An artist's rendering of the Salesforce Transit Center's Grand Hall.  Transbay Joint Powers Authority
An artist's rendering of the Salesforce Transit Center's Grand Hall.  (Transbay Joint Powers Authority)

(More Than) 10 Things to Know About San Francisco's Spectacular New Transit Center

(More Than) 10 Things to Know About San Francisco's Spectacular New Transit Center

Updated 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 16

S

an Francisco just threw open the doors to the Salesforce Transit Center, an immense but elegant edifice that planners hope will serve as the West Coast version of New York City's storied Grand Central Terminal.

The opening last weekend was a celebration -- a big neighborhood party featuring bands and food trucks and a one-time chance to tour parts of the facility, such as the stayed-cable bridge that serves as a bus ramp from the Bay Bridge. In fact, the event drew so many people that the San Francisco Fire Department shut it down about an hour earlier than scheduled.

The transit is now open to all comers, with its rooftop park accessible every day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Here are some common questions and (we hope more or less responsive) answers about the new center.

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1

What is it? Where is it?

The Salesforce Transit center will serve at first as a hub for commuter bus service, mostly from the East Bay to San Francisco. It's also designed as an eventual terminal for Caltrain and California high-speed rail.

Beyond that, it's intended to serve as a center of neighborhood activity, with a 5.4-acre park atop its roof and nearly three dozen shops and restaurants. The facility also features a wide array of public art.

The location: The center is sandwiched between two old South of Market alleys, Minna and Natoma streets -- they're parallel to and just south of Mission Street -- and extends from Beale Street on the east almost to Second Street on the west.

2

When does the spectacular new transit center officially open for service?

Sunday morning, Aug. 12,when the first buses from the East Bay roll off the Bay Bridge and cross the cool-looking new stayed-cable ramp onto the transit center's upstairs bus deck. We hear the very first bus will be running on AC Transit's O line, running from Fruitvale BART through Alameda. It's supposed to arrive at the center at 5:39 a.m.

3

Why do you keep calling it "spectacular?"

We're struck by the scale, the form, the imagination of the structure, which is so much more than a utilitarian terminal for comings and goings. Here are a couple of visuals that show what we mean:

de zeen: Pelli Clarke Pelli's Salesforce Transit Center opens in San Francisco

San Francisco Chronicle: San Francisco imposing new transit center ready to roll at last

4

Do I have to call it the 'Salesforce Transit Center'? And why is it called the Salesforce Transit Center, anyway?

Artist's rendering of the rooftop city park atop the Salesforce Transit Center, as seen from above Second Street. (Transbay Joint Powers Authority)

No one will force you to utter the words "Salesforce Transit Center," though we'd bet the company's founder and co-CEO, Marc Benioff, would love it if you say it as often as you can. (The San Francisco Chronicle's John King noted during an episode of KQED's "Forum" program this week that Muni, the city's transit system, may have come up with a sly workaround that avoids using the word "Salesforce" on its buses. The Muni lines that terminate there -- the 5 Fulton, the 7 Haight-Noriega and the 38 Geary -- have destination signs saying "SF Transit Center.")

As to why it's being called the Salesforce Transit Center, instead of the plain old Transbay Transit Center: It's strictly a matter of dollars and cents. The Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the agency formed to build and operate the center, says the sprawling complex will cost something like $27 million a year to run. The authority sold naming rights to Salesforce, whose new megatower shares a portion of the transit center site. The proceeds: $110 million for 25 years (That's $4.4 million a year. Where will the rest of the money come from? The main sources are bridge tolls collected through Regional Measures 2 and 3 and proceeds from leases on the center's retail space.)

5

The transit center has a park on top?

It does. And by all accounts -- we have not been up there yet, but you can see dense foliage atop the building if you're in the neighborhood -- it's a wonder to behold. The park includes 10 distinct gardens, including a redwood forest, wetland garden and Australian and South African gardens. The rooftop also features a music stage and children's playground. For more on the park, see:

6

How much did the transit center cost?

Price tag: $2.159 billion. That sounds like, and is, a lot. For a sliver of historical context: The original Transbay Terminal, built as an adjunct to the Bay Bridge, cost about $3 million, equivalent to about $55.8 million in 2018 dollars. But the two facilities are vastly different: The new transit center includes a double-deck underground train platform in preparation for the day when Caltrain, the Peninsula commuter service, and California high-speed rail can roll into San Francisco. The new center also features a quarter-mile-long, 5.4-acre rooftop park, a major amenity in the city's downtown core. For more on the park:

7

When will the transit center connect to Caltrain and high-speed rail?

That's uncertain, and a huge amount of work needs to be done before trains can get to the new terminal: The rail route that currently carries Caltrain into the city must be extended from 4th and Townsend streets, its current terminus, another mile and a half to Mission and Fremont streets. That likely will involve a major tunneling project. But before any of that happens, the city and partner transportation agencies will need to choose the exact alignment and rail/tunnel configuration -- a decision due by the end of this year. The city's current preferred alternative is to run a tunnel under Pennsylvania Avenue from near Cesar Chavez Street, then zigzag into downtown by way of Townsend and Second streets. The new route and tunnel would cost at least $6 billion, and Caltrain could start rolling into downtown by 2026 or 2027.

As for high-speed rail, current estimates are it could begin service by the end of the next decade. No, that doesn't sound very soon or like we know it will happen for sure.

8

Does the center connect to BART?

Not yet. The Transbay Joint Powers Authority envisions building an 800-foot tunnel under Beale Street from the transit center to the Embarcadero BART/Muni Metro station on Market Street. There's no date set for that project. In the meantime, you can continue your brisk above-ground hike to BART.

9

I want to eat and drink and shop. Can I do that at the new transit center?

Yes, although the process of leasing retail space is only partly completed and only pop-up retail shops will be in place at first. Announced tenants include Philz Coffee, a bar run by South of Market watering hole Eddie Rickenbacker's, Fitness SF and Onsite Dental.

10

What bus services will use the new transit center?

  • San Francisco Muni: Started service from the street-level bus plaza in June. The lines serving the center are the 5 Fulton, 7 Haight-Noriega and 38 Geary.
  • AC Transit: All transbay lines will serve the station starting Sunday, Aug. 12.
  • Others: Westcat (from western Contra Costa County), Greyhound and Amtrak.

11

What plans are in place to address security and homelessness in the park?

The Transbay Joint Powers Authority has contracted with the San Francisco Police Department to provide service for the facility. The agency has also retained Allied Universal to provide unarmed guards and "ambassadors."

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TJPA Executive Director Mark Zabaneh said on "Forum" the ambassadors will be onsite to "help the public and also any person in need." Zabaneh also said his agency has worked closely with the city's Department of Homelessness and Supportive Services, "and anybody who's in need of services, we can guide them to the right place."

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