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    Aug 9, 2007

    Data visualization, SOM, and the Transbay Tower in San Francisco

    Craig Hartmann and Brian Lee, design partners in Skidmore, Owings and Merril's San Francisco office, unveiled their proposal for the new Transbay Transit Center and Tower in downtown San Francisco to a standing-room-only audience at San Francisco City Hall on Monday night. SOM asked Stamen to provide a series of potential live visualizations for the tower's main streetside entrance, to be curated by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Our Cabspotting project, which tracks the positions of Yellow Cab taxis in San Francisco in real time, was used to illustrate the potential of this exciting new urban site during the public presentation.

    Cabspotting on Mission Street

    Stamen created a series of additional explorations of the Transit Tower entryway, extending the possibilities of live data visualizations in two areas: live graphic train scheduling, and densities in the urban fabric formed by the intersection of various transit routes.

    Live train scheduling

    E.J. Marey famously demostrated that a train schedule can be much more than a simple list of numbers and times—it can be deeply informative, rich in meaning and pattern, and a joy to use. The entranceway to the Transbay tower affords an opportunity to bring these ideas to the public in a lush new way, by using the walls of the building itself as an enormous indicator of upcoming transit activity as it passes through the terminal.

    Visualizing train activity

    Trains, buses and other transit types are tracked in this system, and their positions and times to departure are indicated by their distance from the outside edge of the building. A passenger approaching the station from the street can find out just how much time they have until their train or bus departs, without having to do the mental math of checking the current time versus a posted schedule which may or may not be accurate. Over time, passengers could develop a mental model of the transit system at various times throughout the day, and understand quickly whether they need to run to catch their ride or have time for a drink at one of the Transit Center's many cafes and restaurants.

    Visualizing train activity

    BART activity, midnight

    BART activity, 9pm

    Public transit intersection maps

    A transit system is more than a simple list of schedules—it's a deeply textured fabric of potential travel vectors, where the smallest of delays can create ripples throughout the system which can have a lasting impact on passengers' lives. BART schedules affect MUNI schedules and eventually all of these will need to be integrated into the 300mph bullet train linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. By being brought into contact with the current state of the entire transit system as it passes through the terminal, passengers could better understand the current range of transportation possibilities available to them, and make better decisions on where to go and when. A live display of the various networks that make up the Bay Area transportation network would bring the entire region into focus, and locate the Transit Center in the conceptual center of all of this activity.

    Transportation networks in the entrance

    Transportation networks in the entrance

    Intersections of transit lines

    Thanks to Gabriel Dunne and Ryan Alexander for their hard work on this project.


    From the designs I've seen from SOM to the 300 mph bullet train to LA, this transit system and tower need to be built ASAP. The tower itself is beautiful, elegant, and enviornmentally friendly! SOM claims it to be earthquake-proof for at least 2500 years and even can be a refuge center if a big one does hit San Fran. I live on the east coast (NYC) and nothing comes close to this kind of recent design. (Although I do like the Freedom Tower design, it's just simple.) I don't know if this has a green-light to begin work, but I'm keeping my eyes open and fingers crossed. I would like to move to San Fran sometime in the next few years and would love to see this complex realized. And I'd love to see floorplans of the residential units even though I'd NEVER be able to afford one! Good Luck to all involved and kudos to the work it took already to get it this far. NYCsprite


    Very cool! When does it go live?


    This is awesome. I can't wait to see it live!

    Simply phenomenal! We were

    Simply phenomenal! We were thinking of visiting San Francisco to see Alcatraz; this just overtook it on my list.

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