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The N Judah Shutdown Reminds Us Why They Built The Line Way Back When

Last night I wanted to attend a party held by my web services provider downtown. Normally this would have been a short trip on the N to Montgomery St. Station, but alas, no N due to the shutdown. Instead I took my (normally) trusty backup - the 71.

Little did I know I'd be boarding a bus that would exemplify everything that is wrong with riding mass transit - from serious overcrowding, to deadbeats back-door boarding to avoid paying fares, to a herky-jerky ride, and of course being so crowded the bus literally smelled like a sardine can (and not in a good way). Needless to say, I was glad to get to my destination without being too late, and at least the party had free beers.

However, as we were lurching towards downtown on an over-crowded Haight Street full of buses and double parked cars, it served as a reminder of why the N Judah line was built in the first place, and why the decision to go to "trackless trolleys" in the post-war era has proven to be a near-fatal mistake we are still recovering from.

First off - why the N was built in the first place. Before the N was built, most of the Sunset District was made up of sand dunes. The City and various other interests wanted this area developed, but there was no easy way to connect with downtown and the rest of San Francisco, hence the N Judah line was conceived and built.

After having this long service interruption, and lenghty delays on crowded streets and buses, you begin to appreciate why people in the 1920s, upon hearing of the N-Judah's approval called it a "God-send to Humanity." Not only does cutting through the Sunset Tunnel save a lot of time, LRVs/Streetcars can carry a lot more people per vehicle than the buses can.

Likewise, you start to realize that the "cost cutting' mentality that had us lose many of our rail lines in favor of the so-called "Trackless Trolleys" took away many well-used rail lines, and replaced them with buses that provide that inimitable herky-jerky ride one is accustomed to on lines like the 38 Geary, not to mention that said trolley buses don't command the street presence a rail line does. It's yet another example of how short term thinking, particularly by politicians, damage Our Muni for decades.

That said, once this N-pocalypse is over, the work done will make things ride smoother, and like dental work, it's painful to get done but once it's over, it's OVER, and people in the future will be glad we put up with the hassles for a little over a week.

Comments

"LRVs/Streetcars can carry a lot more people per vehicle than the buses can." In fairness, when the N first opened in the 1920s it used streetcars with no more capacity than a modern non-articulated bus. And the pre-existing 7 Haight-Ocean and 17 Haight-Ingleside lines (the predecessors of today's 71) were themselves streetcars at the time. The "god-send" of greater capacity didn't really come until the 1970s.

You chose to ride the 71 instead of one of the fabulous N-Judah shuttle buses? Darn you missed one fun ride! Although riding the shuttles during the weekday commute was THE most fun ever! MUNI did an amazing job of NOT communicating with riders and most drivers seemed fairly clueless themselves. Always inspires confidence when you ask the driver of a shuttle bus labeled Dubose and Van Ness, B-Express, "what's your last local stop" and be told "Van Ness and Market." "No, no, your last LOCAL stop?" "Van Ness and Market!" "What! Are you going Express from 46th to Market?" We eventually figured out he would switch from local pick-ups and go Express at 9th and Judah. I wanted a local, so I waited for the next shuttle. This was Wednesday, the second workday morning.

I didn't figure out until Thursday the problem. MUNI was only running what they called Express shuttles from the outer Sunset during the inbound commute. You needed to change to a different shuttle. The Supes at 9th and Judah would decide right there which shuttle would stay local -- not necessarily the one you were already on. In fact, it was more likely that what you had thought was a normal shuttle stopping at UCSF like shuttle buses on the N-line always do, was about to go Express WITHOUT announcing it to the riders. That almost happened on Tuesday, but there was a minor passenger revolt and we were granted local status! By Friday things were going much smoother, drivers were no longer yelling at passengers "stop asking so many questions, I'm already running late" and MUNI had people holding signs directing passengers to the shuttle that was making local stops between 9th and Judah and downtown. Passengers stopped yelling at the minions at 9th "but that shuttle says its a B-Express, I don't want an express, GD-it!"

It was only from an obscure tweet that I found a Shuttle schedule at all. No signs at end of the line informing riders of plan. Nothing! We're pretty used to Shuttles out here at land's end; they've been running them each weekend for months. And we are familiar with and love the N-Express bus (local to 19th then Express to Montgomery). Greatest thing to happen to the N-Judah line since they first installed those LRVs in the 1970s. But there was no communication that the shuttles during the inbound commute would operate differently than they had been since the beginning of the construction project. How the heck did they think we would know they were changing the rules?

On Saturday evening the shuttle outbound at 9th and Judah was mostly non-existent. Appears the Black & White Ball had created massive chaos with Van Ness shutdown and rolling stock being put to novel uses. Or so explained my very civil driver of one of those awful green sardine cans, packed with Outer Sunset riders. We had waited for 20 minutes in a fog wet enough to mist your face if the wind hadn't been blowing at gale force, therefore wiping your cheeks dry. Cold to the bone, dinner now stone cold in the bag I was carrying and absolutely not enough room to squeeze in one more sardine through the back door, the only one the driver had opened! My apoplexy through the closed front door earned me a reprieve and an illegal spot up front usually reserved for the driver to see out the door.

It's been a wild 10-day ride without the LRVs. I hope the construction is on schedule, one more day of this madness and I may just go postal!

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