A new Transbay Terminal, a new downtown

City planners expect a multibillion-dollar rebuild of the Transbay Terminal to catalyze a South of Market transformation, turning the area into a leafy downtown with tapered towers, ground-floor stores and orderly traffic lanes.

At its center will be a new transit terminal at First and Mission streets that will be rebuilt with a 1,000-foot tower — a development city leaders say will make it the “Grand Central of the West.”

Construction of a temporary facility — needed in order to demolish and rebuild the existing terminal — is due to begin by the end of the year.

More than a new terminal, the Transbay project is part of an overall redevelopment plan for the area, bordered roughly by Third and Main streets and Market and Folsom streets. Within that area, on the 10 blocks of city-owned land left empty after the Central Freeway was torn down following the 1989 earthquake, The City’s Redevelopment Agency plans to build 39 residential buildings between four and 55 stories tall.

Construction of new skyscrapers, which could begin as early as 2010, will pull The City’s downtown toward the new terminal, according to Planning Director John Rahaim.

“The density of development and the height will be greater there than anywhere else,” Rahaim said.

Most of the land will be sold to developers, who are expected to complete construction of the units between 2012 and 2020, according to agency project manager Mike Grisso. The agency will solicit bids on two blocks of land from interested developers next month, Grisso said.

The remaining lots are privately owned, and the proposed new height rules intended to help the redevelopment raise revenue would allow some of the property owners to build up to 800 feet.

The Planning Department is currently in discussions with five owners of property in the area that are interested in developing their parcels of land, planner Sarah Jones said.

Along with looking up to the sky, planning and redevelopment officials are working to ensure that the Transbay redevelopment area improves the “quality of place” at the ground level.

A draft of design guidelines were released by the Planning Department earlier this month. The guidelines and the height rules are expected to be finalized by the Board of Supervisors late next year, Rahaim said.

Some of the proposed guidelines include requiring ground-floor retail, having narrow tower tops on buildings and possibly creating a network of sky bridges to connect buildings with a 5.4-acre rooftop park planned above the new transit hub.

The Planning Department is also refining plans to rebuild the streets with bike and transit lanes and wide sidewalks that will have plenty of park benches and, in some places, double rows of shady trees.

The head of a San Francisco planning think tank praised the proposed design elements.

“The Planning Department has created a plan that isn’t just about concentrating growth,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, “it’s also about creating gracious public spaces, making streets that are great to walk on and making buildings that will be beautiful to look at by tapering buildings to preserve views of the sky.”

Metcalf was critical, however, about how city planners have crafted the proposed new height rules to create a saddle-shaped skyline that arches up to the Transbay Terminal’s 1,000-foot centerpiece peak.

The City is wasting an opportunity to build needed office and residential space, just to create a particular look for the future skyline, he said.

“We should not sacrifice opportunities to live and work near transit just for the sake of sculpting a so-called mound seen from a distance,” Metcalf said.


Construction likely to affect travel at Transbay Terminal

When the temporary terminal is opened for use to allow for the demolition and rebuilding of the current Transbay Terminal, its limited size will prevent the main bus line using the terminal from expanding its services until 2014.

The temporary facility will be located one block southeast from the current terminal, between Main and Beale streets and Folsom and Howard streets. It will operate for five years while a new permanent facility, which transit officials have predicted will become the

“Grand Central of the West,” is built at the site of the current station.

As with the current facility, the temporary terminal will be used by Muni, Golden Gate Transit, Greyhound, AC (Alameda-Contra Costa) Transit District and Western Contra Costa Transit Authority buses.

AC Transit will not be able to expand its services while the temporary terminal is used because of limited space, Transbay Joint Powers Authority project manager Philip Sandri said at a public meeting earlier this month.

Residents who attended the public meeting voiced concerns about the loss of 600 parking spaces, which will not be replaced, and the conversion of some lanes around the temporary terminal into bus-only lanes.

During the course of the temporary terminal’s construction, traffic disruptions are also expected, according to the authority.

Additionally, a “casual carpool” program will be relocated from the east side of Beale Street to the west side of Beale Street.

John Upton

Officials hope voters endorse high-speed rail in November

A statewide high-speed rail measure on November’s ballot, if passed, could bolster San Francisco’s flailing fundraising efforts to build a tunnel to bring trains to the new Transbay Terminal, according to city officials.

The first phase of the new downtown transit terminal, which will accommodate buses, is expected to be built by 2014. A second phase, which would include a Caltrain station in order to extend the commuter rail from its current San Francisco terminal at Fourth and King streets is scheduled to open in 2018.

While funding has already been identified or secured for the $1.2 billion transit-center rebuild, another $2 billion needs to be raised for the $3 billion Caltrain tunnel project, according to agency figures for the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

San Francisco’s downtown transit terminal would become a major stop on a high-speed rail network — taking passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco — if voters approve a $10 billion bond to build the system, Mike Cohen, director of The City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said.

“If the high-speed rail bond measure passes, it will give us an even more compelling case when we go to Sacramento and Washington seeking funds for the project,” Cohen said.

John Upton

By the numbers

45 million: People getting on or off buses every weekday at the Transbay Terminal

$1.2 billion: Projected cost of the new Transbay Transit Center

1.3 miles: Proposed underground extension of the Caltrain commuter rail line from the current Fourth and King streets terminal to the new Transbay Transit Center

$3 billion: Projected cost to create an underground extension of the Caltrain rail line from its current Fourth and King streets terminal to the new Transbay Transit Center

1,000 feet: Proposed height of a new Transbay Tower that would rise above the transit terminal

800 feet: Proposed allowable height for some buildings that would be within the Transbay District redevelopment area

850 feet: Height of the Transamerica building  — currently The City’s tallest

Sources: Transbay Joint Powers Authority; San Francisco Redevelopment Agency; San Francisco Planning Department

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