Exploring Pre-War Precita Park by Streetcar

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Once upon a time, in the Age of the Iron Dinosaurs, giant streetcars roamed around Precita Park in Bernal Heights.  Precita Park was the terminus for the Market Street Railway’s 36 Folsom Line, which carried passengers to and from the Ferry Building via Folsom Street between 1915 and 1945. In the magnificent aerial photos of Bernal Heights captured in 1938, the streetcar lines around Precita Park were clearly visible:

The 36 Folsom entered Bernal from Folsom on the west end of Precita Park. It then followed Precita Ave along the southern edge of the park before making a quick jog onto Alabama. The line then turned back onto Precita Ave., continuing east down the street to the intersection with Army (today’s Cesar Chavez). There was no turnaround, so for the return trip to the Ferry Building, the streetcar just reversed itself.

Today’s history geeks owe a great debt to the streetcar geeks of yesteryear, because their obsession with streetcar photography and documentation today provides us with a trove of vivid images that makes it possible to see what this part of North Bernal looked like during the early decades of the 1900s.

Take this shot for example. This is Precita at Army as it looked during the 1920s, with the intersection with York Street visible to the left. This spot is very familiar to most contemporary Bernalese, so it’s fun to check out all the detail this image has to offer:

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The most obvious thing to notice is that the divey little gas station that now sits on the triangular lot between Precita, Cesar Chavez, and Bryant used to be a rather divey little saloon:

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Amazing! Wieland Beer was a San Francisco brew, manufactured at a brewery that used to be on 2nd Street between Howard and Folsom.

Notice also the battered barber pole just to the left of the Acme Beer sign, alongside that Joad-ready truck. Behind it is the building which would later become the world-famous Sheepskin City and Battery4Prius.

At some point, of course, this bar was replaced by a gas station. For comparison’s sake, here the exact same spot, as it looked circa 1970, at the moment when Steve McQueen begins the famous car-chase scene in Bullitt:

The left side of the streetcar image provides a clear view west up Precita Avenue, with the southeast corner of Precita Park visible in the background, and ample parking available for rickety-looking motorcars:

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We’ll zoom into Precita Park in a moment. But first, here’s a reverse angle, showing the 36 Folsom at Army Street, looking to the southeast. That’s the south slope of Potrero Hill in the background:
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Google Street View confirms that the houses on that side of Precita still look pretty much the same today.

Backing up Precita, we get some terrific views of Precita Park. Here’s Alabama at Precita looking northeast. The exact year is unknown, but it looks like the early 1940s, judging from the styling of the car in background:

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The building on the corner in the right side of the image is now the fabulous Precita Park Cafe (as shown here), but back then it was… a SAFEWAY?!

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Spinning 180 degrees from about the same spot, we get the reverse view looking toward the southern edge of the park  in 1939:

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That’s the future Precita Park playground site on the right, and some very lax parking enforcement on the left. Here’s a closeup of the streetcar itself:
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Finally, there’s this amazing photo, which Bernalwood has previously explored. This is the view of the 36 Folsom tracks  from the other end of the park,  on the southwestern corner of Precita and Folsom, as it looked in 1943:

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Here’s an annotated version:

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The Palermo Bakery is now home to Precita Clean laundromat, while the Yosemite Meat Market on the corner is the location of today’s Charlie’s Cafe.

Very special thanks to our friends at Open SF History, Rick Laubscher from Market Street Railway, and Bernal Neighbor Michael Nolan for sharing the photos that made this Magical History Tour of Precita Park possible.

Tuesday: SFMTA to Consider Revisions to Mission Street “Red Carpet” Rules

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 16, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency Board will consider some proposed updates to the “red carpet” lanes installed recently on Mission Street to provide more rapid Muni bus service. The red carpets have been very popular among transit riders, but some Mission Street merchants have expressed concern that the revised traffic flows have been bad for business.

Here’s what the SFMTA has in mind:

We recognize [the red carpet] was a big change for the Mission, and it’s our priority to make it work for everyone. Already we’ve made several changes to enhance the project and make traffic flow more smoothly. We will be recommending a few more changes to improve traffic circulation, which will be heard at the next SFMTA Board of Directors meeting. The SFMTA commits to continuing to monitor Mission Street to ensure the project goals are achieved.

Mission Street Changes at SFMTA Board
August 16, 2016
Mission item will be heard at 3:00 PM
City Hall Room 400
If you are unable to attend, submit comments to MTABoard@sfmta.com.

The following changes will be recommended for legislation by the SFMTA Board of Directors:

  • Removing two of the required right turns on Mission at 26th and 22nd. This will allow vehicles to travel four blocks on Mission before encountering a required right turn, making it easier to access businesses and find parking along the street. We expect this change to improve traffic circulation without increasing through traffic or delaying bus riders.
  • Relocating the outbound Cortland stop to the nearside of the intersection. Moving the bus stop nearside will improve boarding ease for Muni riders.
  • Exempting taxis from the left turn restriction at 21st Street. This exemption, in the middle of the Mission corridor, will provide more options for taxis to reach their destinations.

The recommended changes are the result of a series of community engagement activities to discuss how the new street design is being perceived by neighborhood residents, bus riders, motorists and others using Mission Street. Staff worked closely with community members, Muni riders, neighborhood organizations and other non-profit organizations, as well as David Campos, District 9 Supervisor. Outreach activities included several small group discussions, a community hearing (summary of comments heard is available here), merchant walks and an intercept survey of 1,400 people on Mission Street.

That SFMTA survey is interesting, because it underscores the extent to which the data about how shoppers get to Mission Street diverges from what merchants believe about their customers. In an article that looked at this question, Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez from the San Francisco Examiner wrote:

The recent SFMTA survey of people in the Mission — conducted June 28, June 29 and July 9 — found that 69 percent of 1,400 respondents went to the Mission by public transit.

Those surveyed arrived to eat, drink, visit friends and work. But the largest group surveyed — about 350 people — was there to shop.

Specifically, the SFMTA said 76 percent of surveyed shoppers “usually” take transit, and 10 percent drive.

Merchants, however, disagree that most shoppers take transit.

Michael Gardner, the 42-year president of Siegel’s Clothing Superstore & Tuxedos on Mission Street, felt the survey was all wrong.

“This just doesn’t make sense to me. It just can’t be right,” he said.

For Bernal Heights residents,  the mandatory right turn on Mission Street northbound at Cesar Chavez has been a particular point of concern. The SFMTA’s FAQ explains why the mandatory turn at Cesar Chavez will remain in place:

Why aren’t you removing the required right turn at Cesar Chavez?

We heard many requests to remove the required right turn at Cesar Chavez Street, which some feel acts as a barrier to two neighborhoods. This was a difficult decision. Doing so would make traffic and transit performance worse on northbound Mission Street than before the project was implemented because one lane of traffic was removed [to create the restricted access lane for Muni buses].

The required turn at Cesar Chavez diverts drivers who drive through Mission toward downtown. Instead, we will address community concerns by removing two of the required right turns at 26th and 22nd to improve access to destinations along Mission without congesting the street with traffic looking for a fast way downtown.

PHOTO: Top, a worker installs flexible bollards to prevent traffic from crossing Mission Street at Cesar Chavez, April 7, 2015. Photo by Telstar Logistics

Monday: Community Meeting to Reconsider Muni Red Carpet Lanes

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At the urging of D9 Supervisor David Campos, the SFMTA will hold a meeting on Monday to consider options to alter the “red carpet” bus lanes on Mission Street. The meeting happens on Monday, June 20 at 6pm at the Mission Cultural Center (2868 Mission at 25th),

Right now, this stretch of Mission Street carries over 65,000 Muni riders and about 8,000 cars each day. By many accounts, the street improvements have increased safety and improved the speed and quality of Muni service, but some local merchants say the new configuration has resulted in declining sales.

The SFMTA’s press release maps out differing perspectives on the issue:

District 9 Supervisor David Campos and Ed Reiskin, Director of Transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), today announced a series of activities to gather additional feedback on the Mission Street Improvement Project, which established bus-only lanes on Mission Street from 14th Street to 30th Street. The activities include a community hearing, merchant walks in the project area, and a survey of residents and visitors on Mission Street.

The community hearing, to be held on June 20 at 6:00 PM at the Mission Cultural Center, provides an opportunity for community members to discuss their experiences and suggestions for improving the project.

“My office and the SFMTA received a wide range of feedback from stakeholders – some of it positive and some of it focused on impacts to local merchants. While I wholeheartedly support the goal of improving Muni reliability and speed, I want to make sure that the project works for everyone and takes into account the unique aspects of the Mission,” said Supervisor Campos.

With eight full weeks of post-implementation results, Muni reliability has improved and travel time has dropped and continues to drop. Furthermore, Muni has seen only one collision in this corridor since late March. Prior to project implementation we experienced three to four per week, which hampered reliability and forced buses out of service.

While construction was only recently completed, there has been a significant amount of positive feedback from Muni riders and neighborhood residents. The feedback ranges, but is focused on the appreciation of an improved Muni experience and a feeling of Mission Street being a safer place to walk – primary goals of the project.

In addition to the positive feedback, there have been concerns from local and regional drivers who were finding it difficult to directly access Mission Street. Merchants expressed concern that this difficulty was causing a decrease in sales, while other merchants say they have not experienced any impacts.

If you support the red carpet lanes, you might want to add Monday’s meeting to your calendar.  Because as Streetsblog explains:

The problem, of course, is public meetings on transit projects seem to attract a disproportionate number of, well, grumps. “One of the things that stands in the way is often times a small number of deluded people are the ones who show up. And they complain and their complaints may be irrational and factually incorrect. But because they show up, they’re the ones who win the day,” said Jeff Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy for Nelson\Nygaard Consulting.

PHOTO: Telstar Logistics

Bernal Dads Build Muni Race Car to Speed Up Public Transit

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There’s been a lot of controversy lately about new schemes to improve the quality of our local public transit service. Some say we need to make Muni faster, so buses become more attractive to would-be riders. Others say we need to respect automobile drivers, for whom the car is still an essential way to get around. Both approaches have pros and cons, but when those petroleum-huffing papas from the Bernal Dads Racing Team looked at the problem, they saw an opportunity to deliver a big win-win for both transit riders and motorists.

The Dads started by taking a family-friendly car, and turning it into a bus. Then, to hasten the commute, they added horsepower — lots and lots of horsepower. The result is what you see here: A 1992 Volvo 240 station wagon that’s been repowered with a higher-output BMW M52 engine and converted into a Muni bus.

Say hello to Bus 670, Muni’s first public transit race car.

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Designed to upgrade the quality of service on Muni’s existing 67 Bernal Heights Line, Bus 670 was built to provide super-express service between Bernal Heights and downtown San Francisco. Before entering regular service, however, the Bernal Dads took the vehicle to Thunderhill Raceway last weekend to conduct high-speed endurance testing under live race conditions in a 24 Hours of LeMons competition.

At first, the judges at 24 Hours of LeMons judges expressed some concern about the authenticity of Bus 670 because, they said, it did not sufficiently reek of piss, vomit, or feces. Nevertheless they determined that all of the vehicle’ safety equipment was in order, including the rear-facing “Stop Requested” sign that engages in tandem with the rear brake lights.

When the green flag came out, Bus 670 quickly validated its basic design concept. With the BMW motor installed where an anemic Volvo engine used to sit, Bus 670  became a formidable competitor in heavy traffic — with no “red carpets” required:

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However, in classic Muni style, Bus 670 did experience some teething pains. After about  two hours on the track, the clutch failed. Bus 670 was returned to the yard, and a team of ace mechanics quickly set to work on repairs.

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Eight hours (and a complete engine removal and reinstallation) later, Bus 670 was ready to return to duty:

With the new clutch in place, 670 performed flawlessly during seven continuous hours of express service on Sunday:

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Of course, like the signs say, your picture and voice may be recorded on any contemporary Muni vehicle, and Bus 670 is no exception. Here’s a 360 Video of your Bernalwood editor taking a lap around the track:

… and this video gives a sense of how nimble Bus 670 can be in brutal traffic:

All told, this trial run of Bus 670 was a huge success.

The Bernal Dads Racing Team estimates Bus 670 has the potential to transport commuters from Pinhole Coffee on Cortland Avenue to the Ferry Building downtown in five minutes or less with limited-access traffic controls. To verify this, the Bernal Dads look forward to strapping SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin into the rear passenger compartment for a high-speed proving run.  Just remember our motto, Mr. Reiskin: “Information gladly given, but safety requires avoiding unnecessary conversation.”

Welcome aboard!

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

Bernal Merchant Seeks Revisions to Mission Street “Red Carpet” Program

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Neighbor Eden Stein is a resident of the La Lengua Autonomous Zone and the proprietor of the fabulous (and resilient) Secession Art & Design store at 3235 Mission (@Valencia). She’s also president of the Mission-Bernal Merchants Association, which represents merchants along the Bernal’s stretch of Mission Street.

In recent weeks, Neighbor Eden has expressed concern about Muni’s new “red carpet” bus lanes on Mission Street. Although bus riders report the new red carpets have noticeably improved public transit, Neighbor Eden says local merchants are struggling because the rollout of the new traffic configuration has coincided with reduced foot traffic and sales in Mission Street stores.

This morning, Neighbor Eden released a letter summarizing her views on Muni’s new red carpet along Mission Street:

Two months ago, MTA reconstructed Mission Street, introducing red transit lanes and forced right turns. The bus is running two to five minutes faster, but I have observed a decrease in pedestrian traffic and clientele, especially for daytime businesses. My business is not only a go-to for locals, but a destination for people from all over. The forced right-hand turns funnel drivers away from shopping and local restaurants, making it harder for our customers to show up and support us. This is a direct call to our customers to walk, bike, take public transit, or drive to support local businesses impacted along Mission Street.

My specific concerns for Mission Bernal are to make sure it is safe for pedestrians, residents, and our valued customers. A request has been made to MTA to put in protected left turn signals at 29th and Valencia, remove the right hand turn at Cesar Chavez, and review positions of new bus stops. I am concerned that the Mission-Powers bus stop is not well-lit and is located in front of a preschool. My other concern is when it rains the red paint is causing the buses difficulty in stopping. I have seen the buses slide through the intersection at 29th Street on the red light because they are slipping on the red lanes. This is a safety concern for our whole community. I support public transit, but not at the cost of safety or small business. I am for finding a balance that works for all us.

My grandparents owned a storefront for over 40 years in Philadelphia. Their legacy business was one of the things that inspired me to open Secession Art and Design in an emerging area of the Mission in 2007. Mission Street has been home to my gallery and boutique for 9 years, supporting over 60 local and independent artists and designers. Businesses along Mission Street all want the chance to be legacy businesses, and live out our dream that small business can thrive in San Francisco. This is why I became president of the Mission Bernal Merchants Association, so my neighborhood would have a passionate point person who lives and works in Mission Bernal.

I have attended many MTA meetings, sometimes closing my store to make sure my voice is heard. A happy medium needs to happen, so small businesses aren’t forced to shut down. I want to continue my grandparents’ legacy of doing what I love everyday, being the owner of a small business. I’m working to help Mission Street culture return back to its vibrant and artistic hustle.

Thank you to everyone who has been supportive, encouraged me to go outside my comfort zone and speak up for my community, and reminded me to be strong and love what I do!

You rock, Eden

PHOTO: Top, a worker installs flexible bollards to prevent traffic from crossing Mission Street at Cesar Chavez, April 7, 2015. Photo by Telstar Logistics

MUNI Riders Resist Complaints; Say New Mission Street “Red Carpet” Is Working

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Your Bernalwood editor rode a MUNI 14 bus down Mission Street yesterday for the first time in a long time. The bus was modern and new, and the ride was conspicuously swift. Thank you, Mission Street red carpet!

A few weeks ago, D9 Supervisor David Campos decided to stand with the cars, arguing that the new Mission Street red carpet and transit improvements must be rolled back:

I have heard from many of you — car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks; pedestrians concerned about increased safety risks because of irate drivers; residents along the corridor dealing with nonstop yelling and honking horns; and small businesses unable to get goods into their stores because unloading zones have been taken away. That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program

While it’s certainly true that the new configuration on Mission Street has caused some disruption and side-street spillover, it’s not at all clear the program should radically revised right now.  A “Transit First” policy is city law, after all, and it takes time for old habits to change and new traffic patterns to become familiar. Best of all, there are already signs that the red carpets and mandatory turns are working as intended; MUNI riders say the changes have dramatically improved bus service along Mission Street:

Writing at the N Judah Chronicles, transit blogger Greg Dewar says the backlash typifies why it’s so devilishly hard to make MUNI the much-better transit system everyone says they want:

If you’ve ever wondered why it is hard to Get Things Done with Muni, the current brouhaha over improvements in the Mission to the 14 Mission, and to traffic in general is an example. Muni rolled out some significant improvements to the 14 Mission line, and already there’s “anger” from a few nuts online. The changes have had less than a few weeks to take hold, but apparently dealing with the changes is too difficult for some people to handle like adults – hence the temper tantrums online in places like the infamous “NextDoor.com” and in the media.

These folks have found politicians eager to score political points, enough so that the SFMTA may back down on plans it has been working on for almost TEN years (and about a zillion “community meetings” in the process).

The SF Transit Riders, a grassroots organization that represents public transit users, has launched a #KeepMissionRed campaign to support the red carpet lanes:

Starting in March, after a decade of numerous community discussions, planning and studies, Muni finally started installing transit priority treatments on Mission Street. Just a month in and despite flagrant violations by drivers, they are already benefiting riders by making their rides faster and more reliable.

However, there has been a major backlash against these changes, and some, in particular Supervisor David Campos, have called for rollback of this major progress. It is a betrayal of the 65,000 riders who are served by the 14, 14R and 49 buses, as well as a betrayal of the Transit First charter of this city.

Along with my high-speed ride down Mission Street yesterday, I’ve also noticed that the morning traffic backups at the Mission/Cesar Chavez intersection have subsided. The line of cars waiting to turn left from Cesar Chavez onto South Van Ness is longer than it used to be, but the new queue seems to move pretty quickly.

It’s reasonable to assume that some adjustments to the new red carpet configuration may be needed. But a “radical shift” to the program, as Supervisor Campos has suggested, would be irresponsible and unprogressive. The recent rollback of the single-lane configuration for the San Jose Avenue exit from I-280 provides an encouraging sign that transit officials will abandon new traffic schemes when time, data, and experience demonstrate that changes aren’t working as intended. Truth is, we don’t yet know what’s best for Mission Street.

Patience seems like the best policy here. The red carpet lanes on Mission Street need more time  to settle in. If we sincerely want to improve our public transit system, the SFMTA should be encouraged to try new things, and we should expect that real progress usually takes time to reveal itself.

PHOTO: Top, a worker installs flexible bollards to prevent traffic from crossing Mission Street at Cesar Chavez, April 7, 2015. Photo by Telstar Logistics

New Bus-Only Lanes and Mandatory Turns Can Make Mission Street a Parking Lot

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Let’s begin with a few stipulations: Public transit is good. Encouraging people to take public transit is good. Making public transit faster, safer, more convenient, and more reliable is good. Policies that discourage the use of private cars are … awkward at times, but they’re generally in the service of a worthy goal. In fact, that’s official policy, as enshrined in our city charter.

Now, with all that said, let’s also stipulate that so far, the new “red carpet” transit-only lanes along Bernal’s stretch of Mission Street are not generating much goodwill.

The photo shown above was taken by Neighbor Margie during the Friday morning commute, looking south at the intersection of Mission and Cesar Chavez. As you can see, the backups created by the new traffic configuration extended all the way from Cesar Chavez to Valencia Street. Cars were backed up. MUNI buses were backed up. No one was transiting rapidly.

The problem, apparently, was not so much the new MUNI-only red lanes, but the new, mandatory right turn from Mission Street northbound onto Cesar Chavez eastbound. Left turns are now banned too, which means that in theory, motorists can no longer drive down Mission Street continuously from Precita Avenue to 26th Street.

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To head north, you must turn right on Cesar Chavez, then turn left on South Van Ness — and in the photo up top from Friday morning, you can see the SFPD motorcycle officers who were on hand that day to enforce the new rules. But before you can turn right onto Cesar Chavez, everyone first has to merge from two lanes down to one. With rather predictable results.

Neighbor Bill wrote to say:

These traffic planning groups are operating without a logical approach. They don’t exponentially increase the quantity or frequency of bus lines, or spend the money to create a comprehensive underground rail system with full access to all neighborhoods. They just gum up the streets to force the behavior they want – to make more residents take public transportation. This is behavior that simply can’t change without the requisite infrastructure in place.

Sorry to add to the chorus. It is nuts.

Hopefully, the backups we are seeing today are just early teething pains. Hopefully, before too long, the traffic patterns along Mission Street will realize the intended purpose of the new configuration: To make bus transit faster and more efficient than it was before.

This morning your Bernalwood editor visited the intersection of Mission and Cesar Chavez, to see how things were going. The traffic snarls were gone, but that was probably because lots and lots of passenger cars were ignoring (or blissfully unaware of) the new right-turn requirement.  This morning, motorists were zipping across Cesar Chavez via Mission Street, much as they always have:

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As a result, there was no backup south of Cesar Chavez.

It’s hard to tell what all this portends for traffic patterns along Mission Street in the future. A system that works to the extent that it is ignored is no system at all, but the SFPD will no doubt conduct occasional enforcement operations along Mission Street to, uh, remind motorists about the new mandatory right-turns. Tickets will be issued, and some motorists will be sad, but over time traffic patterns may indeed change for the better.

On the other hand, if the new flow consistently generates big back-ups along Mission Street, the SFMTA might find their offices surrounded by mobs of angry Bernalese wielding pitchforks and torches:

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PHOTOS: Top, Mission at Cesar Chavez, Friday morning, March 18, 2016 by Neighbor Margie. Traffic signs and intersection on March 21, 2016 by Telstar Logistics.