Strike up the band: San Francisco's new Salesforce Transit Center is not your average bus station. Benjamin Schneider/CityLab

The Salesforce Transit Center, San Francisco’s new bus and (someday) high-speed rail terminal, has been billed as the Grand Central Station of the West. But it might just become the Bay Area’s answer to the High Line.

On Saturday, downtown San Francisco got a new transit center and a new park at the same time.

Thousands of people came to the official grand opening of the Salesforce Transit Center, an undulating, three-block-long terminal that’s been under construction for eight years and cost $2.2 billion.

Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli, it’s an example of an exceedingly rare species: the bus-station-as-Instagram-backdrop. The terminal will serve Muni and commuter bus riders, with a direct connection to the Bay Bridge; soon, they should be joined by train passengers: California’s high-speed rail system is expected to provide service to the terminal by 2029.

Throngs of opening-day visitors check out the terminal’s interior. (Ben Schneider/CityLab)

But for many San Franciscans, the most notable feature of the new terminal (besides the curious name, which is the product of a $110 million naming rights agreement with the software sales company that also erected the adjoining 61-story skyscraper), will be its rooftop park.

Enthusiasm about the park, which sits five stories off the ground amid a rapidly thickening valley of towers, was evident during the opening day party Saturday. The park quickly filled to capacity, prompting police to shut down up escalators. Those lucky enough to see the park were entertained by live performances amid hillocks, native plant gardens, and play structures.

Salesforce Park occupies the roof of the new terminal. At Saturday’s opening, it quickly reached capacity. (Ben Schneider/CityLab)

This site was once the home of the old Transbay Terminal, which stood at the same location from 1939 to 2010. At its peak in the 1940s, the terminal served 26 million bus and rail passengers annually. But once train service across the Bay Bridge was halted in 1958, the terminal began a long and slow decline. By its latter years, it was known more as a refuge for the homeless than as a transportation hub.

The new terminal, along with zoning changes and land sales to help fund the project, has ignited a massive wave of development in the surrounding blocks, dramatically altering the city's skyline. Some of the most recognizable new towers, like Salesforce Tower and 181 Fremont, which houses offices for Facebook, have direct connections to the rooftop park. Tech companies like Trulia and Slack have plastered logos on their adjacent buildings at park level.

At 61 stories and more than 1,000 feet, Salesforce Tower is now San Francisco’s tallest building. (Ben Schneider/CityLab)

With more office towers on the rise in the immediate area, the burgeoning tech cluster anchored by the new park is sure to grow further. Less certain is whether the name that the local business improvement district has adopted for this emerging neighborhood—“The East Cut”—will catch on, despite its presence on numerous banners in the area.

Bus fans enjoy some vintage vehicles in the new terminal. (Ben Schneider/CityLab)

Overshadowed but not overlooked, the terminal’s bus deck catered to hardcore transit enthusiasts during the grand opening festivities. The transit agencies that will use the new station exhibited several historic buses, and the California High Speed Rail Authority set up an informational booth about the progress of its project. A local troupe of NUMTOTs organized a meet-up for the occasion.

Transit-oriented teens unite! (Ben Schneider/CityLab)

For now, the terminal is a bus-only facility—certainly, the grandest one of its kind in the country. While they await the hoped-for arrival of high-speed rail in a decade or so, San Franciscans can look forward to an influx of retailers on the terminal’s ground floor, as well as a gondola that will whisk pedestrians from Mission Street to the rooftop park. The city’s betting that their big-time investment in this project will ultimately pay off with a High-Line-esque destination amenity. Based on the enthusiastic early reviews, they might be right.

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