“Super Bust 50”

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

For three weeks, F-line streetcar riders from the Wharf had to transfer onto buses near the Ferry Building to reach destinations along Market Street, including the Castro. Many skipped the trip altogether.

“Super Bust 50” is the headline of the new Castro Merchants monthly President’s Letter by Daniel Bergerac. You can read his entire letter here, but here’s the gist.

As the Super Let Down after Super Bowl 50 starts to fade, let’s remember who is going to end up paying the biggest price for Santa Clara hosting this huge sporting event – – we are: local merchants, especially in The Castro.  But, we are not alone, we hear, as local merchant associations all over San Francisco report down, soft revenues during SB50.  From all over The Castro and Upper Market neighborhood, I’ve heard from fellow merchants.  The nine days of official SB50 events in the City ballooned, for us, into over three weeks of SB50-related interruptions.  Customer traffic (locals and visitors alike) and revenues were some of their slowest on record during what had been promised as a “busy time.”   Nightmare predictions of over-crowded streets and traffic jams kept Bay Area local folks out of San Francisco.  Running “Bustitues” instead of the F Line historic streetcars between The Castro and Ferry Building for over three weeks further hurt our area’s local and visitor traffic and revenues.

It’s really important to point out that SFMTA leadership was not consulted before the City made the decision to shut down those easternmost three blocks of Market Street for three weeks, crippling the F-line and Muni bus service in the area.  Once they were handed a fait accompli, Muni staff worked hard to make transit work as well as possible.  They were responsive to the concerns the Castro Merchants — and we at Market Street Railway — expressed about the prolonged replacement of historic streetcars with buses on Market Street.  They agreed with our recommendation that the transfer between the substitute Market Street buses and the streetcars (which remained in service between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building) be as easy and intuitive as possible. They put out lots of staff to help people make the transfer, next to our museum on Don Chee Way, the right-of-way linking Steuart Street to The Embarcadero). They put signage in Metro stations and on vehicles promoting the Castro as a destination for Super Bowl visitors. (We gladly did the same at our museum.)

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Shops and restaurants still suffered because only a small percentage of Super Bowl City visitors bought anything outside the event barricades, and because many regular workers and visitors stayed away after the repeated warnings of congestion. Our own San Francisco Railway Museum, right next to Super Bowl City, saw our sales of souvenirs drop 56% — more than half — over the same week in 2015, during  the week they were taking Super Bowl City down, but the F-line was still being “bustituted” on Market. Even the week Super Bowl City was open to the public, our sales ran 12% below the previous year, despite our efforts to play up football connections to transit at the museum and reintroduction of a Kezar Stadium dash sign tee-shirt aimed at fans.

The city has not finished adding up the net economic impact of the Super Bowl events in San Francisco, and it may be that additional hotel taxes and the like will more than compensate for the reduced take of sales taxes the city will get from the small businesses in the Castro and elsewhere who saw their sales fall off.

One clear lesson from this event: buses are no substitute for the F-line streetcars on a long-term basis. It has been shown over and over, in city after city: visitors do not trust, or feel comfortable on buses (with the possible exception of iconic vehicles like London’s red double-deckers). In San Francisco, the cable cars and historic streetcars, yes. Every time buses are substituted en masse for the cable cars and streetcars, ridership plummets. For so many people, the journey on these wonderful “time machines” is as important as the destination. And so, when buses replace historic rail, businesses along the lines, and especially near the terminals, suffer.

We hope the powers-that-be in San Francisco includes the community more thoroughly in planning for future events. Looking at the layout and extent of Super Bowl City, they clearly could have set it up in a way that could have kept the F-line streetcars running up Market Street to the Castro. That could have been a win-win.

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F-line, Our Museum Adapt to Super Bowl Week

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The foot of Market Street is very different this week. The streetcar tracks have PVC pipes stuck in the flangeways to reduce the tripping hazard for thousands of strollers visiting corporate-sponsored displays where the F-line and Muni buses usually run.

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Lower Market and the southbound lanes of The Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building have been turned over to an event called “Super Bowl City”, demoting the F-line streetcars to a Ferry-Wharf shuttle service, with buses taking over for streetcars the entire length of Market Street (and connecting right in front of our San Francisco Railway Museum across from the Ferry Building, on Don Chee Way. By the way, our museum will be open regular hours, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.)

This cross-platform bus-streetcar connection, which Market Street Railway proposed after Muni planners were ready to turn the buses back a block away, has been strongly praised by the Castro Merchants at the west end of the F-line, who were rightly disappointed to lose their streetcar service for three weeks.  We’ve posted their signs in our museum windows to help promote the connecting bus service.

 

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At the museum, we’re striking a football theme, drawing on archivist Grant Ute and our friends at the Bay Area Electric Railroad Association for a replica of an actual streetcar ad from promoting a semi-pro football game at Kezar Stadium in 1945, the year before the 49ers came into existence. Kezar was served by the 7 and 17 lines of the old Market Street Railway and by Muni’s N-Judah line. For this celebration, we brought back a tee shirt featuring an N-Judah dash sign from the 1950s. It’s on sale at the museum now, and will soon appear in our online store.

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Back on the street, the streetcar-bus connection seems to be working well, with saturation service of 15 streetcars the first day of Super Bowl City easily handling crowds shuttling between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Ferry Building/Super Bowl City entrance area. The streetcars carry banners celebrating the Super Bowl, an idea suggested by Market Street Railway to the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee. The banners will draw even more attention to the historic streetcars while they pass through the hundreds of camera shots of the Ferry Building taken from the various media platforms set up at the event. The banners are not considered advertising, which is forbidden on the outside of the historic streetcars.  They were applied carefully using cable ties by Muni’s great streetcar maintenance team to avoid marring the exterior of the historic cars.

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The buses, too, are heavily scheduled and include many articulated coaches. They loop clockwise around the museum and Hotel Vitale, while the streetcars loop counterclockwise. In the shot below, and inbound streetcar, with passengers on board, turns from Steuart Street to Mission, and will then head north on The Embarcadero to the Wharf. The bus has come south on The Embarcadero from Don Chee Way and is now headed west on Mission, again with passengers. It will turn north to resume the normal F-line route on Market after the Super Bowl City street closure.

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No question it’s going to be a disruptive week for transit, drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists in the area. We at Market Street Railway have two hopes. One: the streetcars get worthwhile and welcome exposure on the national stage through their high visibility next to Super Bowl City.  Two: the city leadership seriously reassesses the need to ever close down lower Market Street to transit in the future. We believe Super Bowl City could have been accommodated within the confines of Justin Herman Plaza, which would have allowed it to be better served by transit.

Remember, streetcars won’t return to Market Street until all the construction on Lower Market is taken down. The target date for that is February 12.

 

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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.

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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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