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Everything you need to know about the L Taraval for its 100th birthday

Other than when the next one is coming

West Portal Station in 1967.
West Portal Station in 1967.
Photo by Marty Bernard

The L Taraval Muni line celebrates its 100th birthday today, launching its maiden voyage into the then sparsely populated desert of the western neighborhoods back in 1919.

Although most of Muni’s original rail lines have long since driven off into the sunset, the L remains a survivor and now ferries tens of thousands of passengers daily.

For a look at how we got from there to here, here’s what a century of progress west of Twin Peaks looked like:

  • The first rail line to service Taraval was a privately operated streetcar run by United Railroads, which ran from Lincoln to Taraval and 33rd starting in 1907. SFMTA now characterizes its service as “circuitous and infrequent.”
  • In 1918, the city brokered a deal with United that allowed public transit streetcars to use United’s tracks in the Sunset and Parkside, launching the L line in 1919.
  • Construction of the L line took only a few months, from the signing of the United deal in November 1918 until the first day of service the following April.
  • The L was the city’s 13th light rail Muni line, even though L is the 12th letter of the alphabet. This is because there were two different lines dubbed the J.
  • Muni radio operators refer to the L as “Lima.” The other lines are designated Jay, Kilo, Mary, and Nancy.
  • The original L line did not directly service downtown. Riders had to transfer to the K if they wanted to get east of the modern West Portal neighborhood.
  • These days most of Muni’s light rail vehicles stop at Embarcadero Station, but starting in 1948 the L and all other routes terminated at the now-demolished original Transbay Terminal.
An L streetcar on Taraval and 28th in 1980. Photo by Mary Bernard
  • The L didn’t extend to 48th Avenue until 1923. It took until 1937 for the city to expand south toward its current terminus at Wawona Street and the San Francisco Zoo.
  • In the mid-20th century, Muni did away with the majority of it streetcars in favor of buses. The L survived as a rail line exclusively because of the Twin Peaks Tunnel, which remained too direct and comparably speedy a route to give up.
  • The L began switching from streetcars to light rail in 1970, but didn't complete the transition until 1982.
  • In theory, on a weekday the L is supposed to come every nine minutes from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., then every ten minutes until 7 p.m., and then every 15 to 20 minutes after.
  • Train service extends from 4:22 a.m. to 1:36 a.m., with the L Owl bus filling in for the gap.
  • Between 2017 and 2018, the city nixed three L Taraval stops: Ulloah and 15th Avenue, Taraval and 28th Avenue, and Taraval and 35th Avenue.
  • However, Muni spared the Taraval and 17th Avenue stop next to the neighborhood Safeway because of public outcry and the intervention of now-Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee.
  • The changes are part of the $90 million L Taraval Improvement Project, which is meant to make the route faster and safer, but comes at the cost of removing some longtime stops. Construction is expected to last through 2021.
Photo by Pi.1415926535
  • Currently the route of the L includes 52 stops.
  • On a weekday, the L is scheduled for 252 trips. On a Saturday, it’s scheduled for 217, and on Sundays only 184.
  • The L is one of the most reliable of Muni’s light-rail lines: In February of this year its on-time rating was second only to the F Market historic streetcar. Unfortunately, that only amounts to being on time for 48 percent of scheduled stops. The L is late 39 percent of the time.
  • The line’s worst month for 2018 was in August, during the Twin Peaks Tunnel shutdown, which plunged its on-time rating to just 37 percent. Its best month was February when it was on-time for 54 percent of stops.
  • The modern L averages approximately 30,000 trips per day.

For a literal look back at the history of the L, take a gander at Muni’s online photo archive of the route.