• Ongoing coronavirus / COVID-19 discussion: how is the pandemic affecting your community, workplace, and wellness? 🦠

    Working from home? So are we. Come join us! Cyburbia is a friendly big tent, where we share our experiences and thoughts about urban planning practice, planning adjacent topics, and whatever else comes to mind. No ads, no spam, no social distancing.

Streetcars as Entertainment

ablarc

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
713
Points
20
STREETCARS AS ENTERTAINMENT


Rail-based transportation in San Francisco consists of commuter rail, heavy rail, and surface light rail that then tunnels into downtown as the Market Street MUNI subway. But San Francisco has even more: not one but two little extras loved and used by residents and tourists alike.

Everyone knows about the cable cars; they not only serve the visitor, they attract him as well. They are listed as the city’s number one tourist attraction. Not long ago the cable cars were joined by colleagues in the entertainment business. Collectively, these colleagues are known as the Muni F-Line, or the Historic Streetcar Line or the Market Street Railway. It is packed with tourists, and locals use it, because it is effective transportation.

The line runs old streetcars salvaged from Newark and St. Louis and Milan, Melbourne and Moscow, New Orleans, even Hiroshima, Lisbon, Blackpool and (yes!) San Francisco. Most of the Americans are PCCs like the ones that survive on the MBTA Mattapan Line. They are gaily painted in the liveries of various cities that used to run them, including Boston, below:


Boston Colors In San Francisco

The Market Street Historic Streetcar or “F” Line runs on the surface of San Francisco’s main drag, broad Market Street, where streetcars once congregated so densely on four (count ‘em) parallel tracks that they made a kind of Chinese wall between the sidewalks of this thoroughfare.

The streetcars were shifted underground to make a light rail subway (like Boston’s Green Line under Boylston Street) when the tunnel was built for BART, the heavy rail line.


Peter Witt cars from Milan


PCC


A tram from Melbourne

So here, at various levels all on one alignment, are: 1. all San Francisco’s light rail subway routes; 2. the heavy-rail subway to the airport and to Berkeley and beyond; 3. miscellaneous electric trolleybuses; and most recently, the restored surface streetcars of the Market Street Historic Streetcar Line! What folly, you say, what duplication!


The ones on the right run under Market Street; the others on top.

The F-Line turns at the Ferry Building, where Market Street meets waterfront, and follows the graceful, tree-lined trajectory of the refurbished bayside Embarcadero, once host to the much-hated and now-demolished bi-level elevated freeway. Rumbling along Embarcadero, the F-Line links all the waterfront tourist hotspots, until it meets up with the cable cars near Fisherman’s Wharf.


Milan and PCC: what great streetscape this makes.


Embarcadero Waterfront with one of San Francisco’s own.


Tourists.


A streetcar from St. Petersburg: Russia on Market Street.


A San Francisco original.

A jolly ride, soon to be extended. This line does not cannibalize the duplicate underground lines for riders. Where tourists formerly were deterred from going, or where they slogged wearily alongside parking lots, or drove, they now ride the F-Line, cheerfully rubbernecking as they go.

They exploit the frequent headway of this line, hopping off and on, as something new to attract them heaves into view, while wafting by the sleaze and dull stuff at exactly the right speed and distance. In fact, the line is so entertaining that they ride it all the way to its terminus at the Castro, where the gay guys live. Something they never would have dreamed of before. And the gay guys? Why, they ride it too.

http://www.webcastro.com/fline.htm

So here is a line that made a market for itself, where none existed before. Just by being so darn entertaining.



Blackpool seaside open tram: the one the tourists love most.

 
Last edited:

jordanb

Cyburbian
Messages
3,232
Points
25
I rode the F line in San Francisco, and it was pretty nice, but it only works because San Francisco's weather ranges between "moderate" and "chilly." Put those old streetcars in a city with a hot summer or a cold winter and passengers will abandon them in droves.
 

ablarc

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
713
Points
20
This is true if you ignore technology. All those San Francisco streetcars have in fact been unobtrusively modified to meet the accessibility code. Modern HVAC systems can be installed with only minor cosmetic alterations. Also, there is a company that now makes new antique streetcars, for what that is worth.

I wouldn't want to see every mid-size town jump onto this particular bandwagon, although that already seems to be happening: Memphis, Charlotte, and cities in Texas and the Northwest--places with disparate climates.

Are New Orleans streetcars air conditioned? It gets pretty hot in New Orleans.
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
13,887
Points
56
Chicago needs it.

We still have the extra wide ROW on many of the old streetcar streets. Heck, the old tracks are probably still under the current blacktop.

It would be really nice, especially if they had their old dedicated ROW. These would replace the horrid buses.

Toronto as the exemplar!
 

Bangorian

Member
Messages
198
Points
7
Just back from Lisbon not long ago, and LOVED their streetcars! Lisbon also has "funiculars", which are baiscally a crossbreed of an elevator and a streetcar - they usually run 4 to 10 blocks or so up the city's backbreakingly steep hills. They're neat - kind of like a "terraced" streetcar (everything in Portugal seems to be terraced!).

They're a huge tourist draw for Lisbon, especially streetcar #28 that rattles up the hilly streets into the Alfama, the old fisherman's quarter.

Check it out:

 

ludes98

Cyburbian
Messages
1,264
Points
22
Nice pics. Any of these can be restored and incorporate new technology, efficiency would be the real problem. We are getting our light rail this decade and we'll see if the cars stay cool when it is 120F. I know that the buses are too old and don't stay cool, but they still have riders.
 

otterpop

Cyburbian
Messages
6,655
Points
28
As a child growing up in New Orleans one of my favorite things was riding the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. I loved the clackity-clack of the rails and the rhythmic swaying of the car. You saw lawyers elbow to elbow with cleaning ladies. I recall one Saturday the parents of one of my friends rented a streetcar for the afternoon and we had a birthday party on it. Cool!

In response to a previously asked question: the streetcars are not air-conditioned. In the warm months the windows are opened and when the car is moving it is not hot, usually somewhere between refreshing to warm, depending on whether it is spring or the middle of summer.
 

Cullen

Member
Messages
33
Points
2
I'm really impressed with San Francisco's streetcar system, and this historic F line seems really interesting. I like this post, thanks a lot for showing it.

Jordanb is correct though about the cold. i don't think it is just riding on them that would be a concern. One could install plenty of hvac systems, but when it gets cold out, just waiting for transportation can be very painful. Somehow they must work this out in toronto though. I think waiting in general is an important reason one may chose an auto trip over a transit trip. Often, people don't want to wait, they want to go right away. When transportation is fun or efficient, then people may change their mind.
 

Tranplanner

maudit anglais
Messages
7,915
Points
36
Cullen said:
Somehow they must work this out in toronto though.
It's called a toque, eh?

Toronto is lucky enough that, at least in the "core" areas, transit service is frequent enough that wait times are usually no more than 5-10 minutes. Out in the 'burbs though it can be a long cold wait for that bus. Some transit agencies provide schedule info over the phone - you can call the phone number for "your" bus stop, and find out the time of the next bus. Toronto stopped this service a few years ago, but I think some of the outlying services still employ it.

What Toronto could really use is the streetcar subway that runs under Market Street in San Fran. Our streetcars are stuck in traffic on most routes, and trying to find solutions to that is one of our pressing concerns.
 
Messages
5,352
Points
31
otterpop said:
As a child growing up in New Orleans one of my favorite things was riding the St. Charles Avenue streetcar. I loved the clackity-clack of the rails and the rhythmic swaying of the car. You saw lawyers elbow to elbow with cleaning ladies. I recall one Saturday the parents of one of my friends rented a streetcar for the afternoon and we had a birthday party on it. Cool!

In response to a previously asked question: the streetcars are not air-conditioned. In the warm months the windows are opened and when the car is moving it is not hot, usually somewhere between refreshing to warm, depending on whether it is spring or the middle of summer.
It gets very hot and humid in N.O., but it's not bad when riding on a streetcar with the windows open. The newer streetcars that were built for the Canal Street/Carrollton Avenue lines will be air-conditioned.





New Canal St. streetcars (right).



St. Charles Avenue streetcar (I think it's one of the oldest running lines in the U.S.)
 

donk

Cyburbian
Messages
6,970
Points
30
A quick search of the City's site shows that Toronto has a few of the old red rockets available for special occasions.

The TTC day pass and especially with the street cars is the best tourist money spent.

As for cold, most stops are near someplace you can hide out in and see the car coming. Or like Tran said, dress for the weather. You don't get too many funny looks bundled up waiting for the streetcar.
 

ablarc

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
713
Points
20
Just a couple more pics of Lisbon’s fabulous streetcars to supplement the shots posted by MaineMan. These little beauties are like Filet of Trout Amandine; a bus on the same route would just be dead fish.












Plus here’s a portrait of the glitzy new model for Lisbon, and one all tricked out for extra revenue as a rolling billboard:






Love New Orleans’ streetcars; was interested to hear the old ones not air-conditioned, in this steamy place. The new ones bring the system very nicely into the present century. I love the way streetcars can run in a grassy mall. Here’s an old one on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans:




And here’s a new one on a mall in [old] Orleans, France:




I heard there was talk of reinstating the Desire line as a streetcar. Will this go ahead? What a tourist bonanza that could be.
 
Messages
5,352
Points
31
I heard there was talk of reinstating the Desire line as a streetcar. Will this go ahead? What a tourist bonanza that could be
Restoring the old Canal Street line cost the RTA so much money (project went way over budget AND schedule....it was supposed to open this week but was pushed back until March 2004), I think the RTA and the present administration may be a little gun-shy about proceeding with the Desire line. The DEIS is available for viewing.
 

jresta

Cyburbian
Messages
1,474
Points
23
We're getting our old Girard Ave. Line (the 15) back that many people still call the "Zoo trolley" because it stops there.

The whole line will be restored PCCs - all with HVAC and ADA compliant. The line opens in April.

i rode those old, unrestored streetcars in Milan. scary.
the fuses kept flashing and popping underneath the driver, the lights would go on and off, the heat didn't work and thought at any moment the car would jump the tracks and the glass lighting fixtures would come crashing down on our heads.
We made it back in one piece, though. They've been fine for 100 years so they definitely deserve their credit.

It's not Miami or Charleston but it doesn't get that cold in Philly compared to places like Toronto or Chicago . . . even we have heat lamps at some of our transit stops. A few of the old ones are on a timer and you have to push the button to get them to go on. It's not perfect but it does take a lot of the discomfort out of waiting on an El platform in the cold.

From what i've read all light rail stops on the new minneapolis line will have heat lamps. If you're unfamiliar with them, they're basically high output space heaters that look more or less like a heating element of an electric oven with a grill over the front of it.

They're quite toasty.
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
I think that transportation as entertainment needs a lot more focus from planners.

My previous job was in a tourist town that had been working on the same set of attractions for 10+ years. A lot of people came, but most had seen it all before.

I wanted (and failed to get) to use fun and free transportation as a value added attraction. People would then have a new reason to visit. In addition, it would have reduced traffic congestion and allowed us to use exusting remote parking, rather than building new parking in the congested area.

My first idea was aerial trams, like ski areas. That allowed people to get around on reserved rights of way and also give great views. After that, I would have liked to see lightweight monorails (operating like horizontal elevators), which would also give a great view. Last preference was unique buses. I was looking for a 1940's replica as the base bus.
 

Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,482
Points
41
Couple thoughts:

I agree with Wulf9 about the value-added component of historic railways/streetcars, et cetera.

Louisville has these geeky "Toonerville Trolleys" that are generally scorned by locals and tourists alike -- even with a quarter or free fares. Something has to be done to fix it and historic buses could be a neat way to go -- if they don't go with true fixed rail system.

I really enjoyed riding the el in Chicago when I flew up to retrieve my cousins when they visited from Denmark this summer -- I flew Southwest to Midway and took the el from Midway to O'Hare via the loop. The cousins had heard that public transit in the US was poor, but I think they know better now.

Nice post ablarc. I wish we hadn't abandoned the old inter-urbans, which were basically streetcars on steroids.
 
Top