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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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.

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