Project Name: Transbay and Rincon Hill Open Space and Streetscape Master Plan
“Transbay Redevelopment Project Area Streetscape and Open Space Concept Plan”
Adopted November. 2006.
Firm: MFLA. Munden Fry Landscape Associates [formerly Marta Fry Landscape Associates]
Project Designers: Marta Fry / MFLA. Marta Fry Landscape Associates. SF. CA
Lisa Padilla / ZGF. Zimmer Gunsul Frasca. Los Angeles. CA
Technical Team: Arup, SF, and CHS Consulting, SF.
This document was developed for the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency and San Francisco Planning Department to guide public realm improvements in the emerging Transbay neighborhood, a redevelopment project area comprised of approximately forty acres generally south of the existing Transbay Terminal in the city’s southern Financial District. It was developed to also guide public realm improvements in the Rincon Hill area south of Transbay. This plan builds on the streetscape and open space concepts in the Transbay Redevelopment Project Area Design for Development, the 2003 concept plan for the project area, and was intended to complement the urban design and zoning elements in the Development Controls and Design Guidelines for the Transbay Redevelopment Project, the specific development requirements that were adopted in 2005. It was developed to be utilized by the Agency (non-extant), the San Francisco Planning Department and other City departments, developers and architects as new projects are realized in Transbay and in the Rincon Hill area to the south.
Vision | Objectives
This concept plan addressed the public realm within a redevelopment project area of approximately 40 acres connected through a network of ten major streets and six public alleys. Included are a neighborhood park and innovative uses below bus and freeway ramps that connect to the Bay Bridge. The project boundaries generally span from east to west between Second and Spear Streets, and from north to south between Mission and Folsom Streets.
The Transbay neighborhood forms not only one of the largest emerging residential areas in the city but is as well an important connection to the Rincon Hill neighborhood, linking it to the Transbay Terminal and the Financial District. Streetscape improvements were designed to improve pedestrian linkages between the Embarcadero waterfront and Yerba Buena Center in the east-west direction. With the Transbay Terminal bus and rail service and vehicular on- and off-ramps to the Bay Bridge, the Transbay neighborhood will always be one of the most accessible neighborhoods, while also being one of the most traversed in the city.
Architecturally, the project area is a mix of modern and historic structures reflecting evolving land uses that range from light industrial to commercial, followed by the introduction of new residential projects. The future neighborhood projected in the Design for Development will include more mixed-use projects, greater density, and approximately 3,400 new residential units, making the public realm improvements critical to the creation of a livable community. Once realized, the streetscape and open space improvements proposed in this plan were envisioned to fulfill a critical function of knitting together a mix of architectural project types and dominant infrastructure elements that occurs across the twenty-block area, while making the streets and alleyways more inviting for walking and cycling.
The design team led by ZGF Partnership, in association with MFLA-Marta Fry Landscape Associates, CHS Consulting Group and ARUP, aimed to develop the most advanced streetscape concepts that melded sophisticated design with sustainable strategies reinforcing the city’s commitment to sustainability. The intent was the creation of a unique identity for the Transbay neighborhood visible in the design of its public sidewalks, parks and alleyways.
As this concept plan developed during 2006, planning advanced on replacing the existing 1939 Transbay Terminal with a new, multi-modal transit center. Although the proposed Transbay Transit Center was still in program development at this time, the design teams for both the Terminal and this concept plan met to share preliminary ideas so the projects would begin to be thoughtfully integrated.
The adjacent Rincon Hill neighborhood has seen recent development evolve without a streetscape and open space concept plan, resulting in a less cohesive treatment of the area’s public realm. The Planning Department expected to reference these design recommendations and apply them to the Rincon Hill area immediately south of the Transbay project area. For example, new developments along key streets like Folsom, Main and Beale will likely be required to follow these streetscape designs for consistency.
The Guideline’s developed and detailed the following recommendations to follow a set of core objectives:
- Support a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use residential district through streetscape and alley designs
- Require sustainable strategies to support a more livable community and to contribute to the Mayor’s “A Green and Clean San Francisco” Initiative
- Enforce the specific roles for each street to balance the functional needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit patrons and motorists
- Create a safe and accessible public realm for all ages and abilities
- Modify Folsom to fulfill its future role as a neighborhood “main street,” allowing for its conversion to balanced 2-way traffic and to better link the Transbay and Rincon Hill neighborhoods
- Modify the Folsom off-ramp to function better as a gateway into a pedestrian- oriented neighborhood
- Develop Transbay Park as a unique neighborhood park that can serve a diverse group of users (residents, office workers and children) allowing for a range of activities
- Develop viable uses under the west ramp to the Transbay Terminal and the Fremont and Folsom off-ramps that provide additional recreational or cultural uses and contribute to the neighborhood’s livability
- Reinforce Transbay neighborhood’s identity through the integration of public art and a clear wayfinding system
Central to the team’s development and vision for the Transbay District was the streetscape concept development. The design of each street acknowledged and reinforced its particular role in the street system.
We explored in-depth the elements required to make these transformative improvements and provided the “tool kit” to guide the city, developers, and designers. This included a comprehensive urban forest study and horticultural recommendations for each street, providing if you will a “horticultural wayfinding” system running both north-south and east-west, giving each street a unique yet appropriate overstory identity in a City that greatly struggles with its street trees on all levels.
Folsom will become the “neighborhood main street” and help connect residents to the adjacent Rincon Hill area. Conceived as a distinctly urban street with generous sidewalks, a double row of street trees and ample amenities.
Howard & Mission will continue to serve as “crosstown boulevards” with new elements to complement the recent improvements realized with newer developments. The Transbay Transit Center will recast Mission Street in the vicinity of the terminal and bring distinct but compatible streetscape improvements.
First & Fremont will function as important north-south “Bay Bridge connectors” leading residents to and from the terminal and Financial District into the South of Market area and Bay Bridge.
Second will continue to function as a “historic connector” which spans the full north-south length of the South of Market district.
Beale, Main & Spear will have a unique character as “linear park streets” that embrace the new Transbay Park and extend a vital greenbelt north and south across the neighborhood.
Clementina & Tehama are “pedestrian alleys” that provide important east-west connections across the neighborhood.
Evolution | The Unfolding
My personal reflections on a document that we developed in 2005-2006 and was adopted in late 2006, over 16 years ago, probably raises more questions than answers. This specific redevelopment district has been met with many challenges over this period from the debilitating recession of 2008-2009 stalling project development, the tortuously slow progress, completion, and then temporary closure of the Transbay Terminal, and most recent, a pandemic that has and is changing profoundly the face of our cities, our downtowns, and our workplace environments, to name only a few obvious influencing factors. I feel it’s interesting to ask some probing questions of you designers; urban planners, landscape architects, and architects, some of you on this WILA walk and others of you leading the walk.
- Importance of a vision plan-master plan and design guidelines
- Its relevance and place in an ever-changing complex urban environment
- How does a vision plan evolve over time, adjust to residential and commercial market trends
- Does it “set the bar” for development teams and hold them accountable
- What is the resilience factor in master planning when market trends, recessions, pandemics, change the trajectory of urban development
- How does the advancement in building, engineering, and environmental systems impact and advance within the context of design guidelines and get incorporated. Does this become more of a “living document”
- Tastes change; how can specified materials-finishes-furnishings remain relevant and guide us over time yet provide for invention and advancement on all fronts
- Can good design and a strong master plan vision overcome and/or ride the wave of City politics of a specific time, both at City Hall and within planning and building department agencies and beyond at state and federal levels.