The New Transbay Transit Center Is the World’s Most Enchanting Bus Station

A four-block-long park atop an all-dressed-up bus stop is S.F.’s most imaginative new public space since Crissy Field.

From street level the new 5.4-acre park perched atop the Transbay Transit Center is almost hidden, with just the occasional tree peeking over the edge of its four-city-block length. But take an elevator (or, soon, a 20-person gondola) to the fourth floor and you’ll be transported to an urban idyll, one that feels both detached from and intrinsic to the city below. This is one enchanting bus station.

Salesforce Park, San Francisco’s answer to New York’s High Line, is the crown of the $2.26 billion transit center, which has been almost 30 years in the making. After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a seismic analysis showed that the existing bus terminal and ramps would need to be replaced. So, replaced they were. Today, 16,000 plants line the living roof, converting carbon dioxide from the buses below into oxygen and ornamenting a public space for SoMa visitors, workers at Salesforce Tower, and residents of 181 Fremont (both buildings are connected to the park via bridges).

Bamboo mingles with Japanese maples, redwoods, palm trees, and buckeyes, some of the more than 600 trees planted by PWP Landscape Architecture. A path traverses gentle grassy hills as it winds its way around the perimeter. A playground with ropes to climb and spongy ground to bounce on beckons to kids, while Philz Coffee powers up their caretakers.

In addition to the park, the transit center houses four pieces of public art, paid for with $4.75 million earmarked for such projects by the Transbay Joint Power Authority. In the Grand Hall, San Francisco artist Julie Chang designed a 20,000-square-foot terrazzo floor featuring California poppies and hummingbirds. Inside the skylight, Jenny Holzer hung a 16-foot-tall LED screen that displays passages from works by California writers such as Edith A. Jenkins and Alejandro Murguía. Along the park’s perimeter path, Ned Kahn placed a 1,200-foot-long fountain that senses the buses below and shoots out jets of water to mark their comings and goings. And in a downstairs alley, James Carpenter created a light sculpture made of 42 large panes of glass.

With all that to enjoy, the only trouble with the new transit center is this: It’s going to be awfully hard to tear yourself away to catch your bus.