Fairfield, Calif., lies at the heart of one of the worst traffic jams in the country. Once a sleepy farm town, it is now a bedroom community of 100,000 whose residents commute in large numbers along the I-80 “Capitol Corridor” to the employment centers of San Francisco and Sacramento, roughly 35 miles in opposite directions from Fairfield.
Overwhelmingly they make the trip alone by car, helping earn the Bay Area its dubious distinction as a leader in freeway congestion.
Yet just down the frontage road from the auto mall, hope for a viable transit system has sprung from the ruins of the past. On the site of a failed park-and-ride lot once operated by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), a new commuter bus station is anchoring the local transit agency’s initiatives to break the draining effects of car culture on Fairfield and the surrounding region.
Before the Fairfield Transportation Center (FTC) opened last August, Fairfield-Suisun Transit operated a strictly local bus service. The crumbling Caltrans lot near the freeway ran a limited express bus service. Its bus stop was unsheltered and poorly lit. With 100 or so boardings a day, the operation did little to improve the city’s transportation picture.
Early success noted
All that has changed. Even while operating at 50% of its capacity — new routes are still being developed — the FTC has already increased ridership to an average of nearly 700 boardings a day. Its success has bolstered Fairfield-Suisun Transit’s plans to build three additional transit stations anchoring a multimodal network of local and express buses and commuter rail.
“What we’re really doing is instigating a major cultural shift,” says Kevin Daughton, Fairfield’s transportation manager. “The automobile got us here, but it won’t get us where we want to go. The region needs transit-based alternatives to sustain our quality of life.”
Providing new local and regional transit links for commuters is only one part of the FTC’s function. The other is to win over the hearts and minds of potential riders, cultivating the demand that is crucial to the success of Fairfield-Suisun Transit’s vision.
“We made the case to the city that transit was its future,” says Daughton, “and we came away with a mandate to invest meaningfully in the facility.”
Daughton worked alongside the architect for months to solicit community input for the FTC’s design. “From the very beginning, we were letting commuters and neighbors know that this facility was being built down to the smallest details for them. It came together as an architectural gateway to the city.”
Built to instill pride
Embodying the optimism, invitation and durability of a 100-year civic facility, the FTC has realized the city’s best intentions not only for transportation, but also for land use. It locates 10 covered bus bays, the new headquarters of Fairfield-Suisun Transit and a mixed-use parking garage on four landscaped acres just off the city’s main freeway exit. The FTC’s feel is campus-like, a serene departure from the freeway and big-box retail that surround it.
Green and sustainable features further the FTC’s civic value. The office building has an open interior plan that maximizes the flow of natural light. The site’s landscaping combines desert plants, grass and trees to mitigate highway noise, radiant heat and storm water runoff. Photovoltaic cells cladding the parking garage on its southern exposure power electric vehicle charging stations and return surplus current to the city grid.
The facility’s parking structure also houses an eight-desk telecommuting center, a definitive statement that, though buses are the rational choice over cars, the best freeway commute is none at all.