Once upon a time, San Francisco was crawling with streetcars. And thanks to the new interactive map Where The Streetcars Used To Go, history buffs can retrace their historic routes without leaving home.
The map, created by local designer Chris Arvin, combines data from four different sources to give viewers the names and photos of routes that operated in decades past, in comparison to the city’s streetcar network today.
In his own words, here’s what drove Arvin to create this resource:
Since I’ve moved to San Francisco and fallen in love with the city, I’ve caught glimpses of the history of our public transit in many places—SFMTA’s posters at transit stops, sites like Old SF (and Hoodline!) and even seeing the partial remnants of tracks in the road in Potrero. There’s something I love about seeing old photos of street corners I immediately recognize, but in such a different context. When I started digging into the history of our streetcars, it was hard to find information in one place. I wanted to share this history with others in a way that was really easy to consume, so I went to SF’s public library and found some books that described the old streetcar routes in detail. I was lucky enough to have the SFMTA allow me to visit their archives where they showed me old maps, charts, and provided me with tons of great photos.
I also wanted this project to tell a story, because I think there are some lessons to learn here. The Muni Metro lines that lots of San Franciscans enjoy today—like the J, K, L, M and N—weren’t built from scratch when the Muni Metro project began in the ’70s. They were built on top of the few streetcar routes that remained in operation. They were upgraded to use light rail vehicles that are more efficient and provide a better experience than buses in many ways. As the city continues to fight for Bus Rapid Transit down Geary, I wonder if we might have rail serving the Richmond today, had we not abandoned routes like the C Geary.
San Francisco was the first city in the US to have a publicly run transit system—it’s deep in our roots. I think it’s crucial for our future as a city that we learn from our successes and missteps and be truly transit-first.