Soft open becomes hard lesson for many fans at 1st Levi’s Stadium event

I didn’t attend tonight’s Sounders-Earthquakes game at Levi’s Stadium, so I can’t comment on any aspects of the experience there. I won’t get into the architecture either, even though I have seen the stadium in every stage of construction multiple times per week over the last two years. I’ll reserve those thoughts for after August 29, the date of the Friday Night Lights high school football event. That event will not only be the cheapest to get into at the stadium ($20 general admission, less than a tour ticket), it will feature a doubleheader, meaning fans can roam around the venue for six hours if they wanted to. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Anyway, I’ll let this tweet sum up the experience inside for now:

The big mystery leading up to the game was whether or not the venue and the City of Santa Clara could handle the influx of fans. Tonight’s game was positioned as a sort of soft open, with a crowd no larger than 50,000 expected. The upper deck was closed off to cap the capacity. If the open house for season ticket holders was a dry run, Saturday night was to be the first real test. Despite advisories to come more than 2 hours early, many fans faced gridlock on the surface streets leading to the stadium. Fans who arrived in the area 60-90 minutes before the match start were often turned away as their designated parking lots filled up. As part of the TPMP (Transporation and Parking Management Plan), the lots were roughly divided into quadrants based on which direction/highway you were coming from. Arriving from the east on 237/880? The red lots are for you. From the south/southeast on 101/87? Try the green or purple lots. As Tasman Drive and Great America Parkway backed up, those going to the more remote lots eventually had an easier time getting and out. Sure, that meant an extra 15-20 minute walk, but it was probably worth it. It sure beat some fans being stuck for an hour in the parking garage across the street from the stadium. Parking inventory isn’t going to improve over the next couple of weeks, so it will be absolutely paramount for the team/City to more efficiently route fans along those surface streets. Even so, it highlights a problem with the street grid in north Santa Clara – there are no side streets. Everything’s set up in a superblock fashion, and the commercial “neighborhoods” within have no outlets besides the heavily impacted major intersections that service them. I’m sure that the TPMP will be revised to improve this performance, but there’s no fixing the street layout. That said, Great America Parkway has four lanes north and south. It should be capable of getting cars in and out of the stadium vicinity. My advice?

For some people, getting out was worse than getting in. For others it was the exact opposite. The above tweet is half-joking, but parking closer to either 101 or 237 can’t be a bad idea if you want to get in and out quickly.

Transit was another story. Caltrain and VTA have been pitching the idea of transferring people coming from SF/Peninsula at the Mountain View station, then trekking the 25 minutes on light rail to Levi’s Stadium. The circuitous route (with a small section of single track) is far from efficient. VTA wants to boost light rail ridership, so this seems like a good way to do it. It’s not the fastest way to get fans to the stadium. If they want to get fans to the stadium fast, they’d have fans disembark at the Lawrence station 3.5 miles southwest of the stadium. From there express buses would be lined up to take fans 15 minutes the rest of the way. Riders arriving via the main spine of the light rail system (from Downtown, East & South San Jose, plus Campbell/Los Gatos) had to deal with overstuffed trains and mechanical breakdowns. One train shut down at the River Oaks station and its air conditioning system went out, motivating many riders to pop out emergency windows to get fresh air.


VTA’s route map showing light rail and bus service

VTA is working on an additional track siding to store more trains, which should improve capacity. That’s still not enough. A 3-car trainset holds around 500 people including standees. That should improve service frequency from the every 10 minutes service VTA was advertising but not delivering. However the problem is infrastructure. There needs to be an alternative in place to better facilitate all of the fans overflowing at the Great America Station platform. Some fans told me that they walked to other LRT stations to avoid the crowds. The agency should follow a practice it already follows when there are breakdowns or other high-impact delays: employ bus bridges. By providing an overflow option for light rail riders, VTA can ensure that more fans can make the regular or special northbound Caltrain trains. Set up bus bridges to Mountain View, Great Mall, Alum Rock, Tamien, Winchester, and Ohlone-Chynoweth. That should relieve pressure on the light rail system and allow fans going to Downtown San Jose to utilize freed up trains. Otherwise you get stories like the one from Merc sports editor Bud Geracie, who lined up for light rail once the game ended before 10 and didn’t arrive at the Tamien station until nearly midnight.

My advice to fans? If VTA doesn’t introduce redundancy, take Caltrain to Lawrence (from SF/Peninsula or San Jose) and Uber/Lyft/Sidecar/Taxi the rest of the way. Fair should be around $20 or less each way, quite reasonable if you’re in a group.

Coincidentally, there was one aspect of VTA that was working well: the express buses. The five routes, which served Cupertino, Eastridge, Gilroy, Los Gatos, and the Fremont BART station, got in and out swiftly. Fans on those buses didn’t face the overcrowding experienced on light rail. They got to the BART station as early as 10:30. Another alternative I heard a lot about was bicycle. Whether biking straight to the stadium (if based nearby) or transferring from Caltrain, the trip proved fast and trouble-free. Bike racks at the stadium were packed, indicating that some fans had been planning those routes for weeks if not months.

Capitol Corridor was running on a normal weekend schedule. Fans who rode Capitol Corridor had to leave the game early to catch a 9:30 northbound (eastbound) train, the last one of the night. For 1 PM Sunday 49er games, the schedule has been changed slightly to better accommodate fans leaving Levi’s around 4:30-5. ACE, which doesn’t normally run on weekends, will have a special train running in each direction on Sundays.

The first 49ers preseason game is scheduled two Sundays from now. That game is expected to be a sellout plus standing room. Santa Clara and the Niners have a lot of work to do to reduce the frustration and confusion experienced with this first event. I’m pulling for them, but it’s gonna be tough.

P.S. – Quick restaurant recommendation fairly close to the stadium: Gobi Mongolian BBQ at Lawrence Expwy & Tasman Drive about 1.5 miles west of the stadium. Huge weekday lunchtime crowds, fairly small weekend crowds.

45 thoughts on “Soft open becomes hard lesson for many fans at 1st Levi’s Stadium event

  1. We ended up leaving our house in South San Jose off Bernal around 5:45, grabbed some McDonald’s and headed to our prepaid lot, green lot 3. Since I forgot to grab the correct sauces for my wife’s nuggets (as I often do), I offered to pull off Tully and grab some from McDonald’s there. She was tempted, but ultimately declined. Thank goodness she did. Took quite a while to get into that lot, and when we arrived, I heard some attendants saying “We can fit about 20 more cars.” I do wonder what might have happened if the lot filled up but we bought prepaid parking? And this is when we arrived a full hour before the game started. Since we got a great spot right next to an exit, we were in and out and back home in 20 minutes. A bit of a wait to uturn at Old Ironside, but then got right on Great America parkway.
    The nice part is since I don’t have thousands of dollars to buy the privilege of buying season tickets, nor am I terribly interested in the NFL, I am pretty much done with the place. Save for maybe the high school game, college football and soccer, I am good. It’s very pretty and ridiculously huge, and beautiful screens. And ultimately, a very good Quakes game for our local, last place footballers, taking down the top-of-the-table Sounders.

  2. Pingback: Bay Area Sports Guy – Quakes open Levi’s Stadium with 1-0 win

  3. Makes me appreciate the having easy access to freeways and a Bart station at the Coliseum complex.

    • Bingo!!!! BART, Amtrak, freeways, an AIRPORT right by. Coliseum is THE spot to build.

      • not that I am disagreeing, but what does the Airport have to do with this? Folks are flying into football/baseball games in helicopters?

        BART and the Freeways are really all that matters, Amtrak slightly. What am I missing?

  4. Apparently, some tickets site may have telegraphed that the Sharks will be playing Levi’s on February 21/ Yay! No 40-mile trip to Frisco, no endorsement of the Giants’ unfair claims on San Jose.

  5. It’s a nightmare like everyone was saying it would be. Building a huge stadium in an area without adequate public transportation and infrastructure gets you nothing but congestion and gridlock.

    Lew Wolff wants to subject baseball fans to the san e thing. Oakland and the Coliseum have the best access and the best public transportation.

    This boodoggle is only going to get worse when you have 68,000 fans instead of the 48,000 last night. Lew Wolfv needs to stop playing games and get his ridiculous San Jose idea off the table

    • Elmano: You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about, once again, if you are comparing the Santa Clara site to downtown San Jose. The San Jose ballpark site is within walking distances of multitudes of parking (lots of parking lots all over the place) as well as being right next door to San Jose’s Diridon Station, which brings in Caltrain, bus service, Amtrak, VTA Light Rail, taxis and Ace rail. And BART (yes, BART) in a few years. As far as Levi’s stadium, traffic or not, the 49ers are there and their fans will deal with the parking and traffic problems. The place is sold out; no one has said “Ooh, I’m afraid of the parking problems so let’s not go!”…And why won’t you answer my question about why you hate Lew Wolff for looking at San Jose but you give Mark Davis a free pass for looking at Concord, Dublin, LA, San Antonio and who knows where else? Same question with the tarps: Bad for the A’s, OK for the Raiders? Huh?

    • Dude, just shut the fuck up already.

    • Please explain how Levis Stadium equates to the Diridon ballpark site? Diridon on opening day would have direct Caltrain access, direct Capital Corridor access, and direct ACE access. The first being the most important, and one that Levis lacks. Additionally Diridon has VTA access and much easier access in and out due to not being confined by the “Superblock” layout that is currently hurting the area around Levis. Plus it’s got 3 freeways in close proximity (280, 87, 880) rather than 2 with multiple points of ingress and egress from all 3.

    • Oh yeah, and don’t forget long term Diridon will have BART access as well.

  6. Anybody who wasn’t already familiar with Elmano’s nonsense and didn’t know the details would read his last post and think Lew Wolff wants to move the A’s next to Great America. Elmano will leave out actual facts when it suits his nonsensical “arguments.”

  7. Raiders: Despite the world’s greatest transit access, as Elmano would describe it, the team is so poorly supported they have tarped 15,000 seats and of course have never been successful leasing their 100+ luxury suites.
    49ers: Shoehorned onto Great America Parkway with a hodgepodge of parking, with access only from tiny VTA Light Rail trains, an Ace train or two and difficult highway access from 237, 880 and 101. Yet the place is sold out.
    Conclusion: Public transit access is not the be all to end all that Elmano would have us believe when it comes to selling out a stadium.

  8. I don’t see this as a problem for the A’s at a potential future Dirdon site, as pjk pointed out there are multiple transportation options, to that site as well as BART eventually (although I am sure EB/SF people will complain, they are not used to traveling the distance, folks in the South Bay are), but if the traffic problem’s persist at the 49ers new stadium, that could make the coliseum site, all that more important to Mark Davis if the Raiders ever build anything new in the Bay Area.

  9. Ugh…Oakland “fans”:

    ^ This is why I am making it my life’s mission to keep them out of the South Bay.

    • @ Larry Baer

      “Ugh…Oakland “fans”:”

      Re: I respectfully say, the graffiti scribbled in the bathroom stall, by this moronic Raiders fan, may not have anything to do with Oakland. The stupid fan probably is not even from Oakland (or lives); as a matter of fact the graffiti pictured did not even mention Oakland.
      Of course, the stupid ass could be from, or a fan of Oakland itself (thug life), but Oakland has a bad enough reputation, deserved and undeserved, without us implying (unintentionally or not), that some stupid mindless punk , with a marker scribbling on a brand new bathroom stall, 40-50 miles away from Oakland, may have something to do with Oakland.

  10. I made it to Levi’s on Saturday. Nice stadium. Great views. We sat in the 2nd deck, Sec 227.It does look like SAP and Stanford stadium had a high tech love child. Huge concourses. People were hanging out drinking and eating, no congestion what so ever.Nice breeze penetrating the stadium , although chilly at night (nothing like candlestick though) TONS of niner fans with niner gear, which made it annoying to a lot of us quakes fans. Weren’t interested in the game. Chants of “Let’s Go Niners” and mocking quakes fans who were interested in the game itself. Didn’t feel very welcoming. The ride home? Fuckin chaos. Confusion, yelling by Home Land Security/Local Law enforcement. The line to get on light rail was insane! I can’t stress that enough and it’s not exaggerated, freaking INSANE! VTA officials were telling the frustrated crowd that the wait to just BOARD a VTA light rail train was gonna be a few hours. Just to board! Screw that! We managed to cut in line and took the Santa Teresa train. I’ve been to a lot of venues in the bay, with the exception of Cal Memorial. Stanford, Spartan, CAndlestick, Coli,Tank, etc… I have have never experienced anything like I did at Levi’s.. Maybe I’ll have better luck if I park near 101/237 like ML suggested or take an express bus, but honestly, that was a pretty freaking traumatizing experience. For sure light rail is out of the question for me in the future. I had plans to attend Mexico v Chili, but I’m reconsidering. It’s a very nice, open, clean, practical high tech stadium with great sight lines, but that experience jus killed it for me and a lot of other frustrated fans I chatted with on VTA would agree with me.

    • Well to be fair, this is the first game at a major venue. The whole point of this game was to run through their plans and see how they go. They obviously need work, and they know that now. The Quakes got the honor of opening the place, but they also had the honor of being the guinea pig too.

      • @ athletics68

        Agree, I was thinking the same thing, but wow, even for a trial run it seems like a bit much.

  11. I’m sure traffic and public transit will get better as folks get used to things and they work the kinks out of the system. That being said for football, I do agree that the Coliseum site is a better location.

    Football is different than baseball. Because the football game is the event, it’s fine for the stadium to not have a ton of stuff right around it to attract fans. The drawbacks to the Coliseum site for baseball don’t really apply for football.

    It doesn’t matter at this point, but for the Bay Area overall it probably would have made the most sense for the A’s to be in San Jose and for the Raiders and Niners to share a new stadium at the Coliseum. San Jose has the better location for baseball and Oakland has the better location for football.

  12. I was on the light rail train where the AC blew out. The reason why was because it was way over capacity the train could only move without the AC on.

    The emergency windows were almost busted on my car but people stopped an old lady as we all feared it would stop the train period. The windows fogged up and it was miserable. When we got off the train it was the biggest relief ever.

    The biggest issue was VTA had no idea where a majority of fans would be coming from (Santa Teresa, Winchester, Mtn. View or Alum Rock). Now they have data to make the right adjustments.

    On the way back, I needed to get back to Downtown SJ so I waited in the Santa Teresa line. Turns out the ST line was the longest and 3 trains (ST, Alum rock, and Winchester) all head in the same direction. Mountain View is the only one going the other way, so if you were in that line you were good to go fast.

    Winchester was a far smaller line as well and I felt dumb because that line went into Downtown SJ as well.

    By the end, they started allocating more trains for Santa Teresa as they saw that was the longest line.

    For the 49ers they will know better on this as they have sample data from this event.

    Also, there were zero bullet trains straight to the game. VTA needs to develop a bullet train like Caltrain does for Giants games. Way too many stops, and it people could not get on at stations near the stadium due to over capacity.

    As for parking, the golf courses were not open for this event. Those two lots are huge and would have relieved traffic, those will be open for 49ers games.

    Overall, I may take light rail again from Downtown SJ only if there are bullet trains. They need to bypass several stops and make it a faster run to the stadium.

    I still think driving would have been the fastest way, they had cops posted at every light and people got on the freeway pretty fast once they got out of the parking lot.

    • It was 45 min to board the train in the ST line.

    • Thought I read where the golf course lots (Red 6 and Red 8) were open, In fact a number of fans said it was a nightmare getting out of Red 6. Took them an hour to get out.

      Unfortunately we have lot Red 6 for the Niner games. They had better make some significant changes to improve the exiting of that lot or I’ll be pissed.

  13. Small sample size, but Levi’s Stadium currently has a lower Yelp rating than the ‘Stick. The numerous complaints about the food and drink are surprising–Centerplate seems to do an adequate job at AT&T Park, which has some space challenges–how can they be so awful at Levi’s?

    The Light Rail problems were predictable, it will take a serious re-working to make it useful. I talked some friends into taking the Express Bus rather than driving to Santa Teresa for rail–they thanked me later, as those busses were stress-free both ways.

    How do you oversell pre-paid parking? How do you not have adequate signage? How do you not enough security to screen xxx people/hour, when you know how many are coming? How do you not publicize that NFL bag rules are in effect for a non-NFL event? Etc…

    Most of these issues seem fixable, but they have lots of work to do.

  14. Maybe they oversold prepaid parking figuring a percentage of folks who bought it wouldn’t show up? Oops

  15. PJK

    The Raiders can just share Levi’s Stadium with the Forty Niners, right?

  16. ML–apologies if this has been addressed, but could they run a special Caltrain to/from the Amtrak stop? Maybe 1 from the Gilroy/MH/SJ and 2 from SF–sort of the equivalent of a railroad ferry? The 3 trains that start/end at Gilroy weekdays sit idle all weekend. Or is there too much traffic on that line?

    • @Mark – They’ve been talking about this. The problem is that the track running along the east side of the stadium is a single track, owned by Union Pacific. The Caltrain JPA would have to negotiate access with UP to make it happen. That could be difficult considering that both Capitol Corridor and ACE Rail will run their own special trains on 49er gamedays.

  17. I feel sorry for the residential neighborhoods nearby. This location is horrible for a stadium with a capacity of 70,000.

    This is going to be gridlock every game day. The light rail system is not mass
    transit and doesn’t have nearly the capacity of Bart at the Coliseum. The access roads are too small, the parking lots are much too spread out and will only continue to frustrate fans who have infested a great deal of money on very expensive tickets.

    San Franciscans must be thanking Santa Clara for inheriting all the congestion, pollution, tax liability, etc., while San Francisco retains the glory and name recognition for the franchise. It’s a win, win for SF and for anyone heading for SFO on game day.

    If Santa Clara wants to take the Oakland Raiders, I’m pretty sure most Oakland residents would love to have the same benefits SF receives without the liabilities. The Oakland Raiders playing in Santa Clara may not be a bad idea after all.

    • NO! I’m going to prevent that from occuring, so stop it.

    • Unless Davis changes the name to the Santa Clara and or San Jose Raiders and actually become a good team…then Oakland would get humiliated because Davis would use tax money or name change technique

  18. Once again, Elmano, the traffic doesn’t matter. The people have spoken and Levi’s is sold out. The people have spoken and has 15,000 tarped seats for Raiders games.

  19. re: San Franciscans must be thanking Santa Clara for inheriting all the congestion, pollution, tax liability, etc., while San Francisco retains the glory and name recognition for the franchise. It’s a win, win for SF and for anyone heading for SFO on game day.

    …I have to agree with Elmano here. Santa Clara did Frisco a huge favor, with Santa Clara enduring the problems and the costs and Frisco getting the glory and any Super Bowl parade (hopefully, there won’t be any).

    • I don’t think it’s fair that San Francisco can parade around as a city to get away with not using tax money for sports. S.f is setting a bad example for Oakland and San Jose who think that they are the prettiest girl in the bay area. S.f pays for itself while San Jose and Oakland depend on a few situations. If Oakland or San Jose wants the A’s the city has to put in some money/resources to get this off the ground. If not..then we are deciding as a region not to want our teams and the teams should be aggressive

      • The only thing San Jose depends on is MLB and the Giants which is really unrelated to paying for the stadium.

        Cisco Field can be built in the same way as AT&T via corporate support.

        Oakland doesn’t have the corporate base to make this work so it either needs public money or additional development to fund the cost of a stadium. Public money ain’t happening. The A’s can pull off the additional development because the owners have the experience. The same can’t be said for the Raiders.

        In terms of wanting the teams, for at least the A’s, the bay area is a larger TV market so has more to offer overall than a city like San Antonio and can get away with not providing public money.

        The same may not be true for the Raiders however as the economics in the NFL are different.

  20. If they have 365 events there, people can complain.

  21. It’s official: The Sharks are coming to Levi’s and not ATT Park. Sorry about that, Larry “Our ballpark would be perfect!” Baer. The NHL and the Sharks get it right by snubbing the Giants.

    • The Sharks get it right. Season tix holders have threatened cancellation if they go to Frisco. The Sharks always listen to their customers. Frisco is floating the idea that the Sharks will join forces with the W’s when the new arena is up. LOL

      • Do the Sharks want to be shoehorned into a basketball arena that likely would have poor sight lines for hockey while being subtenants to the Warriors, with second dibs on dates, etc? Not likely

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