It’s now called the Salesforce Transit Center. I attended the official opening of the Transbay Terminal in 2010. It was deemed the Grand Central Station of San Francisco. Other major cities have famous train stations, Union Station in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and of course Grand Central and Pennsylvania in New York City. It was hoped that the new terminal would soon host a Caltrain extension and high-speed rail. Those hopes will have to wait a while. In the meantime, the Salesforce Transit Center is a sight to behold and well worth a visit even though for now it just hosts buses.
Unfortunately, I had to drive and not take Caltrain to San Francisco because of time constraints and the need to return home in early afternoon when the train schedule is somewhat limited. BART was out of the question as it would have taken me too long to drive to Millbrae, park and get a ticket during the morning rush. Google maps told me it was quicker to drive Interstate 280 than to take Highway 101. I did and in about 30 minutes I was in San Francisco emerging from 280 by the Caltrain station. I had looked up a several parking spots near the terminal but none emerged during the slow crawl of traffic. Once I turned on Third Street, it was a mess to get to Folsom Street. I turned right, drove a block or two and found myself in a new world of skyscrapers, unfamiliar streets, many of them torn up for construction, and orange blockades all over. I entered the first parking lot I saw where the toll was $3 for every three minutes with a maximum charge of $33 and decided I better go for it. By this time, it was worth the money just to get out of the car.
The area around the terminal and the new Salesforce office building is expanding fast with additional skyscrapers of different shapes and designs. The buildings are close in and high so you don’t feel you are in San Francisco anymore. It has more of a feel of New York City or Chicago. I thought I knew the city but I had to ask for directions. Luckily, a knowledgeable construction worker was able to show me the way to the terminal and also how I could return home from the parking garage. Most freeway entrances in this part of the city lead to the Bay Bridge.
The terminal takes up a city block. I finally found my way to a building with a sign Salesforce Transit Center. I entered at First Street between Howard and Mission streets into a huge cavern, like an empty arena. I was to meet a friend at the tram entrance which takes you up to the rooftop park but I had no idea where that was. Just then, two people walked by and they said the tram was outside “there” but I could also take an elevator. My friend was waiting outside and together we took the very modern glass tram (free) up the fourth floor. There we found an urban wonderland, a walkway along a magnificent landscape of unusual plants and shrubs (the kind which don’t need much water). Around us were huge skyscrapers but we were in a peaceful place above the hustle and din below. There were play areas set aside for children’s recreation, many park benches, just built for one or two and the bigger ones with bars to discourage those who wanted to use it a bed. The park was as wondrous as the urban Highline in New York City. However, there seemed to be a shortage of restaurants except for a Starbucks and a smaller coffee shop which offered a limited menu of excellent food. A few restaurants are expected to open soon. The next time I visit I will definitely take public transit and avoid the trauma of driving and the parking expense.
When it comes to major transportation projects, like the recently long delayed and over budget new section of the Bay Bridge, it’s never easy, fast, or cheap. The Transbay Terminal suffers from the same history. The 1939 Transbay Terminal was damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Voters approved funds for the new Transit Center in 1999. Construction on the above-ground bus terminal began in 2010. Limited Muni bus service began in December 2017, and full service from AC Transit and other regional and intercity bus operators began in August 2018 . Full funding has not yet been secured for rail. And what a difference that would make for commuters and Peninsula-San Francisco traffic.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.