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Friday Slide Show: Transit Center Park Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

7 September 2018

We used to marvel at the continual cycle of construction as we wandered through the streets of the city. Would it ever stop? Would the city ever finish being built? But after studying the subject for decades, we've come to the conclusion that a city is something that is never finished. And the new Transit Center with its rooftop park is a case in point.

Once upon a time, we used to ride down to the East Bay Terminal off First St. with Pops to pick up his mother. She had taken the F bus to the Key System train over the Bay Bridge to visit us and was always waiting patiently with four or five other people in the big hall of long benches that could have fit a thousand travelers.

That was all demolished a few years ago to build a new Transit Center where AC buses from the East Bay could drop off passengers and several Muni lines could turn around to route back through the city and, eventually, Caltrain could bring people into the city from San Jose and high speed rail from Southern California.

Like the airport, in short, it promises to never be finished.

But the 5.4 acre Transit Park has been, more or less, completed and opened to the public just last month. So we packed our Olympus E-PL1 with the kit lens to do some serious tourist photography.

As we approached the center, we were struck by the lace-like facade, which reminded us of the intricacy of Islamic architecture, a bold approach to have taken in these times. But very San Francisco.

Exterior. A decidedly Islamic facade.

That was just the facade. There are a couple of not-yet-open floors below street level (for Caltrain and high speed rail), a street level space (where Muni turns around) and second level for AC Transit and the rooftop park.

Here's how the architects describe the project:

The park design is composed of curving paths that lead visitors through different experiential settings, both contemplative and social. In order to create a topography that blurs the distinction between roof and ground, the park will integrate mounded vegetated hills with domed architectural skylights that allow daylight into the terminal below. PWP worked closely with environmental artist Ned Kahn on a 1,200-foot-long Bus Jet Fountain -- a feature in which buses moving through the terminal trigger jets of water in the park above.

We were there on Labor Day, so there weren't very many buses moving through the terminal level below us. Consequently Kahn's Bus Fountain was pretty quiet. People wondered if it wasn't just another paved path and wandered over it, peeking into the holes.

Bus Fountain. Activated by buses moving below the garden.

And then, unheard below us, a bus would rumble off at 10 mph and water would briefly shoot up through those holes, following the movement of the bus and delighting nearly everyone.

When we caught the action the one time we saw it on our visit, it seemed like a proof of concept. But we suspect it's like Niagra Falls during rush hour.

The "contemplative" settings are strewn along the half mile paved path. Along the outside a botanical garden has been planted showcasing environments from around the state and even Australia. They include 637 trees.

The architects again describe the scheme:

The park actively improves the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide from bus exhaust, treating and recycling water and creating a locus in downtown San Francisco for birds, butterflies and other pollinators. Storm-water runoff from the rooftop park, as well as water from the sinks in the terminal building, is collected and polished in a subsurface constructed wetland at the east end of the park. The water is then used in the restrooms throughout the terminal.

Birds, butterflies and other pollinators are one thing. Rats are another. We saw a number of black rat traps placed discreetly along the outside wall to discourage the local population.

And that's not the only animal population the park discourages. Dogs are not permitted (although at least two people did not get that memo). When you see how well manicured the delicate botanical displays are, you can appreciate why.

And then, too, there's the grassy amphitheater at the west end of the park that complements the large plaza in the plaza in the middle of the park that hosts various educational activities throughout the week. You can learn to knit on Wednesdays, for example.

Even just strolling around, there are plaques explaining various features of the park, like its two seismic joints that divide the long park into three segments that can move independently during an earthquake.

There's also a children's playground and even a foosball table (which was in active use).

And the views are worth the trip up the escalator. Looking west you can see Twin Peaks framed between skyscrapers. And all around the perimeter, new buildings faced in glass rise up like wind barriers, some with encouraging messages taped on the windows.

Contrasted with the exotic gardens, the views can be amusing. The roman columns of one building interrupted by a garden of cacti. The white undulating waves of SFMOMA's new extension poking through an alley. The PG&E building sitting still for its portrait.

The place was mobbed on Labor Day. Which was good to see. Not just the new generation of downtowners, either. There were elderly people taking a stroll and lots of kids.

We caught one of them who had discovered the joy of simply rolling down a little hill like Jack and Jill. How easily children amuse themselves, we thought with admiration.

And then we remembered Grandma waiting for us after she'd made a call from the phone booth to tell us she had arrived. And we wondered if that little girl rolling down the hill wasn't her modern incarnation.

"I'm here," she seemed to be saying. "And I love it!"

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