Getting there: Levi’s Stadium early thoughts

Let’s be clear about one thing can be agreed on when it comes to Levi’s Stadium: it will be much easier to get in and out of there than the painfully difficult Candlestick Park.

Beyond the obvious technological improvements and swankier facilities, Levi’s Stadium has much better built-in infrastructure than the ‘Stick. There is light rail service directly in front of the stadium, with links to Caltrain in Mountain View and San Jose. There’s also a Capitol Corridor and ACE stop even closer, which will bring in fans from the East Bay and Central Valley. Highways 237 and 101, which define the Golden Triangle region of Silicon Valley, feed the area surrounding the stadium, which is where the majority of the parking spaces will be found.

VTA, Santa Clara County’s transit authority, announced a plan to bring fans to Levi’s Stadium from various parts of the Bay Area. Existing partnerships with other transit agencies will have to be leveraged, whether it means transfers to light rail from Caltrain or to express buses from Fremont (by 2017, BART-to-light rail in Milpitas). Still more options will be available from some of those other agencies running their own buses straight to the stadium, along with private bus operators providing a more upscale trip from San Francisco and the North Bay.

The transit debacle at the Super Bowl highlighted the difficulty associated with trying to forecast transit ridership for special events. The New York/New Jersey and San Francisco/Santa Clara dynamics are similar. For the Super Bowl, most of the hotel rooms and peripheral events will be in San Francisco. That makes it doubly important that the link between SF and SC are solid. New Jersey transit severely underestimated the number of fans that would take the commuter train option from Penn Station to the Meadowlands through Secaucus, which led to hours-long delays for many frustrated fans. Since the NFL and local officials were encouraging transit use instead of driving or busing, designated public parking lots near MetLife Stadium were relatively empty, including certain bus lots. Meanwhile, buses that were scheduled to pick up fans from various hotels in Manhattan were underutilized.

When I took NJ Transit to a mere Jets preseason game at MetLife Stadium in August, the trains were quite packed and total ride took 45 minutes despite going less than 9 miles, was an ordeal. The biggest problem was the required transfer at Secaucus Junction. Because the train to the Meadowlands complex is a separate rail spur, all NJ trains forced the Secaucus transfer. Then fans had to go inside the station, change levels, and move to different platform where the Meadowlands train could be boarded. Secaucus Junction works fine for daily commute levels of ridership, but it is terrible for a big event such as the Super Bowl. If there is a next time, NJ Transit has to figure out a way to allow trains to go directly from Manhattan to the Meadowlands. While Secaucus can’t handle the crush, Penn Station can (though not without discomfort).

Like the NY-NJ transfer issue at Secaucus, there is a huge potential bottleneck at the Mountain View Caltrain station, where most fans coming from SF and the Peninsula will transfer. Trains from the Peninsula will stop along the station’s southern platform, which will mean that fans will have to cross at least 3 sets of tracks (2 Caltrain, 1 VTA) in order to make the switch. While the southbound platform has a decent-sized queuing area, the northbound platform, where fans would wait for train going home, is notoriously small and narrow. Each Caltrain train set (5 cars + engine) is designed to hold up to 1,000 riders. Compare that to a 3-car light rail train, which holds about 500 riders including standees. That means that two light rail trains would have to pick up a single full Caltrain’s worth of riders.

There’s also a bottleneck just east of the station, where trains run on a single track to cross Central Expressway. VTA plans to construct a second track and pocket track for train storage, which should get rid of the bottleneck. That project is expected to be completed in two phases, the whole thing done by 2016.

Even with those changes, it’s hard to say just how many people will take Caltrain to Mountain View and then transfer to light rail. 6-8 Caltrain trains worth? That’s about 10% of the total crowd. There could also be single trains from Capitol Corridor and ACE covering another 2-3000 fans.

Since the single-tracking bottleneck will take a couple years to resolve, there’s a good chance that fans going to Levi’s Stadium will instead use one of many express buses parked at the Mountain View station to get to the game. The route would be more direct, and much of it would be on a freeway or expressway.

I suspect that buses may be an even more popular mode of transport than they were at the ‘Stick. Rides from the North Bay will be especially long, requiring serious lead time. It’s not hard to see a fairly new institution already in place being used extensively for 49er games: the private Silicon Valley tech bus. Sure, there are already private coaches that take fans to games, especially groups that can charter. In this case I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same buses that shuttle workers to Google and Apple used on Sundays to take fans directly to Santa Clara from North Beach or Marin. Tickets are already much more expensive and cater to a move affluent crowd than before, why not provide luxury transit? The controversial private busing highlights a problem that has been generally ignored by the national media who have attempted to cover the issue: the disjointed Bay Area transit system. Caltrain runs through the downtowns of numerous cities on the Peninsula, which is mostly good and convenient. But if Caltrain or BART ran down 101 to near Google or 280 to Apple, there would be less of a need for such solutions. Levi’s Stadium, which is across the river from Cisco and a mile away from Intel’s headquarters, is in a similar situation: one or more transfers, inelegant design, faster alternatives. For the Super Bowl, these buses will be in even greater demand, especially as certain operators are contracted directly by the NFL for official use (teams, personnel, media).

Fortunately, the vast majority of games will be at 1 PM on a Sunday afternoon, not during commute hours. For the first season there will be no Thursday or Monday night games, with a Cal Friday home game snuck in as an exception. The 49ers’ 2014 promises to be a year of settling in, on the field for the team and in the stands by the fans. Getting there will literally be a process of trial and error for all involved.

31 thoughts on “Getting there: Levi’s Stadium early thoughts

  1. Coming from Hayward, I’m still deciding what’s the best route for me getting to Levi’s in the fall. I live less than a mile away from the Amtrak Capital Corridor Hayward station so taking that would be the ideal. I contacted the CC folks about it and they said they are in discussions with the 49ers about setting up game day service. So I’ll definitely plan on giving that a try.

    Other options include taking BART to Fremont them transferring to the shuttle bus. Or driving down 880 and parking my car at the Great Mall VTA station Park & Ride lot and taking light rail over. I’ll probably try all there options this season to compare and contrast. Just don’t see myself paying $40 to park in one of the lots a half mile away.

  2. Screw SF! If Super Bowl attendees have a rough time transiting from festivities in SF to Santa Clara, OH WELL. They should stay in the South Bay; you know, where the Super Bowl will be held 😉

  3. Tony D: We can be sure most of the people staying in Frisco hotels for the Super Bowl are going to be a bit surprised at how far way the actual game is. Enjoy the 43-mile ride, folks

  4. @ Tony D – Agreed with emphasis; Without the courtesy of a reach around!

  5. There is a brand spanking new Courtyard Marriott Hotel on 237, next to Levi’s. or you can stay in Sunnyvale @ 237 exit with plenty of hotels, motels, restaurants etc…Frisco F them.

  6. you mean the Santa Clara Superconductors

  7. Hopefully a few Super Bowl attendees will stay at my apartment which will be on Air BnB while I use the proceeds to watch from a bar in Hawaii.

  8. Still boggles my mind that SF pols Gavin Newsome and some sf citizens didn’t offer the public and private support to keep the 49ers in San Francisco. a couple years go by ppl will ask questions on how they let one of their treasures become a south bay team. ..San Francisco has become less San Francisco so much that even Ed lee wants to see some changes….kick out the out of towners and bring back artists and minorities back to s.f

  9. Harry: I’ve been saying it already – Despite popular perception, Frisco is NOT a big sports town. There is little to no grief about the 49ers leaving, the Giants had to build their own stadium or the city would have been happy to see them leave, too, and Frisco is the biggest town in the USA without a sports arena. The town could have had the Warriors, Seals and even the Sharks in the past but had little interest.

  10. @pjk
    I agree with u…and it scares me because u would think they would love sports. But the pro sports ppl in the bay area haven’t fought off the anti sports ppl to demand better venues in the past that is why we are in this stadium situation.

    So it will be interesting to see if San Francisco wants the GS Warriors and will provide public and private support to get the Warriors.

  11. It’s disappointing to watch the 49ers stadium construction proceed at lightning speed and now, finally, the Earthquakes stadium is doing the same thing, while knowing the A’s remain twiddling thumbs with no progress being made on a new stadium.

  12. Harry–San Francisco did vote to give money to the 49ers…in 1997. That $100 million would have been a significant chunk of the costs involved in that project. The blame is on the Niners (and Eddie D’s legal issues) for not closing the deal.

    As for getting to the new stadium, I’ll probably approach it the way we did with the old one–park off-site and walk in. At the Stick , it was either at Executive Park or the neighborhood west of 101. The 3/4 mile-1 mile walk was worth it to be back on the freeway in 2 minutes. Just need to find the Santa Clara equivalent…

    • @Mark – You’ll be hard-pressed to find a similar situation in Santa Clara. Every parking space for 2 miles around the stadium will be for sale. If not it will be blocked off since there’s virtually no street parking in the vicinity. Mission College is a mile away, and they’re already counting the dollars they expect to get. The nearby residential neighborhoods in both Santa Clara and Sunnyvale will have game day police presence to ensure that stadium parkers don’t enter, which is what was standard procedure when Great America had more fireworks shows. About the best thing you can do is to find a light rail stop that has parking nearby and then train it in. Of course, you won’t be alone with that approach.

  13. I’m sure Mark Davis is taking a long hard look at the anticipated public transit accessibility improvements to Levi’s Stadium, especially for the Raiders’ East Bay fan base. With the upcoming extension of BART to Santa Clara County, along with expected light rail/express bus connections; BART could be a relatively easy, inexpensive, and fast way to get to events at Levi’s stadium.

  14. Mark: I’m not sure you will find the Santa Clara equivalent of Candlestick parking. Lots as far away as one mile will be charging $40 to park for 49ers games.

  15. @ML- The 49ers secured extra parking therefore there will be Monday and Thursday night games in 2014….At least Monday Night for sure.

    I for one am stoked for Levi’s! My buddy and I are 27 rows back from the field at the 5 yard line (6k licenses).

    I never got season tix to Candlestick because of the 2 hour wait in the parking lot after the game. This plus Candlestick had the smallest concourses, you felt like a sheep in a herd getting to your seats sometimes shoulder to shoulder inching slowly.

    Not to mention there were no cup holders! How is it the 49ers did not add cup holders over the years? The Giants I understand because they only used a fraction of the overall seating but come on 49ers!

    @Harry and Mark- Regardless of the money the city approved for the 49ers in 1997 the Candlestick site would have never passed an EIR. DeBartolo put the cart before the horse thinking that site could fit a stadium and mall without major infrastructure improvements that would have cost more than the stadium/mall itself at the time.

    When the York’s asked the City about access and infrastructure improvements the city balked as they knew they would have to pay for all of it if the 49ers built privately on the site. It would have been in the nine figure range. Not to mention Hunter’s Point is toxic dump from its Navy days and would need to be cleaned up.

    That is why they turned to Santa Clara where the access and infrastructure has been built out for 100s of thousands of commuters on a daily basis.

  16. @mark
    100 mil was not enough im sorry. S.F should have made it 150-200 and im sure the league would have said “take it”..

    thw 40$ parking fee is not a big deal. Trust me fellas this new S.F/Santa Clara 49ers is designed to attract a corporate crowd. Especially during the first few years while they get this money. The seats are sold tickets are bought so this will be a different crowd from candlestick. I know a lot of OL school 49ers fans from s.f and east bay that have been priced out.

    My boy works at VTA. And he is excited and eager to work football Sundays. Have to admit sounds real good taking ppl to amd from games. See how everybody benefits. If im Mark Davis if Oakland and private investors dont show the support i would not blame Davis for starting over in L.A

  17. @Sid

    100% on the money. If im going to build private in S.F the least the city can do is clean up and add roads and such for their “beloved 49ers treasure”..same goes for A’s at Howard Terminal. ..

    Lew Wolff: Ok mayor Quan and Oakland I will build a private funded ballpark at Howard Terminal

    OAKLAND: “shouts of delight” and cheers

    Lew wolff: however im not spending one dime on road bridges and clean up to get it done. Mayor Quan can u an Oakland cover that…



  18. “if Oakland and private investors dont show the support i would not blame Davis for starting over in L.A”

    So why do you blame Lew Wolff? For trying to move thirty miles away? This is the mindset that STAGGERS me. There is NO PUBLIC MONEY in Oakland.

  19. I live 5 minutes from a VTA Light Rail stop. It’ll cost me $4 and no traffic to get to Levi’s Stadium and back. Now, I’ll need someone to give me free 49ers tickets because I’m not paying for them. I’ll probably take in that introductory Earthquakes game scheduled for Levi’s.

  20. The only thing I give the Coliseum area credit is that it does have great transportation access with 880 freeway, BART, AC TRANSIT and plenty of parking. So at times I understand the pro Oakland vision of making Coliseum City project work on that aspect.

    I dont blame lew wolff but he is in a bind. ..with MLB and Oakland still lagging and the possibility of a new Raider/Colony stadium forcing the A’s to be homeless. .

  21. I wonder if the Mercado shopping center, Catholic church at the corner of Great America and 101 and other businesses are either participating in 49er parking or are prepared to “screen out” the football parking. Not seeing how AMC Mercado cinema would want its already minimal parking gobbled up by 49er fans on a Sunday afternoon – a prime moviegoing day. And it still would be a decent-sized walk to the stadium. My guess is they’ll need to hire security guards and invite anyone in 49er garb to exit.

  22. There are more updates on the Niners stadium here than anything concerning the A’s … oh, I guess there’s no news concerning the A’s.

  23. @ Howard:

    LW and Fisher are very content with status as is so nothing will never happen. They don’t want to stir the pot at all so of course BS and Frisco G’s are okay with that. BS will be gone soon , the next guy will do nothing unless LW and Fisher do something.

  24. I doubt that many 49er ticket holders will have any problem with $40 parking. Once they paid for seat licenses and tickets, $40 is chump change.

  25. From an Oakland perspective and just how if everybody played nice this is my idea on how Coliseum City should work.

    Since Oakland is paying off mount davis and oracle upgrades, we feel the Raiders and Warriors should play nice and stay at their respective venues.

    The A’s need to leave the coliseum so the Raiders can maximize whatever is left out thr Coliseum and give Raiders parking revenue to keep them happy.

    A’s should build their small ballpark in between Oracle and the Coliseum. All 3 teams will have their own home…with whatever land is left the Coliseum should copy what was done at Fruitvale BART station “Fruitvale village” and find developer to copy that same model for the Coliseum area with the small office, retail and housing.

    It to me would be the best situation for everyone.

  26. @harry

    You made me laugh, sports teams playing nice with the cities they represent!

  27. @harry – “I dont blame lew wolff but he is in a bind. ..with MLB and Oakland still lagging and the possibility of a new Raider/Colony stadium forcing the A’s to be homeless.” have you been drinking? Most logical thing you have said to date! 🙂

    Can’t wait until the Niners go to the South Bay, however the traffic on 10&237 is going to be horrendous! Unlike lucky Sid, I have nosebleed seats (got in a little late), but will be worth every dime I spent! As nostalgic as Candlestick was, I hated going there!

  28. @anon
    Thats it??? Come harder….

    @Mike 2
    Playing nice…well yes.. better then all 3 teams in limbo. Save Oakland Sports vision is for the Raiders and Warriors to stay at their respective venues while the A’s build their new venue..then find a developer to fill in the rest of the un used land..that is “Coliseum City”

  29. @Harry- Right on! If Oakland/Alameda County could simply cleanup HT and re-do the infrastructure then Lew Wolff could build on the waterfront privately.

    This of course is assuming MLB allows the A’s to stay on revenue sharing and if so then I say go for it.

    But just like SF with the 49ers, Oakland knows it will cost them 100M+ just for the A’s to be able to feasibly build on that site.

    As for Coliseum City, the A’s are the last phase of the project. How does that work? Goes to show how incompetent Oakland pols are.

    They should be working with the A’s who generate 81 games a year that would be able to support a retail development at CC. The Raiders play 10 games a year total….Makes zero sense to me.

  30. One more thing….my comments are above are the reason why Lew Wolff wants to build in San Jose.

    Like the 49ers and Santa Clara the infrastructure has been built out already in Downtown San Jose to handle the A’s because of the Sharks.

    There is public transportation (light rail and Caltrain) along with 280, 87, 101, and 880 all in range.

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