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Summer of Muni: Blaring F-Market horns and a trip to Lands End

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A San Francisco dad and his two kids will attempt to ride every Muni line—from terminus to terminus—this summer

Photos by Mc Allen

Inspired by San Francisco Chronicle journalists Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight, who embarked on a the entirety of Muni in a single day, one father and his two kids will ride every Muni line from end to end until the school year starts.

This week my kids and I completed—or almost completed—six more routes in our quest to ride every Muni line end to end this summer. We rode the 49-Van Ness/Mission, the 43-Masonic, the F-Market, the 47-Van Ness, the 38-Geary, and the 5R-Fulton Rapid.

We started the week by riding the 22-Fillmore to Mission and 16th Streets, where we boarded a newfangled “bendy bus”—my kids’ affectionate term for the long, articulated motor coaches with an accordion-like center section that they love to inhabit during rides. As the 49-Van Ness/Mission motored north, our Muni operator, Clyde, honked his horn at the request of his colleague laughing on the sidewalk.

From the terminus we walked through the wide-reaching Fort Mason lawn, and climbed down the stairs to Fort Mason Center, which boasts pavilions and red-roofed landmark buildings leased to artistic spaces and other interesting enterprises. There are also various theaters, museums, galleries, and stores that could easily keep an unhurried and curious person busy for days.

Along a retaining wall on the eastern edge of Fort Mason, situated between parking spaces, is the stern of the Brigantine Galilee, a gloriously textured relic that once raced between Tahiti and San Francisco carrying parcels. It’s been called “the smartest sailing vessel out of San Francisco.” We admired the texture and well-worn grace projected by this old relic, which you shouldn’t miss during your next visit.

We took our lunch break at the Readers Bookstore and Goody Cafe. Readers Bookstore is run by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, thus making it an honorary inclusion in our side tour of the SF Public Library branches. There, I stumbled upon a book appropriate to our summer transit journey, The People’s Railway: The History of the Municipal Railway of San Francisco, by Anthony Perles, a wonderful find and a steal for five bucks.

After my kids and I purchased a few books, we hurried to catch the 43-Masonic. The 43 is among the system’s long and winding routes. It covers roughly a dozen miles and traversing through at least that many neighborhoods. The 43 crosses the Marina, the Presidio, Pacific Heights, Laurel Heights, the Panhandle, Haight-Ashbury, Cole Valley, Inner Sunset, Forest Hill, Sherwood Forest (the smallest neighborhood in the city), Sunnyside, Ingleside, the Outer Mission, and Crocker Amazon. Phew.

Less than a mile of the route is actually on the eponymous Masonic Avenue. The plan we set out with called for riding the 43 for two miles to City College, where we would once again transfer to the 49.

We shared the first part of our ride with a visually-impaired woman and her seeing eye dog, a black Labrador retriever named Ale. The 43 is their regular bus, and it’s generally part of the dog’s duties to alert and guide his charge off at their regular stop. That day the two were visiting a relative laid up at UCSF’s Parnassus campus, and Ale took some persuading to depart the bus since it wasn’t his owner’s usual stop.

We had settled in for a long ride on the 43. After more than an hour, we hadn’t even made it to City College, so we decided to bail early and instead got off at Phelan Avenue (which, by the way, will soon be renamed after artist Frida Kahlo). Alas, we will return another day to wrap up the Masonic line’s entirety.

We stretched our legs by walking to the Ingleside library for a quick visit and added a few more pounds to my now very heavy book bag. We returned to Phelan Avenue, which is the southern terminal for the 49-Van Ness/Mission line, and returned to the Mission a little tired and with only one full route completed in our five-hour circuit.

Tuesday and Wednesday, per usual, are reserved for non-transit family events, so we returned to Muni on Thursday. We rode the F Market from Castro Station along Market Street, made a left along the Embarcadero, and down to Fisherman’s Wharf. The streetcars that service the F and E lines are retro delights, exceptionally maintained as rolling museums. Our streetcar for the day was the St. Louis Cardinal, a cherry red and cream colored streetcar that sparkled in the sun.

Along the way, since it’s a mostly tourist-laced area, the operator chimed the train’s bell several times to alert pedestrians wading into intersections. She also honked the rarely used yet very loud train horn, including a 40 second series of blasts at a clueless Uber driver trying to enter a “streetcars only” trackway along Pier 39.

After we made it to the end of the line, I asked the operator how she decides between the bell and the horn. She replied with the quote of the day: “The bell is charming; the horn works.”

We didn’t linger much before heading back south on the 47 Van Ness. My kids found the three-foot shelf behind the back benches at the rear window to be an irresistible perch for yet another trip along Van Ness, and with an accommodating driver up front, they were able to indulge this not wholly sanctioned seating option.

We did have a moment of excitement on Bryant, where we nearly collided with an overhead line SFMTA maintenance truck. As any Muni rider is frequently reminded, “Sudden stops are sometimes necessary.” Indeed.

After we departed at the Townsend terminus and walked to King Street, we saw downed overhead wires at Fourth and King. The truck our bus had nearly rear-ended was there to help put the wires back in place.

Friday we had another special guest, my friend and SFMTA senior analyst Andy Thornley as a fellow traveller for our trip on the 38-Geary. For those unaware, Geary was the original Muni line. The A streetcar, as it was originally called, opened to fanfare and passenger service December 28th, 1912. Andy and I geeked out over transit history, zoning policy, and the details of curbs and medians for the upcoming (fingers crossed) Geary Bus Rapid Transit Project now under construction.

SFMTA senior analyst Andy Thornley.

We talked shop as our 38R hauled us from the Transbay Transit Center to 33rd Avenue, and we disembarked for an intended side trip to the Anza Branch Library.

The library, we discovered, would not open for another hour, so we had a quick snack on the front lawn and hiked back to Geary Boulevard, boarded a regular service 38-Geary headed to the Fort Miley VA hospital off Clement Street. Andy acted as our gracious guide to the forested Lands End, where we explored the the old artillery battery and got buzzed by a hawk. We hiked down past the ruins of Sutro Baths to Ocean Beach to frolic in the sand.

My kids and I soon parted ways with our friend and spent an hour playing chicken with the surf, making our way down the beach. Mildly sunburned by fog-free conditions not traditionally associated with the Richmond District, we ambled to La Playa and Cabrillo, and the western end of the 5-Fulton. A 5R-Rapid whisked us the entire length of Golden Gate Park and deposited us with little ceremony at the newly opened Transbay Transit Center.

Another week in our Summer of Muni quest complete.