The J Church is a Muni Metro light rail line in San Francisco, California, mainly serving the Noe Valley and Balboa Park neighborhoods, connecting them to downtown. It began as one of San Francisco's streetcar lines in 1917, and was partially converted to modern light-rail operation in 1981, as part of the creation of the Muni Metro system in the late 1970s. While many streetcar lines were converted to bus lines after World War II, the J Church remained a streetcar line due to the private right-of-way it uses to avoid the steepest grades on Church Street, between 18th Street and 22nd Street. Buses cannot negotiate the grades, and the right-of-way is too narrow to accommodate anything wider than the streetcar tracks.
The line runs from Embarcadero Station in the Financial District to Balboa Park Station and the Balboa Park neighborhood near City College of San Francisco. The downtown portion of the line uses the Market Street Subway, along with four other Muni Metro lines (K/T, L, M and N lines). The J exits the tunnel at Duboce Avenue along with the N Judah and turns onto Church Street. Between 18th and 20th Street, the line cuts through Dolores Park on a private right-of-way. After crossing 20th Street, it cuts across the blocks east of Church, around a steep hill and returns to Church Street at 22nd Street in Noe Valley. The J then follows Church to 30th Street, then to San Jose Avenue and Geneva. Between Randall and Cotter Streets, there is a right-of-way in the middle of San Jose Avenue. At the end of the line, the J loops around the Metro yard at San Jose and Geneva, alongside Balboa Park Station.
The J Church line stops at large stations for the downtown section of the route and at smaller stops on the rest of the line. Most of the smaller stops are designated by a sign on the sidewalk, while a few have concrete "islands" in the middle of the street next to the tracks that provide access for wheelchairs.
While most other lines in the rail system can be run in two-car configurations, the J line is always run with a single car in order to accommodate the stops in the right-of-way, which are not long enough to have two light rail cars with open doors simultaneously.
The J Church begins service at 5 a.m. weekdays, 6 a.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. Sundays and continues until 12:15 a.m. every night. Headways range from 7 to 15 minutes during the day, and 15 to 20 minutes at night. There is no late night service along the entire J line. Some of the route is covered by the L-Owl and N-Owl service provided by diesel buses run on Market Street between Church Street and Steuart Street. Owl service on the 24 Divisadero line runs near the portion of the J line north of 30th Street, and 14 Mission owl service runs near the portion of the line south of 30th.
Extension to Balboa Park Station
The outer end of the line was originally at Church and 30th Streets, where streetcars used a wye to turn around. In 1991, the tracks were extended to the Balboa Park BART station and the Metro Center (Muni light-rail maintenance and operations base), giving J-line cars a much shorter connection to the caryard than previously. However, the 2.3-mile (3.7 km) new section was initially used only by light rail cars starting or ending their runs; all-day J-line service was not extended along the new tracks until March 1992. This extension of the J-line to the Metro Center now also provides vintage F Market cars a connection to the adjacent Geneva Yard, where they are stored when not in service. Occasionally J-Church streetcars use the wye at 30th and Church as a terminus during rush hours, or during irregular operations.