On Saturday, July 9, Muni restarted service on several routes with long histories that were shut down at the beginning of the Covid pandemic; routes that at least some in Muni hoped would not come back at all. SFMTA’s blog has the whole list of Muni routes resurrected on July 9. We focus here on one of those routes, the 2-line, with a long history and possibly cloudy future. (We’ve also covered two other resurrected historic routes: the 6-line and the 21-line in other posts.)
By 1880, relatively flat Sutter Street had become the primary transit artery between the heart of downtown – the retail and financial districts – and the quickly growing “suburbs” westward toward the ocean. Cable car service on Sutter gave way to electric streetcars after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, with the franchise owner, United Railroads, running four lines westward out Sutter: the 1, 2, 3, and 4, which jogged off Sutter at various points to continue west on California, Clement, Jackson, and Sacramento/Lake Streets, respectively.
The 2-Clement had the most scenic terminal – Sutro Baths and the Cliff House – but Clement Street was slower than Geary Boulevard just a block south, where competitor Muni’s B-line reigned after 1912. In fact, the Inner Richmond District had parallel streetcar service on five of its seven east-west streets for decades, more than any other residential part of the city. After Muni took over its competitor’s routes in 1944, thought was given to reducing the number of parallel lines running a block apart, but neighborhood resistance blunted those efforts.
When Muni converted the Sutter lines to buses in 1948, the 1 and 3 got electric trolley coaches, using the poles and span wires that powered the streetcars and adding the second overhead wire the coaches needed to return current. Clement Street had this overhead infrastructure too, and Muni ordered trolley buses that came with ‘2-Clement’ route signs, but decided to convert to motor coaches instead (perhaps in hopes of someday eliminating the line?). (Those trolley coaches also came with route signs for “4-Lake”, but Muni was able to abandon that little-ridden line altogether instead. The 4-line destination was used for decades, though, on trolley coaches returning to Presidio Division from other lines at the end of the day.)
As a bus route, the 2-Clement bus initially followed its old streetcar route, jogging over on 33rd Avenue and west on Geary to finish its run to the ocean. Muni’s B-line couldn’t go past 33rd on Geary because its private competitor owned the franchise for Geary westward from there, so the B jogged south to reach Playland. This contorted route structure persisted for decades after Muni took over the 2, largely because of the familiarity riders had with the old routes and resistance to change. Finally, Muni got the routes straightened out, with the 38-line bus (which replaced the B-line streetcars in 1956) taking over Geary all the way to its end and the 2 rerouted and shortened slightly.
Muni also moved the 2 from California to Euclid Street between Presidio Avenue and Arguello Boulevard when it became a bus, improving line spacing and making the route slightly faster. But the wealthy residents of that neighborhood never liked the 2 cutting through on Euclid, and Muni moved it back to California Street on that stretch in 2005. Three years later, Muni succeeded in cutting back the 2 to Park Presidio Blvd., no longer serving the residential area on outer Clement, but still operating through the business district on inner Clement. Muni had already curbed evening service on the 2 in 1988. The pattern was clear: Muni did not think the 2-Clement was an important line, and treated it accordingly.
In Spring 2020, the initial Covid outbreak shut down more than 75% of Muni lines, leaving only core services, which did not include the 2-line (or the 6 or 21 lines, covered in separate posts). We know that top Muni management initially hoped to be able to permanently eliminate those three lines, along with others such as the 31 (which has come back in modified form) and the 3 (which hasn’t, although there’s an effort among its Pacific Heights riders to get it back).
Suddenly, Sutter Street had no bus service at all. The 1-California had been rerouted to Sacramento and Clay Streets decades before; the 4-line, which had briefly reappeared as a Sutter shuttle was gone; and the 2 and 3 were both suspended. As the pandemic eased, and emergency federal funding kept Muni financially afloat, pressure began building from riders and merchants to return service to Sutter. And to Clement as well.
For now at least, though, the 2-line will no longer serve Clement at all. It has been renamed the 2-Sutter and runs from its Ferry terminal (right outside our museum on Steuart Street) up Market and all the way out Sutter to Presidio Avenue and a loop at California Street. The return will use Post from Laguna to Market, as all Sutter lines have since one-way streets were imposed downtown almost 50 years ago.
The 2 will finally use trolley coaches, just like the signs on the buses ordered 75 years ago suggested was Muni’s plan back then. But it will only run until 7 pm, and only every 20 minutes, much less frequent service than Sutter Street saw before the pandemic. Indeed, in the face of a forthcoming financial squeeze that Muni leaders expect, we will have to see whether the 2 has a long-term future at all.
By Rick Laubscher
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