Posts Tagged ‘muni’

Muni Murals outside Laguna Honda

May 7th, 2017

About a year ago, the wall facing Forest Hill station at Laguna Honda hospital got the mural treatment. Today I (finally) found myself over there and decided to check it out. Among other aspects, the mural features two fun depictions of Muni over the years that connect the past with the present.

First, here’s a Muni trolley exiting Twin Peaks tunnel at West Portal. This represents the original West Portal station, a glorified bus stop with a facade that looks similar to those of the old piers along the Embarcadero.

Muni Murals

 

The second Muni-themed part of the mural depicts a modern Muni Metro LRV heading to the nearby Forest Hill station. Once known as Laguna Honda Station, it’s the oldest San Francisco subway station that’s still in use today. Regular Muni Metro riders can identify the station’s platform level in the mural by the checkered pattern on the wall. Or you might recognize it from a certain Clint Eastwood movie.

Muni Murals

 
“But wait,” is the question I doubt anyone would ask, “Which Clint Eastwood movie that takes place in San Francisco could you possibly be referring to?” Well, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the next blog post to find out. Try not to let the suspense kill you!

The Cable Car Museum

April 3rd, 2017

Some museums require a complicated explanation about how to get there; not so with the San Francisco Cable Car Museum. Both of the Powell Street lines stop outside of the museum, and the California Street line has a stop a few blocks away.

Despite living in San Francisco for almost a decade and a half, I’d never visited the Cable Car Museum, and decided on a whim today to pay a visit.

Most of SF’s tourist attractions fall into one of two buckets: a horrid tourist trap (Pier 39, Grant Avenue in Chinatown) or are actual gems that you shouldn’t miss (Telegraph Hill, Musee Mecanique, Cliff House.) The Cable Car Museum, I’m happy to report, falls into the latter category. That said there’s not much to the museum itself. The real show here is watching how the cable car system works.

I suspect an average tourist doesn’t give much thought as to how cable cars work — it’s just a weird old wooden train with a bell, right? Just like a big version of Mr. Rogers’ trolley? Anyone with that notion will be in for a shock if they visit the museum and watch the motors pulling the cables. More on that in a moment.

The Cable Car Museum is free to visit and is open most days. There are bathrooms open to the public, and of course a gift shop with books and trinkets. Much of the museum consists of panels explaining the history of the system, how it was invented, etc. Most of these factoids you could just as easily find on Wikipedia.

The most interesting of these exhibits explain in detail how the mechanisms that power the cable cars work, for example the grip and the truck pictured below.

 
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
 

Another cool feature are the old cable cars. Did you know that at one time they had two cable cars hitched together? Or that ads on public transit apparently go way back further than you may have thought? These are the quirky little details you won’t find anywhere else.

 
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
 

But like I said earlier, all of this is really secondary to what the museum is really about: seeing the mechanism that powers the cable cars up close. It’s like a factory tour in a way — the museum’s located inside the building that powers the entire cable car system in San Francisco.

Several enormous wheels spin a thick braided metal cable, one for each line. That cable is what the “grip” mechanism in each cable car latches to, which is what propels tourists between Powell and Market and Fisherman’s Wharf. Normally you can’t see those cables since they’re underneath the street, but here they’re in full view.

Apparently it’s some guy’s job to sit there watching the cables, checking for damage as they wiz by, and if there are any frayed bits they have to be repaired at night when the cable cars aren’t in service. While I’d assume this is the sort of job that could be easily automated, in the spirit of preserving a historical system maybe that would be cheating.

 
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
 

In the basement of the building you can see the wheels that act as pulleys, tilting the cables into different directions for each line. Unfortunately it was too dark down there to get a usable photo.

A portion of the building is devoted to a machine shop. The cable cars are custom made, so if a part needs to be replaced it’s not like SFMTA can go on Amazon and order a new one. I spotted several fresh looking grip mechanisms sitting in one corner, ready to be installed as needed. Since it was a weekend there was unfortunately no activity in the machine shop. There might be more action to see if I’d visited on a weekday.

One last fact to mention here is the noise level. With the motors driving the giant wheels and the cables spinning around, this is not a quiet museum. Check out my very brief video below to look and listen to those motors in action.
 

Nuni transit-themed street art hides secret messages

July 24th, 2015

Some unusual transit-themed street art has appeared around the city recently. Perhaps you’ve seen it? For example, I spotted this odd BART ticket (actually a sticker) a while back:

Nuni Bdank ticket
 

Today I stumbled across this unofficial ad at a Muni stop:

Nuni ad
 

A little googling revealed that these are the works of “Nuni,” who apparently goes by @therealnuni on Instagram.

The street art clearly contains some kind of hidden messages, seemingly written in an alien language. Obviously I had to crack the code.

My “aha!” moment was when I remembered playing Commander Keen as a kid, deciphering the Standard Galactic Alphabet on a piece of paper as I went. The Nuni “cipher” works the same way: it’s English words written in a different alphabet.

Cracking it is only a matter of finding a few common words and applying your hangman and/or Wheel of Fortune expertise to work backwards to discover the whole alphabet. The first thing to decode is the word “Nuni” itself:

Many of the messages are exactly what you’d expect them to be. For example, what does it say on a BART ticket in the blue box at the top? Yup, that’s what the encoded message says too.

I’ve managed to crack 21 out of 26 letters in the alphabet so far. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but if you get stuck feel free to shoot me an email — my address is in the sidebar.

Sincerely yours,

52nd annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest

July 10th, 2015

Earlier today was Muni’s annual(-ish) Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest. What is a Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest, you ask? It’s a two-part contest where “amateurs” (non-Muni employees) compete, and a second part where cable car operators compete.

The rules for each part are very different. The amateur competition allows music, dancers, and apparently bribing the crowd with free Giants merchandise. This part takes place on a standalone bell outside the cable car.

The cable car operator competition takes place inside a cable car that was somehow transported to Union Square. This is the main part of the event, and only bell ringing is allowed. I’ve posted videos of the top two bell ringing champions below.

 

Coming in at second place, here’s previous champion Trini Whittaker:


 

Here’s first place winner Byron Cobb:

 
Finally, here’s a few photos from the event:

Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest 2015 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest 2015 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest 2015 Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest 2015

Narrow streets, remixed

May 8th, 2015

Over at Steve Dombek’s Narrow Streets SF website, he proposes undoing America’s 20th century mistake of building ultra-wide streets here in San Francisco. Instead, the land would be sold off to build new housing, and we’d be left with traditional (or “narrow”) streets like you find in the rest of the world.

Naturally, this idea caught some buzz in the press given SF’s current housing shortages.

To look at one example, here’s Dombek’s plan for McAllister with before and after diagrams:


Seems like a nice plan, right? You get rid of the (largely wasted) space and put in new housing and retail.

But here’s the thing: where will all the money go from selling the land and the subsequent property tax? Well, that’s where my proposal comes in. Before the new structures get built, let’s dig a cut and cover subway underneath them.

I’m not sure McAllister Street would be the best fit for a subway, but to borrow Dombek’s diagram for illustrative purposes it could look something like this:


Personally my choice would be to build Muni Metro subways under a narrowed down South Van Ness and 19th Ave. to make up for Muni’s awful north/south service, and a new BART subway under a narrowed Geary Street. But those are just details.

The important point here is this: this is a way to kill two birds with one stone. And although I like birds, narrow streets with new subways is a win/win in my book. We can get this right.

Meta Muni shelter

August 1st, 2014

Meta Muni stop

At some point recently, the ad on a Muni shelter at 16th and Valencia was replaced by a painting. But not just any painting, no — this one depicts what’s behind it. The trash can, the Muni map, the Well’s Fargo, etc.

Though I should point out that the guy in the painting was not, in fact, waiting for the bus when I took this photo. That would have been a little too weird.

Update: On Twitter, Factory 1 Design kindly provided details. This is part of a project called Art City, which is renting billboard space for the purpose of displaying art.

The piece at 16th and Valencia is by Oakland-based painter Brett Amory. See his work and others in the Art City series here.

New BART trains don’t address boarding issue

March 8th, 2014

The new BART train cars will have lots of improvements over the current ones. But there’s one boarding issue that they didn’t quite tackle.

See what’s missing from their design, as pictured above?

You may have to take a step back, so to speak, in order to notice. Consider how people board BART trains: commuters and other frequent riders wait in a line or small group on the station platform near where the train’s doors stop when it pulls into the station. Generally they let other passengers off first before anyone gets on.

Or at least, they try to. On current BART trains it’s difficult to tell if there’s someone waiting to exit before you get on, because the trains are designed like this:

Now Boarding

As you can see from Todd Lappin’s above photo, there aren’t windows next to the doors. This means you can be standing on the platform, unable to see an exiting passenger before you try to board. Not exactly a well thought out design.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Van Ness Muni Metro Station

As the above photo by Roshan Vyas illustrates, even when Muni Metro’s doors are open you can still see the people inside. You can wait for them to get off before shoving your way on — or not, like certain impolite Muni passengers at rush hour. But either way at least there isn’t a wall at a crucial point in the train car exterior.

BART’s new trains narrow this boarding blind spot, but they don’t eliminate it. Look at all this wasted space:

I understand there needs to be a place for a map and maybe some ads on the trains, but this isn’t the place for it. There shouldn’t be a need to pick between faster boarding and information — both goals are attainable without sacrificing one for the other.

Trader Joe’s Muni Metro line

December 28th, 2012

IMG_4614

The express checkout at the Stonestown Trader Joe’s features a painting of a Muni Metro train. After noticing the painting, it immediately raised two questions in my mind:

  1. Why would an artist choose Muni to represent speed?
  2. Where would this “TJ” route go?

While I won’t attempt to answer the first question, I’d like to speculate on the second. The TJ Metro line has to connect all five Trader Joe’s locations in the city. That’s no easy task.

My panel of subway experts concluded that the TJ route will consist of the following:

Outbound stop is Stonestown. Trains head inbound along existing M line through West Portal and Forest Hill. A switch in the Twin Peaks tunnel takes TJ trains to a new side tunnel heading north under Masonic to an underground station at Geary.
 

Inbound trains continue north, turning east to a new California Street subway tunnel. All trains stop at a station under Hyde and California. From here there are two inbound routes. TJ-N trains head north under Hyde street to a terminal at Bay Street. TJ-S trains head south under Hyde to a connection at Civic Center, continuing under 8th St. to a terminal at Bryant.

Sounds good, does it not? I’m getting hungry for cheap wine and frozen pizza just thinking about this. Better get digging, Trader Joe. I have a shovel and a ladder you can borrow.

Muni wishes you a Happy Halloween

May 14th, 2012

Happy Halloween!

While an educated observer might note that Halloween was, like, six months ago or something, there hasn’t been a compelling reason to stop celebrating. Muni certainly hasn’t, as seen above.

In the immortal words of Ministry, “Everyday is Halloween.” So why not celebrate? Put on that costume and break out your flask, it’s time to Trick-or-Treat, Muni style.

What?

July 26th, 2011

LOLWUT?

Spotted at Church St. Station.