Local art and public spaces go hand-in-hand, and we’re glad that Muni will once again serve as a mobile gallery for the citizens of San Francisco.
SFMTA is partnering with San Francisco Beautiful and The Poetry Society of America to showcase the work of five local artists and five local poets on our hella local public transit system. In its sixth year, the Muni Art theme is, appropriately, “San Francisco United.” Look for the works on display inside 100 Muni buses through April.
Bagging on San Francisco is one of our city’s most time-honored traditions. In a time when negativity might reign especially supreme, two chroniclers of San Francisco got together to create a new book that encourages people to see the familiar in a new way.
This week on the podcast, we chat with artist Paul Madonna, who has just illustrated a new book called Spirits of San Francisco: Voyages through the Unknown City, written by Gary Kamiya. The book features vignettes of the history and topography of 16 different locations in the city.
Madonna created drawings of San Francisco ranging from a well-known views spanning over the Embarcadero (above), or more obscure corners of the city like Calhoun Terrace in North Beach on Montgomery and Union (see below). You might know Madonna from his series in the San Francisco Chronicle, “All Over Coffee,” which ran for 12 years. As he draws en plein air—from real life rather than photographs—Madonna had to find just the right time of day to depict his subject. Sometimes, he and Kamiya even found themselves in places they weren’t really supposed to be for the good of their project.
We chat with Madonna about bringing San Francisco to life in his art, his choice of depicting city scenes without people, and why he says San Francisco is “never a jealous friend.”
Listen to the conversation with Paul Madonna and Muni Diaries cofounder Tara Ramroop:
With just a few days until the election, we invite San Francisco Examiner transit reporter Carly Graf to talk about this year’s ballot measures that can change the landscape of public transportation as we know it today.
Sure, the pandemic has severely reduced ridership and budget, but public transit’s woes started way before that. With the proliferation of Lyft and Uber, Muni was no longer the only way everyone can reasonably get around town. And on this year’s ballot, Prop 22 stands to change the operations of these ride share companies in a big way. We chat with Graf about how Prop 22 can impact economic disparity, whether Prop B can fix the toxic workplace that was the Department of Public Works, why you should get to know the BART board of directors, and more.
Reader Kay Karpus Walker found a piece of her family history that’s very relevant to our interests. She shares this photo and family history on the Muni Diaries Facebook page:
A bit of Muni history—a photo of an early Muni driver—Jacob B. Unruh—my grandfather. This is from the early 1900s in SF. Jacob became a driver after he was forced to close his business in the early days of the Depression or right before it hit. An immigrant from the Ukraine and a Mennonite, he was a cousin of Jesse Unruh, the California politician, according to Jesse himself.
Jesse Unruh was also known as “Big Daddy Unruh,” at one point the California State Treasurer. In the early 1900s, the Stockton Street Tunnel opened, and J-Church streetcar line was just starting service. Muni as we know it started to transition from for-profit monopolies to a municipally operated agency around 1912.
As we enter into the least-restrictive “yellow tier” of the state’s COVID re-opening framework, is riding public transit becoming safer? Ridership on Muni reached historic lows since the start of the pandemic. Even so, Muni has established capacity protocols on buses to keep riders and drivers safe. In practice, that can translate into a frustrating experience for riders and drivers alike, as not everyone has gotten the memo on why the bus is blowing you off. In this snapshot from rider Eric, he describes what riding Muni is like nowadays.
My wife and I made a “jaunt” to the Ferry Building recently, just to throw some money at our favorite food purveyors, and because the 2 and 3 haven’t run since April, we now have to walk to the Transbay Terminal to pick up a 38. No problem really, and you get your choice of seats. However….by the time we get a stop away from Powell Street, the bus is over the limit for safety and the driver doesn’t have to stop if he doesn’t want to, so we blow right past Powell. He lets two people off at the corner of Mason, just to lighten his load, and continues.
Two blocks from Van Ness, he blows by another stop but this time, a woman runs after the bus and catches us at the next red light. Boy, does she let him have it!
F-bombs and middle fingers and demands to open the door. Plus, she keeps stepping in front of the bus to keep him from going.
Two light cycles later, the driver finally tells her that he’s only allowed 30 people on the bus, so she goes down the side counting people.
“You only got 26! Let me the [f-bomb] in!”
But this time, he gets off before she can get in front.
But wait! There’s more!
The next stop is Van Ness. We see five people standing in the street with arms outstretched and another eight or so on the sidewalk. There is no way these people are going to let this bus go by! Our bus has to stop.
The result is that a dozen more get on, and now the bus really IS crowded. People with masks around their chins, pissed off people who’ve been passed by for how long….I can’t blame them.
Luckily, our stop is next. Except the driver won’t stop to let anyone off because there’s one—one—guy at the stop.
I stand up and pull the cord hard; not like it does anything, as he blows past the Laguna stop as well.
Five of us scream at him: “Hey! We’re trying to get off and reduce the number of passengers!”
Is *waving hands frantically* the new “back door”?
As San Francisco (again, fingers crossed) continues to do a good job at keeping Covid under control, more public transit service with precautions is looking more and more likely. I, for one, recently rode Muni for the first time in seven months—a 7, in fact.
But, you’re the expert. Tell us what you’re seeing out there in the wild, for our collective online journal. Email us at email@example.com. If you’re feeling more short-form or casual, tag us @munidiaries on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.
A lot of concerns in the Before Times seems silly now, but one of them stands out in particular: when BART director Deborah Allen tried to ban panhandling on BART, which included busker activity. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Rachel Swan was reporting on the ordinance when she met rapper Tone Oliver, whose story became symbolic of how an anti-panhandling ordinance can impact artists like him.
As commuters ourselves, we know that musicians and performers on public transit often provide us with that surprising and delightful moment from the daily grind. And many buskers have left a lasting impression on their audience, like Jesse Morris who was known as punk rock Johnny Cash, or Ron Kemp, whose gentle voice you know from Powell station. But at the end of the day, the ordinance perhaps wasn’t about buskers at all.
The ordinance didn’t pass (and Allen would go on to make other controversial statements in 2020 about BART police), but Oliver achieved local fame and even garnered the attention of the ACLU. In today’s podcast, Swan describes the aftermath of what happened after her coverage put Oliver in the limelight.