It’s November 5th , 2018, and the Salesforce Transit Center, or what this blogger calls “The House That Maria Ayerdi Kaplan built,” opened to much fanfare on August 12th of this year, has been closed since September 25th, when the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) announced that fissures were discovered in one of the “steel beams in the ceiling of the third level Bus Deck on the eastern side of the Salesforce Transit Center near Fremont Street.”
Rather than get to the bottom of the problem, it appears as if there’s an effort to avoid the truth: that the problem with the Transit Center is due to how it was allowed to be overcrowded on opening day, and the days after that, until the steel problem was identified.
The Effort To Present A False Narrative That The TJPA Pre-2017 Was Incompetent
Shortly after report of the first steel cracking discovery by the TJPA, and after the first inspection done with Webcor/Obayashi and structural engineers Thornton Tomasetti, another crack was found in an adjacent steel beam.
Rather than hold a commission to determine exactly how the problem started, and take a wholistic look at Salesforce Transit Center, the steel cracking problem has ignited a process where only part of the whole universe of information is presented, and that portion points to documents and actions that took place in years up to 2016.
Then, Webcor/Obayashi filed a lawsuit against the TJPA for $150 million, rather than call for any comprehensive look at what happened to the facility. Instead, Webcor/Obayashi’s lawsuit tries to paint a picture of incompetence and mentions only the TJPA under its now former executive director Maria Ayerdi Kaplan (who has been the target of fake news) while ignoring actions and documents done after her departure in April 30, 2016.
What’s interesting, is the TJPA’s “dump” of information for the press appears to go along with what the Webcor/Obayashi’s lawsuit is trying to say: few of the documents in the press and public files area focus on anything that happened in 2017 and don’t even mention the decisions of the “Cost Review Committee,” which was established August 24th of 2016 – after Kaplan’s retirement from the TJPA. Have a look at the files here, and look at the specific document date, not the date of upload of the files:
And then look at the press release on the steel crack or “fissure” announcement that came out on September 26th 2018.
The press release includes a photo of the steel beam that was found to have a crack in it, just after installation and initial inspection, but that photo does not have a specific date on it, though it seems to match documents from 2015. Then the same press release has a photos dated September 25th 2018 of the beam with the fireproofing intact and then with it removed.
Since the beam had no problems when it was initially inspected in 2015, why would the TJPA ignore any actions that may have caused the beams to crack after the facility was opened? There’s a long span of time between 2015 and 2018 – but the documents don’t present complete information to match that span of time.
Exactly What Happened To Salesforce Transit Center On It’s Grand Opening Week?
What happened to Salesforce Transit Center on its opening day and subsequent week of operation that may have caused damage to the steel beams?
On the day Salesforce Transit Center opened, thousands of people streamed in to visit it and it was the focus of rave reviews. Some observers compared its Salesforce Park to The Highline in New York City. Others said it would cause the Bay Area to rediscover San Francisco. But one small fact was ignored among the hoopla at the time, but noted in the publication Hoodline: the number of people allowed to enter the Transit Center had to be limited due to “capacity issues” cited in this August 11th 2018 tweet at 3:07 PM PST:
Thank you for visiting Salesforce Transit Center. Due to overwhelming attendance, we are managing access due to long wait times. We’re open for normal operations tomorrow and every day thereafter. Food trucks and art murals open at Natoma & 2nd. Do come back and visit us.
— Salesforce Transit Center (@TransitCenterSF) August 11, 2018
And from this NBC Bay Area video, it would seem there was no cap placed on the number of people who got tickets to enter the Transit Center. Even though the capacity of the facility is 5,000 people, I have not been told what the total over-capacity was on that day.
And this video by Morgan Bach of Zennie62Media shows the number of people still visiting the park just days after it opened:
From these videos and images, it’s logical to ask this question, again: did excessive pedestrian and buses movement cause stress fractures to the structure of Salesforce Transit Center? Was this possibility ever considered and tested? From the literature available, if it wasn’t, it should have been.
Steel Cracking Problems In Bridges Come From Vehicle Movement
The 1992 study “Three Case Histories of Cracking Problems Associated with Steel Bridge Floor Beams” written by the University of Illinois Department of Transportation looks at examples of cracks that developed in steel beams of bridges and concludes that vehicle movement along the bridges caused the fissures, but that they “were not detremental to the structural integrity of the floor system” yet called for fixes to eliminate the problem.
I point to that study because for all practical purposes Salesforce Transit Center is a kind of bridge for buses over six blocks of land, but on top of that bus ramp is a 5.4 acre park. So, unlike most bridges, which have one set of vibration forces to sustain from vehicles, the Transit Center has two: buses and people moving – walking around and at times dancing above it. There’s not one document in the TJPA file dump that points to any analysis that was done of the impact of these types of loads on the structure that is Salesforce Transit Center.
In other words, did anyone bother to test how the structure would behave with buses driving in, stopping, then going out, and thousands and thousands of people milling about on the roof, and all at the same time?
There’s nothing in the TJPA files to suggest that kind of comprehensive testing was done – the kind that calls for a type of mathematical model of the Salesforce Transit Center as a whole to be put through a computer-simulated stress test.
There are lists of tests of individual parts of the Transit Center that were done, but not one example of the kind of simulation I referred to, and can be done. Does the TJPA have that information? If so, they’ve not presented it or addressed its existence to date. One should not have to ask for it, it should be part of the TJPA file dump the press and public are presented. And for one reason: the impact of harmonic motion on bridge design.
Harmonic Motion Is A Factor In Bridge Stress That Must Be Considered In The Transit Center
History is rich with examples of bridges failing due to harmonic motion caused by a number of factors, beyond cars and people, and including the wind and the earth itself. A giant, multi-billion-dollar facility like Salesforce Transit Center should have been the focus of large-scale structural simulations including the following forces: vehicles, people, wind, rain, and earth movement.
The questions are was that kind of test done, and if so, when and where is it? Right now, there’s no evidence such a process ever took place. Instead, we have a sad effort to falsely incriminate the one person who’s hard work made Salesforce Transit Center a reality in the first place. The TJPA should make every effort to clear Maria Ayerdi Kaplan’s name and celebrate it, and not damage it.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media