In his San Francisco Chronicle column this week, Native Son Carl Nolte reminds us that, when looking back into history, not to forget there were bad old days as well. He writes about Market Street, “At rush hour, there were so many streetcars on Market – and so much automobile traffic – that the street was nearly impassable.”
Streetcars gridlocked on Market Street in 1922. In the foreground, Lotta’s Fountain is visible on the corner of Market & Kearny. San Francisco Municipal Railway photo.
Long before the Muni Metro subway opened, 18 streetcar lines once shared 4 tracks on the surface of Market Street. Muni’s streetcar lines ran on the outside tracks while our namesake Market Street Railway Company ran on the inside. Nolte notes a major problem:
“The four-track setup was also dangerous – there was only 23 1/2 inches of clearance between the moving streetcars. This meant that people interested in taking a car on the inside track had to inhale when a car on the outside track passed by. Accidents were common.”
Not to worry though, while the F-Market & Wharves historic streetcars are all authentic antiques, the line runs according to modern safety standards. When looking back on history, remember things weren’t perfect and there were both the ups and downs just like today.
the quadruple tracks didn’t seem smart, and neither does allowing cars onto Market St.
And, on the average, people were quite a bit thinner in the old days. The space between Muni and Market St. cars might be rather tight if one were more like Oliver Hardy than Stan Laurel (that Flivver next to the fountain made me think of my favorite comedy team). “Ollie, what are we doing in San Francisco?”
I wonder what Market Street would have been like had there only been 2 tracks. Would cars then completely dominate two lanes on both sids of the street? That certainly doesn’t seem like it would have been any better. 23 1/2 in clearance isn’t a lot, but at least the streetcars were confined to the rails. At speeds seen in the video version of this blog, I would be okay temporarily standing in the middle. If we’re talking doing the same between 2 lanes of buses, that’s a different story.
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