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Marina District may be on board for Central Subway extension

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F Stockton Streetcar Loading Marina Junior High School Students at Chestnut Street and Fillmore Street | October 29, 1948

When it comes to transit, the Marina District is fond of one word: No.

The tony neighborhood soundly rejected double-length 30-Stockton buses to help alleviate Muni crowding and nixed a proposal for morning commute transit-only lanes on Chestnut Street. Marina Boulevard neighbors, in particular, knocked out early proposals to run streetcars from Fort Mason to the Presidio.

Neighbors close to the Palace of Fine Arts assailed attempts to place Ford GoBike docks near the landmark. The list goes on.

So when transit planners hosted a Central Subway “kickoff” community meeting Wednesday at Marina Middle School for neighbors to offer their first opinions on preliminary plans to extend subway service to the Presidio, they took care to explain just how early into the planning process the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency actually is.

Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the Marina and joined the meeting, spoke cautiously: “It’s always my intention to do things with the community, and not to the community,” she said.

Kansai Uchida, the Central Subway extension’s project manager at SFMTA, reaffirmed that no decisions had yet been made about potential new subways. “We’re here to listen and learn tonight,” he told the gathered neighbors.

Planners said the current $1.6 billion Central Subway project will extend the T-Third train from Fourth and King streets near Caltrain to Chinatown, with an opening date set for December 2019. But as part of the project an underground boring machine tunneled one mile north through North Beach, leaving room for an extension of the subway that one day could run to Fisherman’s Wharf and hook west to the Marina, or possibly even the Presidio.

These early community meetings are the start of efforts to craft those plans and test community reactions.

Despite the Marina’s historic stances on transit, some planners heard enthusiasm for the project from at least some out of the 60 or so neighbors hunched over maps and sketches in Marina Middle School’s cafeteria Wednesday night.

Marina Boulevard residents Cheryl Blaine and Greg Blaine sat in a group of about a dozen neighbors offering feedback to SFMTA planner Liz Brisson, one of a handful of citizen groups led by SFMTA staffers.

“The amount of traffic on Marina Boulevard and Lombard (Street) is amazing. We need to get people out of their cars,” Cheryl Blaine told her neighbors.

Greg Blaine argued that Fisherman’s Wharf is having trouble attracting workers because travel without a subway is essentially “infeasible” — a point long argued by Fisherman’s Wharf business groups.

The San Francisco Examiner heard only one person in the group express outright opposition to the subway plan, while another neighbor exclaimed “I just got back from London and Paris,” where subways run efficiently. He added, “I’m the kind of guy who says, ‘the more subways the better.’”

One man with white hair and glasses said that if a subway stopped near where he lived, in a far corner of Russian Hill, a stone’s throw from the Marina, he’d be happy, but “anything on top of that is a bonus.”

“Perhaps a selfish perspective, I live here,” he said.

When asked why they support a subway in the Marina, Cheryl and Greg Blaine told the Examiner that though they live on Marina Boulevard, which has historically opposed transit, they own apartment buildings in the Marina where they’ve seen new tenants’ demand for parking plummet.

Their tenants ride bikes, take ride-hails like Uber and Lyft, and there are “a ton of Muni riders” among them, Greg Blaine said.

Rick Laubscher, a Muni historian with the Market Street Railway nonprofit and museum, noted that an embrace of public transit is not a new attitude for the Marina, historically.

In fact, the Marina District as we know it was built on the back of transit.

In 1914 San Francisco worked overtime to prepare for the upcoming Panama Pacific International Exposition, Laubscher explained, and the chief way of transporting construction material from downtown to the Marina — then called Washerwoman’s Bay — was by streetcar.

It was so long ago that when those streetcar lines were built, “Lombard was a little street just like Union and Chestnut,” Laubscher said. Now it’s a freeway.

Roughly one hundred years ago, Muni, which was founded in 1912, ran two streetcar lines along Union Street to the Presidio where filmmaker George Lucas would eventually build the Letterman Digital Arts Center. Now those two streetcar lines are represented by the 45-Union bus, which runs from Lyon Street by the Presidio down Union Street to the Financial District.

Similarly, the 30-Stockton bus, which runs from Broderick Street near the Palace of Fine Arts down Chestnut Street, to Fisherman’s Wharf and eventually downtown, was once the route the F-streetcar line roamed, Laubschernoted. Those streetcars — among the earliest Muni lines created in all of San Francisco — ran until the 1940s.

The ghosts of those streetcars can still be seen in the neighborhood to this day. All it takes is a slow saunter from any Marina District locale to historic Fort Mason and one can spot crisscrossing streetcar tracks and a long-defunct tunnel that has been boarded up for decades. Once upon a time the F-streetcar clicked and clacked its way down Chestnut Street.

Streetcars are the neighborhood’s history. “That was the spur to building the Marina,” Laubscher said.

Much like Laubscher, some neighbors at the Marina meeting on the Central Subway Wednesday framed a potential new Central Subway while sparing an eye to history.

Ben Libbey, a San Francisco native who grew up in the Richmond District riding the 38-Geary but now lives in lower Nob Hill, said he strongly supports a subway running through the Marina District. The 30-Stockton bus that serves Marina commuters downtown is “like a zoo,” he said. “It’s super crowded all the time.”

But even if he supports a Marina District subway downtown, the young professional doesn’t expect it will be built within his lifetime.

“Realistically, I’ll probably never be able to use it,” he said.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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