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Transit Stories: San Francisco Municipal Railway – Part 4

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San Francisco Muni operates a historic streetcar service that runs along the city’s “Main Streets”, Market Street and the Embarcadero waterfront. With frequent service that serves many of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks along the way, it is no wonder that tourists use the streetcar line than, I’d say, most other Muni lines.

Originally intended to be a replacement service to the world-famous Cable Car services (discussed in a future Transit Stories article) because of extensive reconstruction, San Francisco’s streetcar service, aptly called the F-Market and Wharves, served as an alternative mode of transportation for tourists wanting to see Fisherman’s Wharf and the waterfront from Market Street (which, of course, where many hotels are located close-by). It started off with a parade of streetcars in the summer of 1983, in which vintage streetcars imported from other cities in the United States as well as from overseas–from Milan to Melbourne–and of course, San Francisco-based streetcars, were carefully restored to their original splendor and operated along Market Street to the tourists’ delight. As a joint project between the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Muni, the festival was so successful that it was repeated every year until 1987 when Muni prepared to implement a permanent F line. It took eight years for Muni to restore existing tracks along Market Street, recreating a line to the Castro District, and acquiring second-hand streetcars from Philadelphia and Milan to become the backbone of the streetcar fleet, and in 1995, the F-Market line was opened.
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As a major backbone to Market Street’s transportation network, the F-Market and Wharves line provides a vital connection, not only for tourists, but also for locals like me as well, to major hotels, tourist sights, transit hubs, and various attractions in the northeastern quadrant of San Francisco. The districts served by the F line, along with its major attractions, include (ordered from inland to the waterfront):

  • Castro District (Harvey Milk Plaza, Castro Theater)
  • Duboce Triangle (U.S. Mint, Duboce Park, Mission Dolores Park)
  • Civic Center (City Hall, Asian Art Museum, United Nations Plaza, San Francisco Public Library, Orpheum Theater, Davies Symphony Hall, War Memorial Opera and Performing House, San Francisco Conservatory)
  • Union Square (Powell Street, Cable Car Turnaround, Hallidie Plaza, Maiden Lane Shops)
  • South of Market (Westfield San Francisco Center, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Transbay Terminal)
  • Financial District
  • Foot of Market (Justin Herman Plaza, Ferry Building, San Francisco Railway Museum, Embarcadero Center)
  • Waterfront (Teatro Zinzanni, Levi’s Headquarters, Alcatraz Ferry Terminal @ Pier 33, Pier 39, Pier 45, Pier 47, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square)
  • Connections to other sights (Chinatown, Little Italy, Coit Tower, Filbert Street Steps)

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From my personal experience, the F-Market & Wharves line is one of the most scenic, enjoyable, and memorable lines I’ve ever taken among all my trips in San Francisco (to be outdone later by another transit mode). Its particularly straight-shot route along Market Street and The Embarcadero, along with its few curves on the Waterfront and the terminals, gives me the impression that it is a very useful line for tourists and locals to remember easily and get to the major attractions quickly. Combine that with the colorful vintage streetcars from other streetcar companies, including ones from Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago, as well as from Milan and Melbourne, each of them carefully restored to its former glory, the vintage streetcars themselves are moving attractions that makes kids awe and adults touched by their continued use. Its historical significance is documented at the San Francisco Railway Museum, located on Don Chee Way between Steuart Street and The Embarcadero, where tourists can explore the breadth and depth San Francisco’s railway history, from the first streetcar lines along Stockton Street, to the existence of the Transbay Terminal as a hub for streetcars coming from the East Bay, as well as historical artifacts of older rail cars used in the 1920s and 30s. Those show how San Francisco, as a city, thrive itself through the streetcar network and how it survived until today when most streetcar lines in other cities went out of business.

In part 2 of the Streetcars story, I will discuss unique scenes I’ve taken along the historic route, as well as my own personal documentation about the rides and the trains I’ve ridden and taken from my camera.


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