Reply to John Haley, SF MTA Director of Transit, 7/21/16

John Haley
Director of Transit,
SF Municipal Transportation Agency
1 South Van Ness Avenue, 7th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103
John.Haley@sfmta.com

July 21, 2016

Dear Mr. Haley,

Your letter of June 23, 2016 concludes that the removal of the tracks on 17th Street “is not possible.” I am concerned that your response doesn’t acknowledge the problem or proffer a solution to prevent these terrible injuries that your tracks are causing. Frankly, you sound apathetic.

Let me refresh your recall. The first half of my letter to you vividly described the danger of sharing two lanes between parking, car traffic, bikes and streetcar tracks on this too narrow passage. There was even a link to a video, a mother and her two small children being smashed to the pavement and sent to the hospital due to your rails trapping her bike tires. As I made clear, this was not an isolated incident but something that is recurring frequently.

So you completely ignored that half of my letter. That’s prudent as your agency really harmed those people extensively and you probably cannot talk about it.

But then you have the hubris to claim the tracks and pavement are in good condition. That’s absurd. I sent you a link to two videos, that terrible case of the mom & kids on May 19, 2016. Then there was the motorcycle from May 25th knocked down by the same ginormous rut just 20 yards east of the hazard that sent that mom to the hospital.

Your “in good condition” tracks were the subject of a nine page article in Hoodline last week on July 8th which led off with a big photograph of a long four inch wide gap. Reporter Shane Downing interviewed several people critically injured in accidents directly attributable to these openings alongside your tracks. Finally, on July 11th two more riders were taken to the hospital right off your rails within 30 minutes and a block and a half from each other on hazards that we digitally photographed, reported and begged you to fix two weeks prior.

Sir, these rails and pavement are dangerous as currently maintained. Any fool can look at them and see this. If I were you I would get down here in person ASAP and walk my tracks. Then I would fix the problem as fast I could. Why? Because leaving this hazard unabated is to condemn total strangers to medical hell. That’s why. And it makes you look out of touch and uncaring to be defending this situation.

The second half of my letter to you suggested a safer alternative to using the 17th St. tracks and requested your feedback on that idea. It’s a really simple plan. F-Market streetcars in the wee hours of the morning pull into service on Church Street turning right onto Market Street to head downtown. Late at night they pull out of service from Market Street at Duboce by the Mint cutting through the David Pharr Restoration Yard, turning left onto Church Street and cruising back home to Cameron Beach Yards. That’s it.

Your response to this proposal was four paragraphs that never mentioned the Duboce Street tracks. Yet those tracks have a long history of continuous service as the original N-Judah streetcar line followed by the historic streetcar festival and then as the restoration facility.  Yet you don’t want to use them. I wonder why?

So I asked again about the Duboce Street tracks on June 28th on the occasion of thanking you in writing for filling a pothole. That letter went unanswered.

Let’s get our lines straight. I am asking for the removal of 500 yards of hazardous rail on 17th St. running from Church St. to Pond St. These temporary tracks are a vestige of the KLM lines streetcar detour around the Market Street construction of the 1970’s. They allowed the streetcars to continue serving the Western neighborhoods while the MUNI light rail vehicle system was being constructed. The switch over to the new system was September 19, 1982. These tracks were never part of the F-line passenger service.

Yet you write: “These tracks were designed and installed to provide regular streetcar service to the Castro and ensure reliable service along the entire length of the F-line for our 20,000+ daily customers.”

You can only be referencing one thing here, the Market Street Transit Thoroughfare project which replaced the F-Market tracks during the late 1980’s and on into 1996 when Noe Street Terminal Loop was completed. Opening day on the F-line was September 1, 1995. Your confusion is possibly due to the fact that this project did replace and incorporate the old KLM temporary tracks on 17th St. between Noe and Castro Streets. In any case no one is suggesting that these permanent new tracks be removed.

Back to the track du Jour, in your words:  “with the move to MME, the tracks are not used daily for trains pulling in and out of service.” So another solution to the safety problem is to leave the trains at MME in their current configuration and just skip the 2017 move back to Cameron Beach Yards since it cannot be done without seriously injuring lots of bicycle riders.

But what about those broken F-Trains that needs to be pushed out of the way? Try the David Pharr Yard on Duboce St. behind Safeway or the extra tracks on 17th between Noe & Castro Streets. Why hurt 200 people a year for two blocks of non-revenue tracks that you don’t truly need?

This brings us to your point that “alternatives using Market at Church Street are not possible.” I suggested that trains pull into service on Northbound Church Street turning right onto Market Street. You say this is impossible because the tracks don’t turn left.

Ed Reiskin and I talked about this in person so I know what you are alluding to. It’s that fixation that the route has to start at Castro and Market and that turning right onto Market from Church Street denies service to all riders west of Church Street.

I respect this ideal. But surely you see the hypocrisy in the current practice allowing streetcars to cut service to the entire Castro/Upper Market area many times a day (using these tracks) while telling me that in the early morning (using these tracks again) every single streetcar absolutely must pull into service from Castro Street? That’s an inconsistent wishy-washy interpretation of service.

Both of these wrongheaded current practices would cease upon removing the tracks on 17th Street between Pond and Church Streets. (And no one is stopping you from installing a left hand turn in rails at Church & Market Streets which would actually be really cool.)

My idea is a win-win-win! Riders west of Church Street would get all the F-line streetcars (just like Fisherman’s Wharf), unabridged service all day long. Additionally, this would actually be a major service improvement for all riders south of 17th Street, including disabled riders, on every pull-in and pull-out trip of F-line streetcars, presuming the streetcars return to their usual storage/maintenance location, Cameron Beach Yard at Geneva and Ocean Avenue, in a few months. That is a considerable impact.

Imagine that in addition to improving current conditions for bicyclists on that stretch of 17th Street.

The downside to pulling into service on Castro Street is the need to use non-revenue tracks on 17th Street.  This means the trains have to run empty all the way from San Jose & Geneva to Castro & Market because they can’t carry passengers on that two block stretch. Yet riders south of 17th St. need more trains in the morning when they are trying to get to work.

Riders on Castro and Upper Market Street have so many great choices to get downtown on MUNI that no one even knows the F-Market trains (and buses) are entering the system downtown right now. It’s a red herring, a complete non- issue in the Castro.  But those riders watching the empty streetcars whizzing by them in the morning on Church Street in Noe Valley or on San Jose by Balboa Park, they’d really appreciate some consideration.

You say safety is your highest priority. Then stop maiming bicyclists on 17th Street. Please remove these tracks and route your trains in a manner that does not require hundreds of serious injuries on my street each year. If you have a better solution, implement it!

Sincerely,

John Entwistle, Jr.

Cc:  Ed Reiskin, Tom Maguire, Sup. Scott Wiener, Sup. London Breed (attn.: Conor Johnston, Chief of Staff), Mayor Ed Lee

Earlier Reply of June 28, 2016

This is a copy of an earlier reply and request for clarification  from John Entwistle to SF MTA Director of Transit John Haley. This letter was unanswered:

June 28, 2016

John Haley
Director of Transit
SF MTA
1 South Van Ness Avenue, 7th Floor
San Francisco, CA  94103
John.Haley@sfmta.com

Re:       Thanks for filling the pothole & one very quick question.

Dear Mr. Haley,

In your letter to me dated June 23, 2016 you referred to a pothole your Track Department and Maintenance of Way Director found and repaired. That pothole was directly in front of the main gate of the schoolyard at Everett Middle School, a very inauspicious location where it menaced the children riding their bikes into and out of the schoolyard.

Thank You for repairing that section of road surface!

We appreciate all that you can do to make our street safer for everyone.

I have one specific question that still remains unanswered. Can the Westbound Market Street Historic Streetcars headed towards the Castro from the Ferry Building exit Market Street at Duboce Avenue (under the Old Mint & behind Safeway) and then turn left to head South on Church Street?

The track is in place and the power is in place and the muni workers I have spoken with say it is an option. Are they wrong or can this be done?

Sincerely Yours & Once more, Thanks,

John Entwistle, Jr.

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