In 2010, San Francisco residents said goodbye to 1930’s-era Transbay Terminal that had been the bane of the neighborhood for decades. Its long-overdue demolition cleared the way for a brand new development, the latest of the city’s many remarkable structures. Enter the “Grand Central Station of the west”. On Aug. 12, 2018, bus service began at the $2.16 billion Salesforce Transit Center, which stretches nearly three blocks between Beale and Second Streets, just south of Mission Street.
East Bay commuters entering the city by bus will travel, traffic-free from the Bay Bridge onto an elevated concourse. Because of the relative ease of commuting in an out of downtown by bus, the hope is that people who had previously commuted by car will now choose public transportation and that the innovative structure and rooftop park will become a destination for residents and tourists.
Eventually, The New Transit Center is expected to accommodate 100,000 passengers each weekday, and up to 45 million people a year. Arrivals are welcomed through wavy white sheets of metal veil, to an airy five-level center that includes a bus deck, sky-lit entrance hall, and a rooftop park with an outdoor amphitheater.
In addition, the new station should attract visitors who never ride a bus. For them, the draw will be shops and vendors inside the terminal and a 5.4-acre park that fills the roof above the concourse. And following the eco-friendly living-roof movement in SF, the park boasts distinctive gardens, a meadow, a long oval walking path, and a children’s’ play area. But that’s not all: within the park, there is a yet to be an open two-story restaurant with a terrace 80-feet in the air.
The epic scale of the project can be seen as a hybrid between New York’s Grand Central Station, The Highline, or Bryant Park on the roof. All of these attractions are nestled in densely populated urban areas–part utilitarian pass-throughs and part popular tourist destinations, all essential icons of New York.
“I think it’ll be like the High Line in New York,” said the Transit Center’s grand opening attendee Lisa Gould, referring to the rooftop park. As with New York’s 1.5-mile greenbelt constructed on a defunct elevated railroad line, the new transit center roof will serve as a breath of fresh air in an urban environment.
Gould, who has also taken her nieces to marvel at the center, “It’s great for the workers and people downtown who will be able to come down here, and there are free activities for children too.”
This idea that a bustling transit center can be more than just one stop on a person’s commute is appealing. “The central plaza is the hub of activity,” exclaimed Ashley Langworthy, director of the local offices of Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, who is part of the Transit Center’s management team. Langworthy added, “[I]t’s crucial to have areas where people feel they’re in a natural setting, that they can sit by themselves.”
However, the other potential comparison and perhaps cautionary tale is with New York’s Bryant Park, a stone’s throw from Times Square in the center of Manhattan. The space was rejuvenated in the 1990s after becoming a haven for drug dealers and petty criminals.
And though, like with the now demolished San Francisco Transbay Terminal, Bryant Park went through its share of struggles against illicit activities and vagrancy, the new center represents a true beacon of sparkling and innovative development in the middle of some very upscale real estate.
Now San Franciscans can embrace the new edifice as a positive enhancement to the quality of life in Downtown San Francisco, while the city can learn from examples of other iconic American multi-use spaces.