It’s not news rapidly the mid-Market corridor is changing. Companies like Twitter and Uber have brought techies to mix with the grittier denizens who made this area their home for decades. The new neighbors have inspired infusions of street art to distract until gentrification has fully taken effect. Though I didn’t spend much time on this sketchy expanse of Market growing up, I have many memories triggered whenever I wait at these Great Transit Crossroads.
Who can calculate how many hours us Northside dwellers have waited here for a 49 or 47? When the wind picks up (usually around sunset) this corner is a wind tunnel, making the waiting game even less pleasant. A few years ago, during one of the city’s new style of of actually cold winter, I saw a snow flurry as I walked down into the metro station. But another stormy evening several years back was even more memorable. I walked up the stairs from the metro to the surface bus stop, where I anticipated a long wait in the elements for my next bus. I couldn’t contain my feelings and yelled out “I fuckin’ HATE this street corner” for motivation as I jogged up the steep stairs. As I emerged from the stairwell, I noticed a piece of paper money swirling by me in an eddy of wind. I stomped on it. It was a twenty! I knew there was an ATM across the street so I looked across to see if I saw anyone looking distraught or attempting to chase the escaped bill down my side of the street. Not spotting anyone, I picked up my score and revised my statement to the Universe: “I fuckin’ LOVE this street corner!”
Unexpected financial windfalls aside, the desolate crossroads have little to recommend them as a transit center. Waiting for the bus in the evenings became even less pleasant with the closure of one of the city’s great burger institutions—Zim’s, part of a chain that had dotted the city until they closed their last diners in 1995.
I often met my dad here for a meal since the Market Street location was a convenient midway point between our neighborhoods. Since this Zim’s was open 24 hours, the bus stop was relatively well-lit it was comforting to know you could always step into the restaurant if something shady went down while waiting for the bus. The huge space was vacant for quite a while, which meant especially dark times for the intersection—figuratively and literally. The boarded-up storefront attracted drug dealers and prostitution and while I didn’t begrudge them their professions, it was an uneasy mix of commuters and commerce. If you waited for a bus there later in the evening it was not a good place for a lone female. I took to hoofing it up Van Ness to the next closest bus stop but those were long blocks so you had to be prepared to sprint or potentially have a bus pass you by. After what seemed like forever, a Rite Aid came in and brought light and activity to the corner for a few extra hours in the evenings, but it’s still far more deserted after midnight than it was back in the good old days with the warm orange-tinged lights of Zim’s and the comforting smells from the fryer.
This year the SFMTA is due to launch a massive Bus Rapid Transit corridor on Van Ness that includes “high quality boarding islands located at consolidated transit stops located at key transfer points.” At some point in the distant future, waiting on the stained sidewalk buffeted by the elements will be a shadowy memory. Who knows what kind of fancy eating establishments might come to this corner then? We’ll have to wait and see.