After 20 years of planning, nearly a decade of construction, and one multimillion dollar rebranding, the Transbay Transit Center—and its sprawling 5.4-acre rooftop park—will open to the public Saturday. Stretching nearly three blocks between Beale and Second streets in the newfangled East Cut neighborhood, the $2.26 billion sleeping giant is the city’s newest icon.
Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, the Transit Center gives you a feeling that something special is about to happen, like a party where every San Franciscan is welcome. The excitement and anticipation is something that Salesforce Tower and the new SFMOMA expansion failed to deliver, despite their highly hyped designs—at face value, a bulging appendage and a glacier, respectively.
“It’s a miracle,” said architect Fred Clarke about the new hub. “Is that the appropriate word?”
While a handful of naysayers wrung their hands over the gleaming behemoth (decrying it as everything from a glorified bus stop to a waste of money), they missed the mark: the Transit Center, which serves as both a daily transit depot and a destination spot, is meant for denizens to use, not only to be looked at in awe from a distance.
Bounded by newly sprouted high rises such as Park Tower and 181 Fremont, the Transit Center finds itself inadvertently surrounded by some of the big names in tech—Slack and iShares, for example—who are proudly, and perhaps a touch desperately, flaunting branding in windows with a full view of the recreational rooftop.
Spanning more than three blocks, the Transit Center is a nurturing presence. Its lush lawns and single-person benches beckon stressed-out worker drones to hang out for a while, walk barefoot in the grass, grab a bite, and chill.
The entire shebang measures approximately 1.2 million square feet and spreads out across six levels—four levels above ground and two below.
The ground level will service several Muni bus lines; the bus deck level on the second floor will host regional bus service extending beyond the city, and the show-stopping park level is found on the top floor.
The below-ground concourse level and train platform level, neither of which are completed, will be for retail and the impending Caltrain service (by 2028) and—fingers crossed—the California High-Speed Rail.
The most striking aspect about the project, next to its curb appeal and its rooftop park, is the natural light and long views inside the grand hall. There’s nothing cloistered about this new space. Three skylights, which punctuate at park level, draw daytime light into the core of the building.
Lighting will be completely shut off in most of the Transit Center during off-peak hours.
“Inspiration came from nature,” said Fred Clarke, senior principal at Pelli Clarke Pelli, “and all of the culture, from art to mathematics, found in the Bay Area.”
The curtain wall
A whopping 3,992 perforated white aluminum panels, which feature a geometrical pattern, make up the exterior. It measures 3,000 feet long at 44 feet tall.
“It’s a rather pleasant design, isn’t it?” said mathematician and physicist Sir Roger Penrose at a pre-opening symposium discussing his work, underselling his revelatory geometrical rhombus pattern he discovered in the 1970s.
The mini bridge
Not only here to provide form, this mini eastern span Bay Bridge replica, which boasts a pylon with support cables that can be seen from Howard Street, functions as the access point for buses heading into and returning from the East Bay.
From the terrazzo floor featuring flora and butterflies in earthy hues to scrolling all-caps messages illuminated on the second floor, the Transit Center has lassoed esteemed artists who have put their thumbprints inside the behemoth.
Secret Garden by Julie Chang, which spans nearly 20,000 square feet, can be found on the Grand Hall’s floors. Her illustrations of California poppies, jewel-toned hummingbirds, and butterfly cutouts will find their way into many Instagram accounts over the next few years.
Jenny Holzer’s White Light, which can be seen from the Fremont Street entrance, features scrolling LED text that wraps around the elliptical glass enclosure of the Grand Hall. Her text messages, such as “Protect me from what I want” and “Abuse of power comes as no surprise,” were composed using text from historical archives from authors who wrote about the Bay Area, as well as documents and records on the construction of the Bay Bridge and the original Timothy Pflueger-designed Transbay Terminal.
: Jenny Holzer’s “White Light” inside the new Salesforce Transit Center. pic.twitter.com/8KeAoTO3t9— Brock Keeling (@BrockKeeling) August 4, 2018
Found in Shaw Alley, Parallel Light Fields by James Carpenter consists a series of illuminated benches that interact with natural light from above.
Bus Fountain by Ned Kahn: The 1000-foot-long is a series of water jets that curve along most of the north side of the park, are triggered by sensors that clock the movement of the buses on the level below.
Can I ride the gondola?
No, not until it’s completed in September. The Salesforce-sponsored aerial tram, found at Mission and Fremont Streets, will be in operation later this year. It can hold 20 passengers, but won’t be as effective for reaching the rooftop park compared to the 10 access points located throughout the transit center.
What transit services are offered?
The first floor offers Muni bus service via the 5-Fulton, 5-Fulton Rapid, 7-Haight-Noriega, 38-Geary, and 38R-Geary Rapid. The third floor hosts the 25-Treasure Island, AC Transit, WestCAT, and Greyhound regional bus service.
The bottom floor will eventually harbor Caltrain, which is expected to be done by 2028, and the ambitious California High-Speed Rail project, which will connect Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Yes, free wi-fi is available.
Let’s talk about the park
While the nuts and bolts of the center involve the transit terminuses, the 11 o’clock number here is the 5.4-acre rooftop park, designed by Berkeley’s PWP Landscape Architecture, that gilds the pragmatic transportation rumblings below. Fears about the park turning into a sterile and isolating experience—the numerous amount of single-person seating snaking around the park raised some eyebrows—should be put to rest.
There’s grass on which park goers are expected to walk, roll around, and picnic.
“It’s meant to be used and used often,” said Dennis Turchon, Senior Construction Manager for the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. “It’s not just for show. This is a public park. This is a message I want to make very clear.”
If lollygagging isn’t your thing, this part is a boon for fitness types who will jump at the chance to walk or jog length of the .55-mile walking path around the rooftop park.
There’s also an amphitheater—which is on the western side and will be used for performances—and over 200 species of plants and trees to discover around the park.
Even the aforementioned Kahn-designed fountain, triggered by the moving buses below, is user-friendly. Kids and adults alike are welcome to play in the spouting water when the weather heats up.
How to get to the park
There are 10 access points to the park. Connections include two bridges from nearby towers (181 Fremont and Salesforce Tower), an aerial tram from Mission Street that’s scheduled to open in September, four elevators, and three escalators.
What are the park’s hours?
Salesforce Park will be open to the public from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. from November to April and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May to October.
Are dogs allowed?
Only service pets are allowed.
In addition to San Francisco Police Officers from the Southern Station, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority has hired private security firm to add an extra layer of surveillance. There will also be ambassadors sporting official jackets to answer visitors’ queries.
“They’re like Walmart greeters,” said Turchon.
What’s the plan with food and retail?
Still in the planning stages, with only five leases signed so far, there are 34 storefronts available in and outside the Transit Center. Expect cafes (local and a venti-sized national chain), a health club, and more.
The park-level restaurant has yet to announce an official tenant. In the meantime, expect pop-up eateries to grace the spot.
Sports and music?
Only permitted events and/or concerts are allowed.
Good for kids?
Yes, there’s a dedicated children’s play space at park level.
Look forward to a myriad of events ranging from poetry readings and fitness classes to music concerts and other artistic endeavors.
Is it open?
Open and ready.