“Two Bells”, Dianne Feinstein

Dianne Feinstein is rightly being remembered for an astonishing range and depth of accomplishment during her 90 years of life. Her memory is a blessing to all who knew her, especially the thousands of women she mentored as a breakthrough female political leader.

As the tributes pour in from world, national, state, and local leaders, we want to add a heartfelt ‘thank you’ for the rolling legacy she left her hometown: the cable cars and the F-line streetcars.

As New York Times San Francisco Bureau Chief Heather Knight wrote today, without Dianne Feinstein, “No more cable cars. No colorful street cars rumbling down Market Street.” We believe that’s correct. San Francisco owes Dianne Feinstein for that, along with so much else.

Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Tony Bennett and Muni General Manager Harold Geissenheimer on Cable Car 58 with Reporters During Celebration of Reopening of Cable Car System | May 2, 1984. SFMTA Archive

As we wrote this summer, in tribute to her as a “Cable Car Hero” for the 150th anniversary of the cable car’s invention, Dianne Feinstein saved the cable cars all over again, a third of a century after Friedel Klussmann rescued them from oblivion in 1947.

“As the ‘70s ended, both the cable cars and their City were in trouble. The cable system was just plain worn out, and the City had been shaken by the assassinations of Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk. Again, a woman stepped up to lead. Thrust into the Mayor’s Office by tragedy, Dianne Feinstein led her city through a challenging decade, confronting issue after issue, including a 7-month cable car shutdown in 1979 for emergency repairs. The cable cars were reaching the end of the line.

“But Mayor Feinstein wouldn’t let that happen. She lobbied hard for federal funding for most of the 60 million dollar job, and personally raised the rest from the city’s corporate community. A parade bade farewell to the old system in September 1982, amid promises that it would be back within 20 months. Few believed that possible, but Dianne Feinstein delivered. Ready to run for another century, she said. Thanks to the high quality of the rebuilding work, they’re still on track for that goal.

“As if that weren’t enough, during the cable car shutdown, Mayor Feinstein supported our nonprofit’s proposal for a Trolley Festival using vintage electric streetcars on Market to provide an alternative attraction. It was so popular she extended the one-summer service to five summers, leading to the permanent F-line, attracting as many riders as the cable cars by linking the Castro to the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf. And since, as California’s Senior US Senator, Dianne Feinstein delivered her hometown billions of dollars in transit funding, including for the cable cars. A hero through and through.”

Cable Car Heroes, August 2023 video tribute
Mayor Feinstein green-lighted vintage streetcars on Market Street in 1983, overcoming skeptics and more than a few reluctant officials at Muni. Here, she opens the first Historic Trolley Festival aboard Muni Streetcar Number 1, which she personally piloted all the way from Castro downtownl. She handled the car expertly, under the tutelage of Muni’s Reno Bini (right). The mustache brothers in the middle are Chamber of Commerce Chairman Gordon Swanson and Festival Project Manager Rick Laubscher. Terry Lowenthal photo.

Dianne Feinstein saved the cable cars and restored historic streetcars to San Francisco’s main street. We wouldn’t have them today without her.

In the rail transit world, “two bells” is the signal that it’s safe to move forward. It’s also used to bid farewell to peers when they pass. While Dianne Feinstein was peerless, she deserves that accolade in remembrance of her monumental work for our cable cars and historic streetcars. We hope the City identifies a formal and permanent way to honor her.

We will have a more detailed assessment of Dianne Feinstein’s achievements in the next issue of our member magazine, Inside Track.

— By Rick Laubscher


Comments: 2

  1. After graduating from High School in 1981, my family moved to the Bay Area. The 1st time we visited San Francisco we went to eat Dim Sum at Celadon. Then, we rode a Cable Car. Jump forward a few months, I remembered eating at a restaurant next to a dug up street. A street getting new cable. I remember dirt, boards, and oddly enough, a pile of bricks.
    I regret never seeing Dianne Feinstein in person, but I’ve seen her handiwork in dug-up streets and rejuvenated Cable Cars clanging in a rejuvenated City by the Bay.
    As long as Cable Cars & Streetcars keep rolling, she lives on.

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