Reduced seating in new transit center is by design

The multi-billion dollar Salesforce Transit Center opened to the public Saturday, and while initial reviews have been mostly positive, one aspect of its design has drawn sharp critique: The first floor’s Grand Hall — the station’s main point of entry — doesn’t have any chairs.

“Old Transbay Terminal vs. new Transbay Terminal. Notice anything different?” wrote Twitter user Jef Poskanzer Saturday. His answer? “SEATS.”

SEE RELATED: Buses to take center stage at Salesforce Transit Center debut

The new terminal has all these huge open spaces with no SEATS,” Poskanzer wrote.

An architect on the project who spoke with the San Francisco Examiner pointed to multiple reasons for the lack of seating, including a stated need from The City to prevent homeless people from sleeping in the station.

“Part of the meeting and discussions with the client is they didn’t want a lot of places where people could come and park, and sleep all day,” said Richard Volenec, a senior associate with Pelli Clarke Pelli architects, who designed the transit center. Notably, the old Timothy Pflueger-designed Transbay Terminal was well-known for attracting many who lived on the streets to sleep inside.

Homelessness wasn’t the only motivation for lack of seats, however, said Volenec.

The Grand Hall on the first floor is also the part of the transit center that will get the most foot traffic, the firm’s own studies showed. Volenec said this made it vital to have as few obstructions to walking as possible.

“Most of the pedestrian movement studies we did showed people would tend to move through the hall pretty quickly, similar probably to Grand Central (Station) in New York,” Volenec said. Seats then, “could be in the way of people moving through to the space up to the bus deck level.”

And the Grand Hall is not completely chair-free, he added. It has some “hockey puck” style circular seats, similar to ones in BART stations now. However, Volenec said, those pseudo-seats were limited in number by choice. There are also seats outside the transit center for those awaiting Muni buses, and limited seating available on the third floor for those waiting for AC Transit and other transbay buses.

Poskanzer posted a photo of the old terminal, with benches, and a photo of the new terminal showing more than a dozen people perched on window ledges in an effort to find seating. The tweet generated a robust discussion among other transit riders who shared similar concerns.

“This drives me crazy,” wrote Lisa Church, who said knee pain prompts her to carefully plan her transit trips. Another Twitter user called it a “design disaster.” Many pointed out that seniors and people with disabilities may have trouble finding a place to rest.

Of course, more than a few Twitter users speculated about the reason for the lack of traditional seats in the transit center. “Obvious reason is to keep the homeless people from sleeping on the benches,” wrote Twitter user Eyleen Nadolny.

“The old [Transbay Terminal] was basically a homeless shelter,” wrote Twitter user David Dologite, in the discussion over the lack of seats. Dologite added The City may have over-reacted to the homelessness issue, but, “I also can see why.”

An official spokesperson for the project, Christine Falvey, denied any link between homelessness and the design choice of the Grand Hall.

“There are hundreds of seating options throughout the Transit Center. While the Grand Hall has limited seating, other locations in the Transit Center have ample seating,” she wrote in a statement. “Regardless of seating, sleeping in the Transit Center is not allowed and is a separate issue from where and how many seats are placed.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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