Transbay Transit Center Skin

A plugged-in reader provides the first peek at the perforated aluminum skin being installed for San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center which is slated to open in 2017, assuming an emergency $260 million bailout loan keeps the construction crews employed this summer.

Originally designed to be glass, the switch to an aluminum skin back in 2013 shaved an estimated $17 million from the Transit Center’s current $2.2 billion budget, which is now a billion more than was budgeted for the first phase of the project when it was approved back in 2007.

The $2.2 billion budget doesn’t include the unfunded second phase of the project, the extension of rail for Caltrain and High Speed Rail from Fourth and Townsend which will cost another $2.5 billion based on current estimates.

85 thoughts on “First Peek at the Transbay Transit Center’s New Skin”
  1. Link the 260 million with the DTX completion of the extension, better make sure that the clause states clearly, that the DTX must be finished prior to the 260 million being funded…

    1. In that case, nothing will be completed. A couple years ago all funding for Caltrain extension was diverted to deal with cost overruns. With a mayor who really couldn’t case less whether Caltrain makes it to the TTC or not, don’t expect any political pressure to prioritize the project. When all is said and done you will have a stand alone $3B bus station in a Transit First city.

      1. Is there any update on the number of Caltrains that TBT could support? I heard only 2/hour was planned which is ridiculous

        With access to downtown and electrification ridership go WAY up (with some decrease on BART). It will be superior to BART in most ways

        1. According to the Transbay Center site, Caltrain and HSR will share 6 tracks among 3 platforms which, to me, seems like an incredibly low number of tracks to accommodate commuter rail and HSR.

          I really don’t see BART ridership dropping. If anything, it will increase because more people will be using BART for a more direct access to Caltrain (and vice versa). Now, if this was integrated with a new BART line from a second tube then even better (keeping in mind that the new BART line could be standard gauge rail and share the Caltrain tracks, like HSR).

          1. Better yet, do an analysis of the cost of HSR up the Peninsula (huge opposition may forces some of it underground there if the oppositions does not outright stop it) vs coming up the East Bay.

            How much money would be saved? In the billions? Use that savings to take HSR from Oakland and into SF via a tube. Shared maybe with BART. That would leverage the investment by potentially a huge amount.

          2. I couldn’t agree more, Dave. HSR should come from SJ to OAK and under the bay to SF. It avoids problems with the peninsula communities and will not adversely impact Caltrain service. In addition, the new shared tube can be used to extend a standard gauge BART or existing Caltrain from the TTC to underserved areas of the East Bay.

          3. Many riding north on the Peninsula would switch to Caltrain. I see it taking ridership from the park and ride stations in San Mateo Co. to San Bruno

            Going south are you envisioning more people making the platform transfer between BART and Caltrain at transbay? This may be

            I can say for my wife and some friends in San Mateo the day that extension opened would be their last one on BART and the magical mystery tour around San Bruno Mountain

          4. “I couldn’t agree more, Dave. HSR should come from SJ to OAK and under the bay to SF”

            I think one issue with this is the majority are trying to get to San Francisco as the destination and you are making a big ‘ole loop and you already have a rail right-a-way directly up the Peninsula. Makes little sense to me

          5. Mark, the more pressing/imminent problem I see is the projected growth of jobs around the Transbay terminal and of residents. Someone posted that the First Street project will only add several hundred units. True, but add that that into the skinny tower, Gang Tower and more to come and one has thousands of new units. All well before 2030.

            The transportation infrastructure is not here for the 150K new residents by 2030 (I doubt that number BTW) and the 150K plus new jobs. Add the Warrior’s Arena. Add the rest – including an ill-advised, IMO, up-zoning of Market/Van Ness to add thousands there.

            HSR whether it comes via Oakland or not, another BART tube, electrification of CalTrain and it coming to the Transbay terminal. All way post 2030.

            Something has to give. Someone should point out the emperor has no clothes and call a temporary halt to this. IMO.

          6. Zig, I disagree. I’d surmise that most who would use HSR are trying to get to somewhere in the 9 county and 8 million or so Bay Area metro. Probably it’d be the Silicon Valley with the largest draw and SF next but IMO the East Bay is a bigger draw than the Peninsula and would be third after SV and SF.

            Beyond that, the East Bay corridor near the Bay is far more central and populated than the Peninsula. Bay Area growth is not huge compared to emerging metro areas like Houston, Dallas and even Atlanta, but the Bay Area is still growing and most of that seems to be in the East Bay. Or south of San Jose.

          7. @Zig. It does make sense, especially given that the East Bay will be experiencing more growth than the peninsula and justifies another tube. Given that BART will be reaching downtown SJ in the next decade so when you really think about it, who needs HSR at all. People in Oakland and SF can take either Caltrain or BART to downtown SF and connect to HSR there.

            Many folks on the peninsula do not want HSR running through their towns. They will fight it.

    2. the old transbay terminal only handled bay bridge buses.

      the new transbay terminal as completed will only handle bay bridge buses.

      so, we spent 2.2b on basically a seismically reinforced re-vamped version of what we had before. doh!

      1. the old Transbay trerminal handled the Key system, a regional train system that Predates BART – which ran ON THE BAY BRIDGE….. the Old Transbay Terminal itself, built during WWII was supposed to be temporary…. it will get done… a little optimism and some good old backroom dealing will see to that

        1. The old TT – which in addition to the Key also (initially) handled Interurban Electric and Sacramento Northern trains – opened in January, 1939; and there was nothing “temporary” about its expected life.

  2. If the change from glass to aluminum skin is a savings of 17M – they should’ve stuck with the original plan when you consider the phase 1 budget is 2.2B!

      1. I walked by there earlier today on the way to work, and again during lunch while running errands…

        I have to say, I dont like it, this “skin”. That said, if its open air and filters light the way it looks, it’ll probably look and feel amazing on the inside of the structure. But it has an odd look on the outside, and in this case, I think it looks bad…im pretty open and encouraging of unusual and unique designs in general, but this one bleh.

        Does anyone know, will it be open to the streets where it goes overhead (1st St, and Fremont). Will pedestrians have direct access from the street into the terminal on those streets? I do think Minna and Natona St will be amazing little streets running the distance (or most of it). I cant wait to explore all the ins and outs once its done.

        Overall the neighborhood is building out quite nicely!

          1. You kinda have to walk by and see it yourself.

            After years of following this, seeing the glass downgraded, giving it the benefit of the doubt, then seeing it finally live… It’s underwhelming.

            Doilies, yes, or computer generated boring pattern. Cornflakes? I don’t know. Maybe take a walk and see it in person.

            It’s underwhelming. It’s also highly subjective so it’s really just one view.

          2. They are a Penrose pattern, which has some fascinating mathematical properties. You should look it up!

  3. The new Bay Bridge segment should have been a $500 million causeway with less energy consuming lighting and a bike lane that went all the way to SF.

    This bus terminal should have been a jazzed up version of the temporary one with the saved money going to bringing Caltrain to it and BART.

    1. a bike lane across bay bridge would be one of the biggest wastes of money in SF history. Even for a town who likes to waste money, that is too ridiculous

    2. Those lights are all low voltage LEDs, so I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I’m sure the west span lighting consumes far more energy.

  4. As SocketSite regulars know, this is the world’s most expensive bus station. Despite the cool cladding and giant footprint, this is no more a transit “center” then the current temporary bus station on Folsom. There are no connections to Muni, BART or CalTrain. What a waste of resources, time and real estate.

    1. You have to believe that EVENTUALLY, they’ll get the Phase II funding and actually bring Caltrain and high-speed rail to this most expensive bus station. It would be nice to have this sooner than later, but no matter, it’s called planning for the future and it will get done at some point.

      1. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s amazing what people will settle for in this town with the hopes of having something better “somewhere in the distant future” when it was promised to them from the get go. This project was sold to the SF public with the Caltrain extension being built, not put on indefinite hold while funding goes toward cost overruns.

        1. In fact didn’t we vote for it to be our highest priority?

          I believe this is what we get though for having our transportation agencies headed by political hacks

          1. Hacks who clearly don’t use any of the transit systems. Our dear mayor rode transit only once during last year’s 30-day MUNI challenge, and it was just for his usual PR stunt.

          2. Political hacks who are never held accountable – they move onto the next boondoggle or a cushy government retirement. Voters are to blame too. They tend to vote yes on every bond issue. Personally I tend to vote no.

          3. Dave I doubt you are the type to support technocrats making decisions either. In these areas the people are almost as bad as the hacks

        2. Yes the understanding of this terminal was that it would connect to caltrain – why else build the platforms that are there now? But they didn’t have enough money to do the tunnel at the same time so they did what always happens with these sorts of projects – you basically sink a HUGE cost into the ground – literally, knowing that people will get MAD if that money goes to waste and so people will fork over the remainder needed for a tunnel.

          Or, more hollywoodish, “if you build it, the trains will come…”

    1. As I recently noted in earlier thread regarding yet another proposed highrise to be built on the very Southern edge of TTC thus further shadowing what is supposed to be a 4-block long passive activity park, that concept just doesn’t make any sense anymore. The current plans should be scrapped and something more appropriate replace them. Especially something which would generate what could be substantial revenue.

      Given where this thing is located, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

  5. $2.5 billion for the extension of HSR to the terminal? How much will that cost go up?

    I think HSR will not come up the Peninsula or into SF. For several reasons.

    Beyond the above, these cost overruns, the value engineering down of this glorified bus station (wasn’t the park at one time supposed to feature a stream?) – no one is held accountable. Well not true – the taxpayer who has to keep covering these huge shortfalls.

    1. HSR rail aside if they just got Caltrain to the terminal I could see 100K ridership on the system. It makes more sense than BART in San Jose that is for sure

      1. Is there any real timetable for getting CalTrain to the terminal? other than maybe in 10 – 15 years? Its a good point you make about ridership but it seems sort of moot right now.

          1. If you said this 25-30 years ago I’d buy it. But it’s 2016 and the decades-old plans for electrification and extension of Caltrain to downtown keep getting pushed aside, regardless of the fact that the demand for this service improvement continues to increase year after year.

  6. This is what happens when you insist on having “starchitects” design your transit stations. They don’t actually do that in Europe, a part of the world that actually features real mass transit infrastructure – and where they build rail at much lower costs per mile (or kilometer) than we do. By focusing on what is important – getting as many miles of rail constructed as possible – and not on what is NOT – building pretty bus stations for the cover of Architectural Digest.

    There never should have been a competition for this thing. The Transbay JTPA should have just hired a plain vanilla engineering firm to design this thing and be done with it. (We don’t need a damn park 70 feet in the air downtown.) And then get on to the actually important task – connecting rail to the station.

    But mind you, actually bringing functional rail service to downtown was NOT the point of this whole exercise. The point was to knock down the old bus terminal, chase all the hardcore homeless away, and replace it with a pretty (if useless) bauble in SoMa around which various private interest real estate schemes could be built.

    1. Exactly. It was an excuse IMO for the huge and IMO unnecessary up-zoning of the area.

      Transit should come if not first at least in parallel with development. Adding all these office workers and residents over the next 5 plus years when the needed improvements to the transportation infrastructure are not even being seriously pursued (need for another BART tube as BART is near capacity) or, if they are, they won’t be done for 20 plus years – as in HSR.

      This is folly.

      1. Or, you could build the Sf equivalent of Bourbon Street and watch the crowds gather nightly while the Authority rakes in fistfuls of dollars. Or any many other imaginable uses which surpass the currently proposed gloomy, lonely park.

    2. Come 6pm, when the retail segment closes and most folks are heading home on their buses across the Bay, it will turn into a pretty swanky magnet for the homeless.

      1. Of course it will. Because who the heck is gonna hang out there to go visit a mediocre (post-VE) “public park” that is 70 feet in the air and likely will be closed as well come 6PM.

    3. You’re absolutely correct on the first two paragraphs.

      Off the rails, so to speak, on the third. I think the people in charge really want to bring HSR/Caltrain to downtown, but they don’t have any idea how to get it done. This could and should have been done much, much cheaper.

    4. Not so true: The architects of the TBT, Pelli Clark Pelli (also architects for the under construction Salesforce tower) are among the leading firms doing transit work around the world. They are currently designing the new Docklands Train Station terminal in London, among their transportation work. They are regarded as one of the pre-eminent architectural firms in America and the world.

      They understand the huge complexities of a transit station, budget issues, cost over runs, structural and architectural details and changes.

      The people of London, Paris and Tokyo do NOT hire “plain vanilla” architects for their large public projects. You may not want a “damn park 70 feet in the air”, but others do and many will use it and enjoy it.

      Your comments smack of sour grapes and not really understanding the process at all.

      And we don’t either.

      1. Actually I am (a) perfectly well aware of your tendency on these boards to poo-poo anything questioning the architectural profession and (b) perfectly well aware of how European countries handle contracting and design for transportation infrastructure projects. And that the way we do it in the United States is widely regarded as a textbook example of the WORST practices in public works contracting. We spend FAR more money per mile than they do in Europe – that nasty hellhole of socialism and unions where they’ve had HSR for decades, while we can barely figure out how to run a train between San Jose and the middle of nowhere.

        Spain is a master at keeping costs per mile under control. Here’s from the CEO of Metro Madrid on advice for designing train and subway stations: “Architecture of stations should not be confused with that for a museum or an emblematic building for the city. Design should be focused on the needs of the users, rather than on architectural beauty or exotic materials, and never on the name of the architect. Errors of this type have been common lately in Spain, especially on the new high-speed railway lines.” Heck Metro Madrid manages to get by without even hiring large project management firms and handles much of it in-house. I love this quote from him about avoiding hiring “consultants who consultant with consultants and advisers who advise advisers”. This from a guy running a metro system that built 57 km of new rail construction, including 38km of tunnel and 37 train stations, plus 4 intermodal stations connecting metro rail to commuter rail, all in 4 years. And then added another 75km (incl 58km in tunnels) and 39 stations, again in 4 years. All without hiring any large firm to manage the process and doing a lot in-house.

        Its funny you mention London, as the British are almost as bad as the Americans as cost per km for HSR rail construction. Abysmally so.

        As for the complexities, thanks for the straw man. There’s nothing inherent about designing a train station in terms of complexity that requires hiring a fancy name starchitect. None. But yes, please wave your arms in the air to distract us all with your bloviating.

        (And for the record, in full disclosure – I was for many years a real estate developer. Hired many architects over the course of my career. So fully aware of the complexities of design and construction. And fully aware of the overinflated egos that many architects have and the outsized sense of the role they should have in the process. They usually shut up when you point out who is feeding them.)

  7. And to think, all we need is a couple of additional trash cans at Ocean Beach. And that has taken 20 years…..

  8. The metal skin is ugly. Give it a year and that white is going to start turning grey from vehicle exhaust and pollution. They should have stuck with glass.

  9. All these complaints and criticisms! You’d think they tore down an historic building – perfectly good except for the fact that it was poorly maintained – and spent $BB’s of other peoples money (and even a little bit of SF’s own) to build a giant cocoon; or something like that.

    1. The purpose of our government is to transfer wealth from the bottom and middle where it is created, up to the top where it is horded. Public projects may proceed as long as they serve as vehicles for large transfers of wealth to the holders of high value assets. Quality is sacrificed to increase profits. I have a (Bay) Bridge to sell to anyone who thinks otherwise.

      1. No one with any common sense is going to buy that bridge. It’s going to break next big earthquake if the rust doesn’t get it first. How the heck do you build a bridge that’s not waterproof? A new low in our otherwise awful public contracting morass.

  10. Wow. everyone is clearly in a cranky and complaining mood today.

    I like the aluminum skin, acting as a nice scrim over the structure but allowing the strength of the members to show thru: subtle and powerful.

    As for cost over-runs and complaints about HSR (ad nauseum), large complex projects always have cost over-runs due to many unknowns and complexities. This will become a very viable and enjoyable transit station.

    1. No, people are just giving their opinions.

      This will not be a very viable and enjoyable “transit” station when it opens in 2017/2018. What’s your definition of “transit?” Most folks (especially those who use it on a daily basis, like myself) see a $2.5B bus station.

      “large complex projects always have cost over-runs due to many unknowns and complexities.” So, you’re okay with a project being hundred of millions of dollars over budget, or in the case of the new Bay Bridge span, billions.

      1. 1. Of course, they are giving their opinions. Today quite negative.
        2. Didn’t say I was “ok”. I merely said it’s typical and normal on most very large complex projects.

        The Transbay Terminal will be completed, and it will be a success. Takes time.

    2. Actually large complex projects do NOT alway have cost over-runs. It may often be the case in the U.S. which is abysmal at managing these kinds of projects, but it is not universal. Heck, you can even find examples here in the U.S.

      Up in Seattle, they are in the process of expanding their existing light rail system, which includes a rail tunnel from downtown Seattle, to Capitol Hill up to U. of W.’s Husky Stadium, and then through the rest of campus and the north part of the City.

      The first phase just opened (Capitol Hill and University Stadium) – and the transit agency (Sound Transit) finished that phase EARLY and under budget. Unsurprising, Sound Transit has reputation for running things pretty “clean” – that is, without any direct or indirect corruption and they stay focused on the basics.

      1. Meanwhile, the replacement of the Western Highway along Seattle’s waterfront has been an endless boondoggle including a boring machine becoming inexplicably “stuck ” requiring its extraction for repair. Large, complex projects just DO have their way of going astray no matter where attempted.

        1. Sorry, correction: it’s actually the Alaskan Way which was the equivalent of the 2-deck Embarcadero Freeway which is to be removed and replaced by a subterranean highway similar to Boston’s “Big Dig ” Not much chance for error there.

          Anyway, it’s been going on since 2001 and the unscheduled extraction of “Bertha” (which same machine BTW performed quite admirably in excavating the Central Subway here) only took 2 years after one month of boring.

          1. I am quite aware of it, as I used to live in Seattle. My point was that not “all” projects have problems or go way overboard on costs. Sound Transit is proof of that. The fact that another project in Seattle is having problems doesn’t change that fact.

            And for the record, the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement is being handled by an entirely different agency. Sound Transit is a 3-county agency that operates the Central Puget Sound light rail system – they are good at what they do. The Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel job is being run by WSDOT, the state’s highway agency – they are not good at what they do when it comes to large scale projects. There is nothing inherent in these kinds of projects that dictates they all become subject to screw ups and bloat.

            And as is often the case in these kinds of projects that DO turn into giant messes, its not about the nature of the project itself as about the politicians involved. The Alaskan Way Viaduct is a great example – the outgoing Governor (Christine Gregoire) and the state legislature essentially shoved the deep bore tunnel down Seattle’s throat, and left the City with the bill. Seattle voters were undecided between two options – a surface transportation improvement plan with enhanced mass transit vs. a traditional cut-and-cover tunnel. Unable to get Seattle voters to sign onto a stupid plan to tunnel under downtown, the geniuses in Olympia & WSDOT cooked up a plan to force a tunnel to happen anyway, even though the surface transportation option was a lot cheaper.

            And in the cutest part of the POLITICAL fustercluck, the biggest opponent of the tunnel got elected Mayor of Seattle, predicted that the project would wind up going sideway because the machine would get stuck, there was no plan to rescue it if it did, and the ground could cave in (all of which has happened), and then got promptly booted out of office 4 years later for being too pushy and replaced with their current mayor, who in his prior life as a state senator was on of the geniuses in Olympia who pushed the mess through.

          2. Well, yes, you just validated what I have been saying: that large, complex construction projects ALWAYS have unknown conditions and expected delays due to (often) hidden earth or geological elements. Those changes cannot be built into the proposed budget but MUST be accommodated with additional future funding.

            Unknown conditions and events WILL add to a projects cost. ALWAYS.

  11. How much of the cost overrun is due to going ahead with building the train box now instead of later? And didn’t they get half a billion of stimulus money for this?

    1. You’re likely familiar with Keynes’ quip about hiring people to dig holes and then having others fill them in…we may get to test the theory.

  12. The design is a Penrose tiling. There will be some radio frequencies highly attenuated (absorbed), others diffracted. Would be interesting to be inside one of the world’s largest and most poorly tuned antennas.

    The apertures are probably big enough to pass common cell frequencies. If not, we can text via uber pigeon; all contractor all the time, no tips, no union.

      1. Penrose tiles don’t repeat so it is unlikely this is well tuned to a particular EM frequency. It also has gaps which would make it a leaky Faraday cage. The spaces in the rhomboids (apertures) look large enough to pass cell frequencies, though it may diffract them (scatter them around and make it harder for your phone to get a steady signal).
        Now, if they would ground the screen and fill in the rhomboids with fractal antennas…..

        for that, but and There may leaky Faraday cage, as most likely all electromagnetic frequencies will penetrate, though some frequencies will be absorbed more than others.

  13. It’s a good thing we’re blowing $2B on the Central Subway. Some transit projects make sense, others don’t. Instead of the Central Subway boondoggle, we could have extended Caltrain to the Transbay Terminal (roughly, give or take). That would be a far better use of the money.

    1. Actually, if we were spending $2B on the much needed Central Subway, then it could be extended to North Beach underground and from there by surface to the wharf. But we aren’t spending nearly that much.

      1. By “we” I mean all levels of government (federal, state, local). Wikipedia says we’re at $1.6B. What figures are you using?

        1. I’m using the official numbers which include all spending by all levels of the gov’t of we the people, and which (as you evidently know) is hundreds of millions short of your $2B. And that hundreds of millions would be enough to pay for the cheapest alternative for a new subway station in North Beach and a surface line to the wharf, according to the SFMTA study of the T-line Third Phase. But we aren’t spending nearly that much, so no NB station and no surface line to the wharf.

          1. I forgot to add the most important two words: “so far”

            As in $1.6B so far. More important than the number, though, is that this could have brought future HSR/Caltrain downtown, a much better use of limited dollars. But it didn’t have Rose Pak advocating for it

          2. Sounds like sour grapes from someone that lost a political tug-o-war with an elderly lady.

            The fundamental big transit funding problem in SF (and most of the US) is that this shouldn’t be an “or” it should be an “and” between the worthy projects.

            SF should have a subway network in the urban core with branches to the ‘burbs, more on the scale of the DC Metro, not just a spine along Market & Mission with a few stubby feeders (4th/Stockton, west portal, cole valley). The old surface rail + bus network competes with other uses (car/truck/pedestrians/bike) and can’t keep up with the density/growth of the past 20 years and going forward.

            Maybe we will find the money after we lose another couple land wars in Asia. Onward.

          3. I wonder which personal pronouns people in Bangor or Dallas or, even, Atascadero use in describing these “worthy” state/Federally-funded projects that keep Imperial SF going: I suspect it’s less “we” and “our” project and more “our” money and “their” project.

          4. Wait, are you saying that I personally lost a political tug of war with Rose Pak? I’m not involved in either project at all.

            Maybe it shouldn’t be an ‘or’ in the ideal world but in the real world there are limits on what money we can spend. We do have to pick and choose. HSR/DTX should be the top priority

          5. @Notcom, hopefully, Bangor would be thankful for the Federal funds that paid much of the costs of their international airport, which used to be an air force base. Maine gets much more federal $$$ than they pay, unlike CA. Bunch of takers.

            Dallas/FW certainly has it’s share of federal highway and infrastructure projects:
            “Hundreds of North Texas transportation projects built in the last six years collectively received more than $880 million in federal funds, thanks to the still-controversial funding program aimed at stemming the recession….So what does the Dallas-Fort Worth area have to show for its share of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money? Everything from new bike paths and school buses to a rebuilt highway interchange and two new light-rail lines.” — Dallas Morning News, today, 4/26/2016.

            @SFRealist, I wrote “sounds like sour grapes”, don’t know if you were a player or too worn out from inflating the numbers to get into the game.

            The picking and choosing that sets the table is at the federal pie slicing between depts. Urban transportation has been losing out to the DoD for decades. If budgets are tight, then top priority should be for projects with near term ROI so they can help grow the economy to help finance the lower ROI. SF Central Subway will return value soon, DTX could return value quickly too, CA HSR may never even happen. BTW, if you really want to get ROI on infrastructure, then pull fiber to the neighborhood or to the home, at least in urban areas. Info superduper hwy and all.

  14. There is more than a little irony here, that the best feature of this behemoth — betrothed to, and left waiting indefinitely at the altar by, her cheating heart of a bullet train fiancee — will be her pedestrian appeal. Much like the insane protected bike lanes of Manhattan (not to mention of course the even more ironic high line), the walkers will rule. Nature abhors a vacuum and so lets hope in this case the right people fill it.

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