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.