SPUR: Let’s Not Miss the Boat on What America’s Cup Could Do For SF

The extension of the historic F-line streetcar to Fort Mason would serve the anticipated spectator venues from Crissy Field to Aquatic Park. Image: Rick Laubscher

Editor’s note: The following is being republished from SPUR, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. Visit their blog at SPUR.org.

When it comes to global sporting events, almost as intense as the competition between star athletes is the competition between cities to play host.

That’s because hosting a major international sporting event presents a unique opportunity for a city to redefine its development goals, stimulate investment and boost tourism.

Just last month it was decided that San Francisco would host the 34th America’s Cup. There is no doubt that the San Francisco Bay will provide a breathtaking venue for yacht racing, and no doubt that there will be an infusion of spending in the city tied to the event.

But the real opportunity comes from leveraging the America’s Cup to make some major long-term investments in our city.

SPUR calls for the City to come together to make some important public realm improvements before the race happens; and to make sure we get high-quality private development that will stand the test of time.

Some specific ideas:

1. Build the F-Line extension to Fort Mason. Cup organizers expect 200,000 to a million visitors per day to the events. To deliver effective public transportation services to the on-shore spectator areas, we must invest in rail. There simply is no way to add enough vehicle volume to accommodate those numbers. The extension of the historic F-line streetcar to Fort Mason would serve the anticipated spectator venues from Crissy Field to Aquatic Park. With support, creative financing, and expedient action, it is entirely possible for the project to be completed in time. For proof, one need only look to Seattle, whose streetcar line went from a policy decision to construction to operation in less than two and a half years. And it covers four times the distance of the proposed San Francisco extension.

2. Implement the “Embikeadero” plan proposed by SPUR in the 2009 Piero Patri design competition. Creation of a separated two-way bike path alongside the Embarcadero would enhance the safety of cyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike. Promoting multi-modal connectivity along the Embarcadero will help ensure that the public can access and enjoy its waterfront for the duration of the America’s Cup and beyond.

Image: Carrie Nielson

3. Build out the Jefferson Street public realm improvements to “Europeanize” Fisherman’s Wharf. The Jefferson Street redesign will transform an aging destination into a place that San Franciscans and visitors alike will find beautiful and compelling, while investing in the one of the city’s most important economic generators. In place of the current auto-centric street will be a shared space that will feel more like a public plaza, with outdoor cafes, space for strolling, and places to enjoy the dramatic views of the Bay, tied together by a quality of design unique in San Francisco. And while this will be the place where more race spectators will visit before and after events than any other along the waterfront, the Jefferson Street redesign also offers us the opportunity to create an exciting destination for San Franciscans.

4. Work with the Blue Greenway blueprint to link existing open spaces in the south waterfront. This project aims to make green infrastructure more accessible for exercise, recreation and enjoyment of art and open space in the City’s park-poor Southeastern Corridor. The final America’s Cup deal shifted focus to the northern waterfront, yet Larry Ellison has made it a goal of the 34th Cup to expand interest in sailing. Let’s broaden the appeal of sailing by funding swimming lessons, keeping rec centers with swimming pools open on weekends, and taking seriously the opportunity to invest in water-based recreation opportunities, as the Neighborhood Parks Council has called for. The Blue-Greenway already has some GO bond funding, which should be fast-tracked.

Image: America's Cup Media: AECOM

5. Start the conversation now about achieving excellence in the private development that happens after the race. The Event plans call for the team bases at Piers 30/32, team support uses at Seawall Lot 330, Piers 26 and 28, the public Race Village at Piers 27/29, regatta operations on Pier 23, and the media center at Pier 19.  The Host and Venue Agreement calls for private development at Seawall Lot 330, Piers 30/32, with options at Piers 26 and 28. The final blueprints have yet to take shape, but development must be conducted with an eye to long-term sustainability and public usability.


In a 2007 report, SPUR noted that the major obstacles to saving the waterfront are money and time. The America’s Cup has delivered the boon of major investment and sense of urgency. But we must ensure this dividend is spent in the short term in ways that enhance long-term usability for San Franciscans and future visitors.

There are many options for funding the public improvements, from the F-line extension to the Embikeadero. But time is of the essence.

  • Nice vision. Unfortunately there are only 2 more years before the 2013 event. It will be an extraordinary feat to realize all these project in time. Now that Newsom has moved on there is even less push to do something aggressive.

  • I mean that’s why it is important to have projects “shovel ready”. It is lot more likely for them to catch the wind and take off when an event happens.

  • Certainly the E line and the Embarcadero bikeway could be up an running in a couple of months with very minimal effort.

    My understanding is that the main barrier to the E line is not enough historic streetcars available and not enough double-ended cars available in particular. So why not just run bus service on the ROW until we have enough streetcars in the fleet? The F line needs supplemental service between the ferry building and the wharf anyway. I’m sure a large portion of the riders would be happy to ride a bus once and a while as an alternative to watching streetcar after streetcar pass them by because there’s no more room during peak hours.

    How about we get transit signal preemption working all along the Embarcadero and the T line while we’re at it? Our existing fleet of vehicles could provide a lot more service if they weren’t sitting at red lights at lightly used intersections half the time. And all those visitors might be more impressed with the City’s transit system if it doesn’t take 15 minutes to get to a venue one mile away on it.

    The F line extension is really a pretty modest, straightforward, and obvious project too; we San Franciscans are just all so conditioned by red tape, NIMBYs and CEQA that we have been conditioned with the lowest of expectations about how long projects should take and how much they should cost.

    I think it’s completely reasonable to push for the Ft. Mason extension to be completed by the America’s Cup, and I’d go one step further and say it should be part of a long-term strategy to extend the F/E to the Presidio transit center.

  • ZA

    Too bad the overhead wires won’t accommodate Hong Kong double-decker streetcars…

  • JD

    Great article, great ideas. You have convinced me that this is a great opportunity to make some real improvements to SF. Would love to the bikeway and the extension of the F.

    I agree with Wai though, in that, though technically it could be done in time, there’s no way it can be politically. Such a shame. SF and its citizens are progressive in many ways, but definitely not when it comes to sustainable transit.

  • Bob Davis

    Hong Kong trams would be a colorful and exotic sight–but they have one major drawback: they run on 42″ gauge track. As far as double-ended streetcars are concerned, there a four double-end PCC’s under renovation, and they should be back in time for the Muni Centennial in 2012. But sometimes it seems like San Francisco has lost some of the “can do” spirit that enabled The City to recover from the 1906 disaster in a remarkably short time, with too many bureaucrats who’ve found that you “don’t get into trouble by saying ‘no’ or ‘let’s give this some more study.'” (Don’t feel bad, we have the same problems here in Southern California)

  • Alai

    I do think the Embarcadero really needs a better bikeway. But I’m not thrilled by this plan. The notion of encountering traffic head-on, with headlights shining straight into your eyes, and flying past at >40 mph, makes me queasy. It’s really a shame that the planners didn’t take into account bikes when they were rebuilding Embarcadero in the 90s.

    One option that I would consider is making a solid, protected northbound lane next to the curb, and then a southbound lane above the curb on the sidewalk. Upsides: not right next to oncoming traffic, which is huge. Downsides: takes space from and interacts more with pedestrians (though the Embarcadero is pretty wide, and a suitable surface should be enough to let people know that it’s a bike lane). Also, bikers ride on the left, which is odd, but the existence of the curb should minimize the discomfort that people might feel about this. It’ll also require less rebuilding of curbs and moving of lampposts, I think.

  • Peter M

    The E line wouldn’t even need double-ended streetcars if Muni and the Port could finally work something out and finish the loop on 18th/19th/Illinois.

    What’s the status of the Fort Mason extension? The official website (http://historicstreetcarextension.org) doesn’t seem to have been updated for a long time, but it does say that the EIR was supposed to have been completed last April.

  • tNOB


    I would argue that SF is very progressive, even in sustainable transit. Also, it was mentioned by someone that we have lost that “can-do” spirit, both are kept in check by progressive attitudes. Having been here for a few years now, I have determined that it is actually hyper-progressive. The progressive nature of this city is what allows everyone to participate and have a say in what is going on in their neighborhood, and by extension, the city. The problem is that it has gone to far, and even things that most reasonable people consider beneficial to the city, still can’t be ushered through the process quickly.

  • Nick

    Construction unemployment in the city is about 40% across all building trades. The City should use this oppurtunity to correct it.

  • Hebron Church


  • Alex

    Sure the vintage cars are neat, but they’re simply not reliable (I wonder if there are enough to increase service on the F). Running multiple-unit trains might be a nice start. Some decent, not-shittacular modern streetcars would be a good addition. Even simply diesel or trolley coach service would be real nice down there too.

    Peter: I think that MAP (yay, she’s even running for mayor now…) effectively killed the Fort Mason extension.

  • someone

    I like these proposals. Now if only they’d extend the central subway to all the way to the wharf we would be set….

  • Please extend the historic rail line through the tunnel and into the Presidio. It was not that long ago that train tracks went along the waterfront, past the Maritime Museum past Fort Mason and into the Presdio.
    This was a supply line for Fort Mason and the Presidio. Even though most of the rails are gone, the road bed is still there, and it wouldn’t be that hard
    to lay new tracks. The historic lines are a great asset, and carry many people, and the line would complement the existing MUNI routes.

    Bureaucrats have been dragging their feet on this issue long enough. Please support the effort to get this done.

  • Yes indeed, a unique opportunity to do Big Good Things for the waterfront and the City. The SF Bicycle Coalition is eager to get Jefferson Street (via the Fisherman’s Wharf Streetscape Plan) and EmBIKEadero and Blue Greenway developed and filled with people on bicycles (and on foot and in wheelchairs) too — our Connecting the City initiative prioritizes the Bay Trail as one of the key crosstown bikeways for everyone to use and enjoy, no matter their age or ability. Let’s ride the wave of America’s Cup urgency and investment to get these big public benefits done — see the Connecting the City website for more on this initiative:


  • James Figone

    It is amazing to me that these excellent proposals are coming from SPUR and not our city departments. Let’s see: 200,000 to 1 million people per day and not a word from our BOS, Mayor, SFMTA or planners about how to provide effective transportation for them.

    Do we plan on just letting people come in tens of thousands of additional cars down the Embarcadero? It seems to me that the city has no choice but to implement these ideas. Let people park in the massive and often empty parking lots at Mission Bay and ride bikes on a great path and take E trolleys to the event. We will also need all the Caltrain service we can get so let’s make sure it survives.

  • Alex

    someone: Or at least North Beach…

  • The DEIS for the Fort Mason streetcar extension is due to be issued for public comment at the end of this month, with a public hearing to be held in March on a date TBD. Alioto-Pier told me a couple of months ago she does NOT oppose the extension. This happened after she took a whole lot of heat from constituents when she earlier questioned the extension. She had been listening to a handful of vocal property owners on Marina Boulevard who mistakenly think this project goes in front of their houses. It doesn’t. This project ends inside the gates of Fort Mason Center, though it’s perfectly positioned to connect to the PresidiGo shuttles to reach the Presidio quickly via Lombard. The turnout of supporters at the public hearing, along with their public comments, will play a big role in getting this built. We’ll have regular updates at our website, http://www.streetcar.org, which unfortunately is down for the next few days after being hacked by that crowd of goons selling fake Cialis. (Lovely folks.)

  • Andy Chow

    F-line could use some of the old San Diego Trolleys that the agency is retiring. These trolleys are just one of the oldest type of light rail. They ride great and can MU.

  • Mad Park

    There are some currently unused Melbourne trams sitting under tarps in Seattle waiting for a new owner…

  • @Andy Chow, the San Diego LRVs cannot even come close to being able to make the sharp curves throughout the Muni system. It’s inherent in their design. So they’re out.

    @Mad Park, yes, Seattle does have a few Melbourne trams out of service, but Muni has far more than that being renovated for regular service now. By this time next year, there’ll be 16 more vintage streetcars available for service than there are today — enough to start up the E-line and beef up service on the F as well.

  • The link, http://www.historicstreetcarextension.org/ under “1. Build the F-Line extension” does not appear to be working right now.

  • RT Murphy

    There is an understanding with the shop owners at Fisherman’s Wharf that only vintage streetcars will be used on the F line.
    Seems to me that if Muni is serious about making a real difference carrying people out to the event they might have to use some of their LRVs. More passengers in fewer vehicles means higher line capacity.
    If they don’t have enough LRVs for the event, maybe they ought to put the PCCs out doing the entire service on the J Church and run it on Market St for the few days rather that in the subway.

    It’s a disgrace that Environmental Impact Statements and such have taken so long. Hell, the whole route had freight trains on it for years and we’re only talking street railway vehicles that have far less impact.

  • Hank Cancel

    Why can’t we have the America’s Cup people pay for a city bike-sharing program. They have the money to put over 5,000 bicycles on the streets of San Francisco with a heavy concentration downtown and the Embarcadero. This would make getting the large crowds here to see the America’s Cup get around easier, especially on the flat Embarcadero. This is the cheapest transportation alternative and the quickest to implement. This is great for the America’s Cup and great for the city of San Francisco. Why am I not hearing this idea more?…


America’s Cup and the San Francisco Waterfront

From SPUR: City Hall and all of San Francisco came together in 2010 to land the 34th America’s Cup. Where will the racing and related events take place? Where will the best viewing areas be? What will be the long-term economic and physical changes to the waterfront? Kyri McClellan, Executive Director of the America’s Cup Organizing […]

Port City: The history and transformation of SF’s waterfront

From SPUR: Representatives from San Francisco Architectural Heritage will present the group’s new book, Port City. The book’s author, Michael Corbett, will discuss the rich history of the port and its role in shaping San Francisco. Heritage Executive Director Mike Buhler will detail the transformation of the waterfront and the current context of its redevelopment, including what lies […]

SPUR Forum: Crossing Borders: Oakland and San Francisco

From SPUR: Image courtesy of Flickr user Tim Gallagher Though physically separated by the San Francisco Bay, Oakland and San Francisco are inextricably linked through their economies, housing markets and the hundreds of thousands of people who cross the bay each day. Come hear both cities’ planning directors in a conversation on some of the […]

This Week: Bike Advisory Committee, Real Estate Development, Bicycle Traffic Skills

Here are this week’s highlights from the Streetsblog calendar: Monday tonight! Bicycle Advisory Committee Meeting. The Bicycle Advisory Committee meets to consider bicycle transportation projects and policies to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors, the Municipal Transportation Agency, the County Transportation Authority, the San Francisco Police Department, and other City and County of San Francisco agencies. […]

SPUR Lunchtime Forum: What’s Next for America’s Cup?

From SPUR: Image Credit: Flickr user telstar In August and October, the America’s Cup World Series will take place in San Francisco, followed by the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger Series and the 34th America’s Cup Finals in 2013. Brad Benson of the Port of San Francisco and Michael Martin from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development will discuss the […]