Many thought the old-fashioned streetcars assigned to Geary looked more and more antiquated, almost like the cable cars on Powell.
Certainly that belief was shared by many merchants on Geary Boulevard, the wide section of the thoroughfare running westward from Masonic Avenue through the Richmond. They were lobbying City Hall for a ‘Great Wide Way’, replacing streetcars with buses … and more parking for automobiles.
Planners who were eying the part of Geary between the Richmond and Downtown echoed this pro-auto sentiment. The Western Addition had been a vibrant community of Victorian homes before World War II. The section along Geary was populated mainly by Japanese-Americans. When World War II started, they were infamously hauled away to internment camps. African-American newcomers, who had come west to work in war industries, largely took their place. By the mid-1950s, there was talk of ripping down the Victorians along that part of Geary to gouge out a broad expressway to get automobiles downtown more quickly.
What Might Have Been - Geary, a 2008 update of a story from the Market Street Railway’s newsletter in 2002.
This pretty much encapsulates the bad transport decisions of the 1940s and ’50s in the US: replacing streetcar (tram) tracks with widened roads served by buses (always subservient to private cars), a willingness (some would say eagerness) to demolishing houses in minority neighbourhoods in favour of freeways, and merchants demanding more parking.
At least the latter two arguments tend to have fallen out of favour, but business still seem to complain about parking all the time.
In the end the B Geary survived until the late 1950s, but the desired expressway was built in the early 1960s. Current plans for a “bus rapid transit” scheme seem to be as far away as they were in 2008.
I’m not quite sure that hacking Muni was what Samsung had in mind when they promoted this post, but I quite liked the juxtaposition.
In 1920, the B line, replaced by the busy 38-Geary in 1956, departed from the spot where the Ferry Building stands today and zoomed out to near Ocean Beach in 35 minutes. The fare was a nickel.
Today a similar $2 trip on the 38-Geary takes 54 minutes, while the 38 Limited, which makes fewer stops, takes 43 minutes.
As the article notes, there are reasons for this. Even with a bus not a streetcar, there’s an obvious way to get the speeds back up: cut car traffic back to 1920 levels. (Of course, that’s far more easily written than done.)
(Also, a minor nitpick: the Ferry Building was already over a decade old by 1920.)
Every morning, I push the STOP button on the handrail of a number 63 bus. It tells the driver I want to get off at the next stop.
I’m very fond of the button. It immediately radiates robustness: chunky yellow plastic on the red handrail. The command, STOP, is written in white capitals on red. There’s a depression to place my thumb into, with the raised pips of a Braille letter “S” to emphasize its intent for the partially sighted. When pushed, the button gives a quarter-inch of travel before stopping, with no trace of springiness; a dull mechanical ting rings out, and the driver pulls over at the next stop. […]
It’s immediately clear what to do with this button, and what the outcome of pushing it will be. It makes its usage and intent obvious.
This is a good button.
This was particularly resonant given the truly atrocious way that Muni handles the same problem. A few buses have the same STOP button, but a majority of them (and all of the modern streetcars, along with most of the vintage ones) have pull-cords along the windows. The cords usually have a two to five second lag before the alarm sounds letting you know it’s actually been acknowledged, so often they ping repeatedly.
Meanwhile, unlike London’s simple “the doors are opened by the driver”, when you go to get off the bus, there are at least three different door-opening mechanisms.
Some buses have you pushing the door, others stepping down, and streetcars ask you to push a bar next to the door. Because each is different, each needs labels (often multiple labels, in inconsistent typefaces). Occasionally the door won’t open until the driver switches something, leading to cries of “Back door!” from frustrated passengers (or, more commonly, those watching someone who’s so tied up in being confused they don’t think to call).
You wouldn’t think you could get homesick for a simple button. You’d be wrong.