we see a metal pole with a metal cap belonging to the privately owned United Railroads, used for the 5-McAllister line that ran essentially the same route as today’s 5-Fulton bus.

On the right, a concrete pole belonging to the Municipal Railway, then less than five years old. Van Ness, one of the city’s widest streets, hosted the H-Potrero streetcar line on this stretch of the street (replaced in 1949 by the 47-Potrero trolley bus).

Muni generally preferred concrete poles for their streetcar lines. They used streetcar rail for reinforcement. The poles on Van Ness were installed in 1914 without streetlights. Those were bolted on in the late 1930s, as Van Ness was readied for an increased flow of automobile traffic from the new Golden Gate Bridge.

Bringing the light pole story up to date, the metal poles came to Muni with the rest of the private company’s infrastructure in 1944, when the city took over. The metal poles on lines that were converted to trolley coach, many are still in use.

As for the concrete poles, they have badly deteriorated, as would be expected after a century. In planning the new Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, SFMTA (Muni’s parent) proposed replacing the old concrete poles with modernistic metal ones. They felt this was necessary not only because many of the old poles were structurally unsound, but also because the poles needed to be taller because the trolley bus wires were being moved from the curb lanes to the center right-of-way.

But at the last minute, after repeated public outreach and hearings, a group of influential people in Pacific Heights demanded that the old poles and lights be retained or replicated. After negotiations, they settled for getting rid of the modern lights and substituting some old-timey looking lights that have no history in San Francisco.

But hey, those concrete poles lasted a century. The one is this picture is still there (although the metal pole on McAllister has been replaced, probably when the State of California was built a quarter-century ago on the spot occupied by the bar in the photo offering Golden State Beer for a nickel).

And oh, by the way, traffic on much of Van Ness was diverted today to clear two lanes for sewer replacement, one component of the BRT project.

Thanks as always to SFMTA for preserving the photographic history of transit in San Francisco.

2 Comments on Van Ness and McAllister, Nov. 1, 1917
Share

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

The first two blocks of Market Street, from Steuart (here) west to Main will still be closed to streetcars during Super Bowl week, forcing the substitution of buses on the F-line the entire length of Market Street.

The first two blocks of Market Street, from Steuart (here) west to Main will still be closed to streetcars during Super Bowl week, forcing the substitution of buses on the F-line the entire length of Market Street.

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, the wires are staying up, avoiding the cost and time of removing and replacing them (the Host Committee had reportedly offered to pay…is it possible they cringed when they saw the estimate?).  But from everything we’ve heard, the street itself will still close.  Muni bus lines will have to be rerouted. And, most importantly to us, the F-line will be cut in half, with no streetcar service on Market Street at all. (Streetcar shuttles would operate from the Ferry Building and Steuart Street stops (where our San Francisco Railway Museum is) and Fisherman’s Wharf. There would be no E-line service at all, either streetcars or substitute buses, Muni says.)

Focusing on the wires ignores bigger issues that almost no one is looking at.

Closing multiple blocks of our city’s main street for a period this long is simply unprecedented.  We are a history-oriented group with Market Street in our very name, and we know of no time when Market Street downtown has ever been closed for longer than it took a parade to pass by.  Sure, we close Market for several hours at a time for civic celebrations, such as the Pride Parade, the Giants Parades, and so on, but not for at least nine days (Super Bowl week plus at least a day on either end for set up and take down on the street.  Parades on Market are a civic tradition, dating back to the 19th century.  This is different.  It amounts to an outdoor trade show for a huge business enterprise.

The F-line will have to operate with buses the entire length of Market, since there is no place to turn streetcars around between Beale (the limit of the closure) and 11th Street/Van Ness.  This denies visitors attractive through streetcar service from the Wharf to Castro, serving all the destinations in between, including Union Square.

Specifically for mid-Market and Castro businesses, it could mean less business from people who come to the city than they would have gotten with attractive streetcar service. The Castro Merchants have stated many times that visitors much prefer to ride the streetcars, which are an attraction in themselves, rather than buses or the Muni Metro.  This cutting off of attractive transit service by this action of the NFL is ironic, given that the NFL has promised an “LGBT-friendly” Super Bowl celebration on San Francisco.

Given the increasingly frequent closures of Howard Street at Moscone Center for more than a week at a time, causing gridlock throughout downtown, is it time to ask where this is going?  If an outside organization can come into San Francisco and pre-empt our public streets on a whim, with no consultation, what is next?  As we said, the length of this closure of our main street is unprecedented.

We have learned through sources that Muni still plans to “bustitute” for the F-line streetcars on Market Street for at least nine days, counting set up and tear down of the displays.  We don’t fault Muni for this.  We know that no one at the Host Committee (or City Hall, apparently) even consulted with Muni before they proposed closing lower Market for this extended period and tearing down the wires.  Muni’s just trying to play the best hand they can, given the crappy cards they were dealt.  

We hope the Host Committee reflects a little more about the uproar over the wires and sees the positive possibilities here.  As a thoughtful commenter on our Facebook group put it, “Redesign some more -so the village fits – and transit (especially the F-Line) – passes through it. Then it will be a real village, and the overall effect and feeling of something special will be greatly enhanced! Tourists and locals alike love the colorful F-Line cars, so why does the Super Bowl Committee think they wouldn’t like them as part of an S.F. focused celebration? Indeed they should be the centerpiece or glue that ties the celebration and village to the rest of The City. No other host city could do something like this again.”

That is a perfect argument for getting the most out of the F-line and showing visitors one of the things that makes San Francisco special. Besides, we could very well have two cities in the Super Bowl who are represented in Muni’s historic streetcar fleet.  Imagine decorating these cars in tribute to their teams and making a big deal out of them.  Can’t do that if they’re on the sidelines.

13 Comments on Wires, Yes. Super Bowl Week Streetcars, Still No.
Share

Backlash Against Removing F-line wires for Super Bowl

Super Bowl Party on lower Market

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 that power the F-line, the 6, 21, and 31 trolley coach lines on Market, and the terminal loop for the busy 14-Mission. But, we thought, artists often eliminate the lines when they draw pretty pictures of Market. Our big concern was streetcar service on the F-line.  Since there’s nowhere to turn the streetcars between 11th Street and the Ferry Loop, it was clear that they’d have to put buses on the F-line to serve Castro.  At a minimum, this meant that the city’s biggest LGBT center and shopping district would be denied the attractive streetcars that so many businesses there rely to convey visiting shoppers from downtown. (This, despite the fact that the NFL had promised an “LGBT-friendly” Super Bowl celebration to the local community.)

Having been told that the wire removal was a “done deal” and that there was “no way” streetcars would run on Market Street during Super Bowl Week, we focused our efforts on ensuring that at a minimum F-line streetcars could keep running between the Ferry and the Wharf.  SFMTA leadership supported our position and, we are told, have won that small victory. F-line streetcar shuttles will operate from the Wharf to the Ferry, using the loop on Don Chee Way, Steuart, and Mission Streets to turn around. (We plan to keep our San Francisco Railway Museum open during Super Bowl Week if at all possible, but we have heard zilch from anyone at the Super Bowl Committee or the City about how much access people will have to us.)

We have not gotten support, however, for our strong recommendation to run E-Embarcadero line service daily throughout Super Bowl Week along the waterfront from the Wharf to Caltrain. This would have provided an connection to the front door of the Super Bowl Village at Ferry Plaza for people using the Peninsula commute trains or parking remotely in the many lots of Mission Bay.

Meantime, people in the press figured out the missing wires. The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez got on the story last week, sparking lots of complaints on social media, which yielded today’s follow-up story, in which Sup. Jane Kim, quoted in Joe’s first story as saying she thought the wire removal plan was well known, is now calling for a public hearing after many constituents contacted her to complain.

Most of the social media commenters have focused on issues of cost (which could be considerable — the first Examiner article cited “seven figures”) and time (it would probably take several days both before and after Super Bowl Week to take down and restore the wires, meaning the total F-line disruption could be two to three weeks). Interestingly, though, some talked about the overhead transit wires as being “part of our city,” even beautiful in their own way. And many railed at this amorphous Super Bowl Committee ordering transit out of their way with no public input first.

Seems to us the only way to save the F-line streetcars on Market during Super Bowl week is if the directly affected businesses along the route speak out loudly, immediately. We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.

2 Comments on Backlash Against Removing F-line wires for Super Bowl
Share