At the heart of the Mayor’s proposal to tear down the end of I-280 in San Francisco is the redevelopment of the Caltrain railyard between SoMa and Mission Bay, the plan for which plugged-in people have long known was in the works.

The 19.1-acre site between 4th and 7th Streets and bounded by King and Townsend currently serves as the terminus for Caltrain in San Francisco with a station that opened in 1975. Forming a ½-mile barrier between the South of Market and the Mission Bay neighborhoods, the railyard site could be redeveloped by moving transit activities underground or off site.

Under a couple of redevelopment concepts and scenarios, the land on which the railyard sits could yield over 1,500 new residential units; over 300,000 square feet for retail; and nearly a million square feet of office space with buildings rising up to 450 feet on the site, with or without I-280 north of 16th Street in place:

Railyard Project Massings

Proposed building heights under either the “Highway” or “Boulevard” scenario are varied across the site with taller buildings at the eastern end, decreasing moving west.


38 thoughts on “The Vision For San Francisco’s Fourth And King Street Railyard”
  1. Viewing those graphics makes the 280 tear down make a lot more sense, and seem far less drastic. It is really just one block or so of highway…..
    If that helps make HSR faster, that would be great.
    (HSR being faster is about the speed of the trains, not the speed of construction, which I think many folks were confused about in the earlier post on the topic).

  2. Blah.
    Just what we need, a few more indistinguishable blocks of medium-density buildings on the very last large parcel left in the City.

  3. I wish they can straighten the train track’s tight curve at 7th st somewhat. That alone can perhaps speed up the caltrain by 2 minutes.
    And I think the 4th st off ramp is built fairly recently after the quake. Sorry concrete, I barely know you.

  4. Tearing down the end of 280 is an awful idea and makes no sense. This is not the same situation as with Octavia Boulevard, where the freeway was cutting through a residential neighborhood. This is an industrial corridor, and the current transition from freeway to city streets is much smoother and more controlled. We would get better value if the space was preserved to allow for a future (I am not calling for this anytime soon) extension of the MUNI N Line a little further into the Fashion District. This proposed plan serves only to raise the property values of that corner of Mission Bay that sides the freeway. In addition,I have yet to get a clear explanation of how this is even connected to High Speed Rail, unless the sale of property would fund the Transbay Terminal connection- and that property could not be worth anywhere close to the 2 billion dollar price tag.
    I know it’s a rant, but this whole discussion is ten years premature and it gets my goat.
    One other note- Mission Creek “Park” is more promenade than park, and that part of Soma is starved for some nice open green space. I see none in this proposal so- *planning FAIL*

  5. there is a great,safe park under that section of 280 now with several basketball and volleyball courts, a tennis court and dog park and walking areas, landscaping and more. All would be gone and a clogged street forced through, instead. A street that would slice Mission Creek Park and truly disrupt our neigborhood, which is coming into its own.

  6. @grrr-
    I did refer to Mission Creek park, but its location under the freeway puts a bit of a damper on certain activities, and the other portions of the park consist of promenades next to the canal. South Park is nice but is a bit small, and the parks in Mission Bay are further out and a bit isolated. The rail yard blocks are perfect for a nice park. I’m thinking you could put it between 5th and 6th (which could be reconnected). Leave room for future MUNI N expansion, and you have something that could be branded as SOMA’s answer to Dolores Park.

  7. Stop the madness! Enough already. Has anyone else noticed the rapid Manhattanization of S.F. Building heights are being revised from the approved 65 feet to 150 feet, subways to nowhere are being built, every where we turn a street is being dug up Sf is Under Construction and the quality of life here is terrible at the moment.

  8. Why are they suggesting buildings that are up to 450ft tall when the current limits all around are in the 65-85ft range??
    That’s just replacing one barrier with another…

  9. @bastardo:
    right now the site is literally a 1/2-mile long barrier that you can’t cross period. these concepts include cutting two new streets (extensions of 5th and 6th Streets) across the site to link to Mission Creek. How exactly is that replacing one barrier with another?
    somehow SF is “manhattanizing” and building subways to nowhere at the same time? I think some people have their perspectives mixed up.
    Yes, let’s continue to store dead diesel trains in the middle of the City. What a great use of land.

  10. “That’s just replacing one barrier with another…”
    Not really. The current configuration presents a half mile long obstacle for all ground traffic. This new plan will be porous so at least pedestrians won’t need to detour 1/2 a mile just to get to the other side.
    More important obstacle-wise is Mission Creek. Even if the Caltrain yard were replaced by one huge open lawn, pedestrians coming from the area marked Mission Bay South on the above diagram will still need to get around Mission Creek. It is the same half mile detour problem.
    So this project to replace the Caltrain yard with new buildings does little towards eliminating an obstacle unless there are bridges across Mission Creek to complement it.

  11. wasn’t there to be a pedestrian bridge built across Mission creek connecting those areas for pedestrians and bikers? Not sure if that is still in the works but it was part of the original MB plan

  12. A 5th Street ped bridge across Mission Creek is already planned as part of Mission Bay. Of course if the railyards isn’t reconfigured like shown and 5th Street extended to connect, what’s the point of the bridge? So a couple hundred people living on Berry Street have a quicker walk to UCSF?

  13. “… rapid Manhattanization of S.F…”
    SF has to get 4 times more dense than it is today before it gets anywhere near Manhattan. It’s not even close to as dense as Brooklyn, the Bronx, or Queens.

  14. Yes, the 16th to Mariposa traffic by 280 is already bad. Are there plans to be able to enter Mission Bay by the new UCSF hospital off 280, without having to detour to Pennsylvania, then back across the tracks?

  15. @gracesf: would like to know if you live in sf, own property (and if so, where), and either drive or take public transit before whining about Manhattanization of SF.
    Subway to nowhere: yes, the CS is a subway to nowhere. We need a subway to everywhere.
    Streets torn up: what do you expect when you have 100 year old infrastructure in dire need of upgrades. I know I personally get upset when I see city workers putting in disabled-friendly ramps at intersections.
    Buildings to the sky: if SF can become affordable for the fleeing middle class then yes, we need more density which often translates into taller buildings.

  16. 400+ feet good luck getting that passed, when it ruins (changes) all the views for the folks in Potrero Hill….

  17. Mission Creek Park is a perfectly wonderful urban park — surely we could use more green space (there is more planned for Mission Bay), but to discount it is obnoxious. The promenade is on the Berry street side and is very popular with the up towards 2,000 people (and their dogs) that live along Berry St. The ped bridge is needed. It’s a very busy promenade and park much of the time and will only get busier when the apartments in Mission Bay are done. The courts and park under the highway are great and very popular (and safe!). The fact that it is under the freeway protects it. In fact, if not for the highway, it would be a clogged road and the courts wouldn;t even exist wouldn’t exist. An the dog park (albeit next to/on the sewer) is very popular, too. all that would likely go away if the highway came down.

  18. Has anyone else noticed the rapid Manhattanization of S.F.
    Look, SF is going to have to come to terms with the fact that you can’t provide incentives to attract and keep companies like twitter and salesforce.com to help revitalize run down parts of the city without building places for the workers, and the workers who provided services to those workers, to live.
    And, since as any RE professional will tell you ‘they aren’t building any more land’. The only solution is to build up.
    Either SF is accepts that being a ‘world class’ city means taller buildings, more density, and expanded public transit or it doesn’t and it watchs these companies currently responsible for rising RE values move elsewhere.
    That said. I strongly agree that there is a difference between growth and smart growth.
    This plan, to me, is smart growth. It adds much needed residential, office, and retail space, knits together a part of the city that desperately needs it and adds some green space where none currently exists.
    If that’s ‘Manhattanization’ than I say ‘good’.

  19. “SF is the second most dense city of any decent size”
    Correct. NYC and SF have multiple neighborhoods with the same population levels and equal or higher densities than those small towns that are above them on that list (the tenderloin for example has 25,000 residents and a density of over 70,000 people per square mile…if it were it’s own city, it would top that list). That list is basically comparing apples and oranges.

  20. Building crazy density is one thing. But not building infrastructure to go along with density(transit, road and wider sidewalk) is another thing entirely. If this keeps up there will one day be a massive day of reconing and a lot of people will be very unhappy with what SF has turned into. Fixes will not come quickly or cheaply.
    Unfortunately The City’s attitude is to build now and fix problems later. For example HSR will reach the transbay terminal in 20 years if everything goes according to current plan. Many of us will have moved on by then.

  21. I live on Pot Hill and I’d rather have a view of these new buildings than the 280 6th St ramp. Although I admit it does look pretty neat sometimes just after sunset when lit up by a million stationary tail lights.
    And get real, nobody is going to invest billions on putting the railway underground just to convert the space into a park. If SoMa needs more green areas then just tear down some of the ugly warehouses of which there are still hundreds. The meth colony under the King St ramp also needs a place to go.

  22. this is crazy. what SOMA needs (especially at the Southern and Western points) is GREEN SPACE!! Can you imagine what riches the city would garner by creating a sigfnificant green space on this side of the city? Business and people alike would flood this area. I live in SOMA. It needs to be cleaned-up and one way to do that is to make it a place where a community wants to thrive. Where residents and businesses alike care about their physical space and boundaries. The city does not need more block long big condo units that face inward. The politicians in this city must make a personal killing from developers, otherwise, why would the city not be more thoughtful about this??!!

  23. I’ve read the report linked in the article above, and all I see are $$$$ dollar signs.
    -Save money for the HSR.
    -Make money for city.
    -Make money for developers…
    We should all worry when profit maximization comes first over all else.

  24. Only in SF would you see Nimbys fight to keep idling diesel trains over buildings that can bring more people, street life and retail.
    We’re not talking about tearing down a large swath of Victorians here people.

  25. “For example HSR will reach the transbay terminal in 20 years if everything goes according to current plan.”
    Actually the current plan reaches SF by 2026, so 13 years. Still a ways off, but quite a bit sooner than 20 years.
    Also, it’s the SJ to Merced portion that’s being finished then, we may possibly have HSR trains running between SF & Gilroy much sooner as the Caltrain electrification project is currently scheduled to be completed by 2019.

  26. The park v.s. build debate is unnecessary. This will turn over a lot of land. It is not going to be 100% build or 100% park. There are plenty of opportunities for both.
    Secondly this will be the site of the revamped Mission Bay Station. It make perfect sense to put highest density development in this area. (note to park fans: this does not mean it excludes parks).

  27. Nick, I don’t see anyone complaining about the idling diesel trains going away. But rather I hear people concerned with what might fill that void.
    Sure “more people, street life and retail” sounds great, but what if the green boulevard turns out a ground-level highway walled-in by sky-high buildings? It’s all in the details…

  28. @donburi,
    To envision the ground-level highway walled-in by sky-high buildings, you only need to look at King St. It practically handle all traffic off the 280 4th st ramp. And it has high rises on both side. That maybe a good example what this project can turn into. Sure King St doesn’t really attain greatness. But there is no question that it is a lively place today. Most people would have agree King St is better off now than when it is under an elevated freeway.

  29. I think this whole area could be redeveloped in a great way. I’m excited to see what comes of it in 25 years (lets be honest, that’s how long it takes for any major redevelopment plan in this city).
    On a side note, I’m so sick of selfish NIMBYs whining about “Manhattanization” in SF. NIMBYs just want to restrict new housing supply so their home equity skyrockets and they can pocket the windfall. Nevermind that NIMBYs’ windfall is paid from the value of innovative and skilled newer workers talented enough to command high salaries that justify the move to SF.
    You know what kind of towers they are building in Manhattan right now? 1050–1400 ft. residential towers. That’s Manhattanization. Not the 5-10 story apartment buildings going up around Market Street.
    I mean, if you want to be accurate about the current construction boom, you should probably call it “Denverization.” But that doesn’t have the same kind of ring. NIMBYs therefore always inaccurately describe new housing projects in order to drive fear into ordinary SFers and create opposition. This is why NIMBYs love to use the word Manhattanization as it create a false image about development. “OMG everybody! Mission is going to turn into Midtown!!” No. It’s not actually. Calm down.
    The sad thing is that new housing doesn’t need to cost so much here. The culprit is the Byzantine regulatory system NIMBYs have implemented to stop people new housing construction. Nevermind that SF has plenty of space (almost as much surface parking lot as Golden Gate Park). Or that smart-growth high denisty neighborhoods DONT EVEN NEED to build high up. Five or six floors can accomodate a lot of people.
    I mean Christ, god forbid somebody do what they please with their property. Here’s an idea, if you don’t like what a property owner wants to do with their own property, then go buy it and leave it as a surface parking lot. Oh but wait, you NIMBY, are too selfish to actually buy the land. Because its not worth the cost to you, you then go lobby the city to restrict development. Thus spreading the cost of foregone tax collection and economic activity on everybody in the city.
    So now we are not only getting screwed on ridiculous housing costs, but also with high taxes since there are less revenue opportunities. So thanks NIMBY, I’m just thrilled that you’ve double penetrated me.

  30. @donburi,
    As somebody who lives on Bluxome st, let me tell what would be better.
    Literally, ANYTHING. 100% anything. High rises? Sure. Green space? Sure. ANYTHING. I don’t care about the “devil in the details” (which really is SF code for “STOP IT ALL”) when the current “devil” is a train yard, a persistent homeless encampment and a highway off ramp.
    And I’m sorry, 5-10 floor buildings are not *sky high.* We’re building on top of a transit hub… build big! This is where there should be density! Density here spares us from density in places like Noe Valley and the Sunset.

  31. Can anyone posit about how the home values for the existing buildings along 280 might be affected? I wonder what the tradeoff is between city views and the elimination of the rail-yard/280…

  32. I can give anyone who’s curious a preview of what this will do to home values: they will continue to rise. Why? Because you live in San Francisco, where demand far outstrips supply.

  33. Re density and other statistics. Any number that is computed over some range of data points is going to smear distinctions across those data points. That is the whole point of computing the number. It is a summary of a bunch of individual points, in order to characterize them as a whole, in a short, succinct way — but information will inevitably be lost along the way to that single statistic (or statistic with one or more qualifying parameters, like average+variance or median+stdDev).
    Before getting into pointless hall of mirrors arguments over whether A is more or less dense than B, it’s important to define A and B, decide if that’s a meaningful definition and if, based on that definition, it then makes sense (i.e. conveys useful information) to compare A and B on that basis.
    Because of the diversity of cities and their varying attributes within city boundaries, city-based stats are only part of the story. There’s many other ways to compute statistics, and almost all of them are on the Interwebz.
    For example here’s another one that is more fine-grained — it tells a slightly different, but still true, story:
    There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer, simply more or less data of differing quality, the totality of which gives you a more complete picture.
    OK, back to the fighting.

  34. I was against the 280 tear-down until I had an idea – why not bury the stub of 280 from Potrero Hill (or even further south!), and in the process *extend* it so that it connects with 80 at 5th Street (*plenty* of room for the tunnel to emerge on the E side of 5th Street, between the E and W bound lanes). Could be tunnel off-ramps at 16th (for Potrero Hill & Mission Bay) and King or Townsend) for SoMa and ballpark. This both frees up land for develoment (and removes eyesores), *and* improves regional transportation. (It also ends 280’s status as perhaps the only subsidiary interstate that doesn’t actually connect with its namesake!)

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