An honest discussion about a ballpark’s transportation needs

The discussion always starts the same way. I throw out a question or poll to my Twitter followers about transportation at Howard Terminal. Most of the respondents are A’s fans who want to understand the options. Some are locals to the Jack London Square neighborhood or are from adjacent areas (West Oakland, Downtown/Uptown, Lake Merritt). There are always the inevitable “people can walk the mile” or “we don’t need anything more than a shuttle bus” folks who don’t understand how flawed (and usually short-term) such ideas are. And then there are the transit geeks, who envision something that could create better transit links for Oakland and the East Bay. That last part is what I call transit feature creep in that they always get away from the project-level needs and goals. The result is a general lack of consensus.

It starts and ends with how BART was conceived and implemented. BART is a “rapid” system, using equipment and grade-separated (from traffic) alignments like legacy systems such as the New York City Subway and Chicago’s “L”, along with newer systems such as Washington Metro and Atlanta MARTA. The first three have metro-systems with many in dense, urban areas, whereas MARTA is more like BART in its more spread out stations and extensions into the suburbs. Trains were designed to be more comfortable than their urban counterparts in order to attract suburban riders. As BART was built, Oakland became the spine of the system, though none of the stations in Oakland’s core are true transit hubs other than their connections to AC Transit buses. There are transit hubs elsewhere in the BART system (SF’s Market Street stations, Millbrae, Richmond) but with Oakland, the lack of a streetcar or light rail solution to better cover downtown and link neighborhoods has always seemed like a lost opportunity.

Prior to BART, the Key System provided streetcar to Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville. It at first connected to SF-bound ferries via a long pier, or mole. Later it traveled on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge, terminating at the Transbay Terminal. The Key System then became part of a diabolical plan to kill off streetcars and replace them with buses. BART filled in the transbay aspect of the Key System, but most other transportation needs are handled by AC Transit, a situation that the Eastshore has lived with for 40+ years. AC finally started construction of a BRT (bus rapid transit) line that runs from downtown Oakland on Broadway to San Leandro BART via International Blvd. It will have streetcar/trolley-like stations, though the route will avoid currently low-traffic neighborhoods such as Jack London Square/Howard Terminal and Brooklyn Basin in favor of denser neighborhoods.

brt

The map above, which shows the northern part of the BRT route, largely covers the same ground as the planned streetcar except for the aforementioned JLS/HT/BB Estuary neighborhoods. If the new BRT route succeeds, it’ll lead to further rollouts elsewhere, such as San Pablo Avenue, where there’s already a limited-stop “rapid” line 72R in place.

By now I’ve spent 520 words talking about transit that doesn’t serve a ballpark near Jack London Square, which may feel like a waste of time to you. There is a point – that all this talk of trying to include every neighborhood and constituency leads to losing sight of projects that can provide great effectiveness at the scale required. It’s not the oft-discussed, still under study streetcar. It’s not an infill BART station between West Oakland and 12th Street, which would be close to Howard Terminal (1/4-mile) but not close enough to Jack London Square (3/4 mile) to make sense. Shuttle buses are only a temporary solution. Any bus solution would be hampered by limited peak capacity to handle crush crowds for events at a ballpark. The answer is nothing in the poll I posed two weeks ago.

The answer lies in how BART is constructed along Broadway. If you’re a frequent rider, you know that the stations along Broadway have two platform levels. The upper platform is for trains traveling north, either along the Richmond line or the Pittsburg/Baypoint lines. The lower platform is for southbound trains heading to Dublin/Pleasanton, Fremont, and by virtue of BART’s alignment, San Francisco. However, all of the southbound trains only travel on a single track, effectively using half of the platform. BART left the space there for expansion, including a potential second Transbay Tube or service to Alameda. For the purposes of a ballpark, let’s start with a simple BART spur to Jack London Square.

jls-shuttle

The spur would run from the 12th Street Station to the heart of JLS (Broadway & Embarcadero), with the station having portals on either side of the Embarcadero. If developed properly, the station could partly solve the pedestrian safety problem by providing an underground concourse for fans to use before and after games. Fans exiting at Broadway and Water would be a mere 1/4-mile away from a Howard Terminal ballpark, allowing for a leisurely stroll through what would surely become very high-rent retail property.

This option would be the most desirable and hassle-free for BART riders. Consider how they would never have to leave the station to transfer, riders from Berkeley or Walnut Creek only having to walk across the platform. Riders from SF and Southern Alameda County would have to descend an escalator. That’s it. No having to leaving the station to wait in line for a streetcar or bus, or walk 20 minutes. Walking is nice if you have the time, but not convenient. Queueing for one of multiple 50-person buses is never fun if you’re person 200 in line. Muni streetcars work for the Giants, mostly because can transfer to BART within the same stations on Market Street.

Ridership forecast for the spur in the 2004 Jack London BART Feasibility Study was estimated to be 3,000-4,000 riders on weekdays, half that on weekend days, for a rough total of 1.2 million riders annually. That was without a ballpark in the area. Take 82+ dates of decent (30k, not sellout) ballpark crowds and the current percentage of BART riders (20-25% percent) and the ridership for the line could grow up to 50%! From an operations standpoint, there’s a good chance that the spur could be automated, like the Oakland Airport Connector. Since it would be a direct connection, the trip would take 3-4 minutes, the same time it takes to travel from 12th Street to Lake Merritt.

The spur doesn’t come without downsides. It would involve a tunnel, which is by far the most expensive alignment option. Muni’s Central Subway currently costs $500 million per kilometer. A kilometer is slightly shorter than the distance from 12th Street to JLS, though I suspect engineering could be a little cheaper by simplifying the process (no station in between, no/minimal cut-and-cover operations). The feasibility study estimated the cost to be $180-250 million more than a decade ago, expect the $500 million estimate to be more in line.  That’s a ton of money, but it would come with far less upheaval coming from digging up dozens of Downtown Oakland blocks for years. And unlike streetcars or buses, a BART spur would not mix into surface traffic, ensuring a much smoother, efficient trip to and from JLS. Plus there’s also the chance for user fees, such as a $1 ticket surcharge for ballpark events, to help fund the project.

The other caveat is that spur wouldn’t directly connect with the Jack London Square Amtrak station. That’s not as big a deal as you might think, considering that the western end of the Amtrak platform at Webster is less than 800 feet from Broadway. Having a portal on the landslide of Embarcadero and improved wayfinding should help significantly. In addition, JLS is also not close to Brooklyn Basin, nearly a mile away. Unless Oakland wants to extend a streetcar to Fifth Ave, there is no good transit option there.

A spur may at first sound like a very limited-purpose, “selfish” option. Taken within the fabric of how transit is being developed in Oakland, it actually makes sense. It provides fast, direct access to JLS. It acts as a first step towards a BART tunnel to Alameda, if Alameda actually wants it badly enough. It eliminates the looming redundance and inefficiency that comes with having streetcars, BRT, regular buses, and normal traffic on Oakland’s dieting streets.

Planning an effective transit strategy for a ballpark will come down to priorities at Oakland City Hall. If they prioritize the needs of users (quick and easy transfers, high capacity) a spur is the best solution. If the goal is to better connect neighborhoods and have lower capital cost (not sure how much lower), a streetcar is a better solution, though it will be slower and less efficient. It’s up to you, Oakland.

If Howard Terminal ballpark happens, so should a new BART station for it (repost)

2/7/17 – I originally posted this a year ago yesterday. The basic information hasn’t changed, so I’m reposting it now. This comes as the Chronicle’s Scott Ostler reported on the A’s potentially requesting light rail (a streetcar) to bridge the gap between BART and Howard Terminal. Have at it. – ML


My last article with Howard Terminal as the main subject (and not as an aside) was posted on November 15, 2014. That was nearly 15 months ago. Since then, few things have changed in the immediate area. The site remains without a tenant, short or long-term. While relationships with shipping companies SSA Marine and Matson solidified, the same can’t be said for rival Ports America, which pulled out of Oakland completely.

No site studies were completed on Howard Terminal, so in the event the site become an official relocation site for the A’s in the future, it will again come time to figure out just how much it costs and how long it will take to get the site ready. Thankfully, in Mayor Schaaf’s recent push for HT, a preliminary figure has been floated for site prep and infrastructure: $90 million. To me that sounds conveniently low, especially because $90 million is also the figure to get the Coliseum ready for the Raiders – even though we don’t know how much can or would be developed there.

Fortunately, we know that the infrastructure budget would include at least one bridge extending Market Street over the Embarcadero and Union Pacific tracks to Howard Terminal. There’s also a good chance we’d see a small parking garage to serve the stadium, probably for players, management, and VIPs such as suite holders. The actual cleanup cost is still to be determined, since we don’t have a proper sense of the footprint and placement of the ballpark in relation to the waterfront, not to mention the fate of the rest of the 50 acres.

Oakland has embarked on updating its Downtown Specific Plan. As is often the case when such updates come around, the city has chosen to expand its definition of downtown, now including Howard Terminal as part of an expanded Jack London district. This is a good move if the purpose is to recast HT as Jack London Square’s commercial flank to the west, instead of HT’s legacy as a dirty, blue collar, West Oakland port facility.

jls-ht

Howard Terminal and Ballpark at the far left of expanded Jack London District

The expansion makes the Jack London District quite large, extending 1.25 miles from west to east. That’s as long as a stroll from the marina all the way to 21st Street down Broadway. Or in walking distance, 25 minutes or so. To get a sense of distance and walkability, Oakland plotted out a series of maps showing rights-of-way, transit access, and walking distance from key points. Take this map, for instance:

dto-5minutewalk

Radius of 5-minute walking distances from various points within Downtown Oakland

Based on where the the ballpark is located, it’s about 10 minutes from Jack London Square. It’s another 10 minutes to the nearest entrance for the 12th Street BART station. That’s going to require some sort transit option to bridge that distance, either via a more frequent Broadway Shuttle, the long-rumored Streetcar project, or another BART station in the vicinity of JLS. Because BART inclines from a tunnel to an elevated viaduct as it runs by 880, the most likely place for a station would be Market and 5th St. That’s a great location relative to Howard Terminal, only 1/4-mile away. There’s room and BART-owned land there for a new station. To accommodate BART’s up to 710-foot trains, the station would have to be located between Market and Brush Streets.

5th-market-map

Gray marker on Market St denotes location of BART infill station

BART aerial at 5th Street at Market Street

BART aerial at 5th Street and Market Street

The downside of BART at Market and 5th is that it’s 3/4-mile from Jack London Square, though at least it would be in the district (barely). A streetcar would conceivably serve more locals and non-ballpark users, but its route would run closest at JLS, again, 1/2-mile away. In a 2012 study, the streetcar’s estimated cost was $202 million. An infill aerial BART station would cost $70 million or more to construct. To me, if there’s a choice it’s a no brainer – build the BART station. But I’m not an Oakland resident, I’m an A’s fan who cares most about BART access. Citizens of Downtown Oakland who want a more comprehensive transit plan for their neighborhood may not find such an option satisfactory. The location is also not conducive to a big transit-oriented development plan, which makes it less attractive for grant funding, a possible necessity for construction.

Some may think that this infrastructure is unnecessary for the ballpark. They point to the numerous fans who walk from the Embarcardero BART station the long way along the waterfront to AT&T Park. Yes, people do that. They do it because it’s scenic. The walk from 12th Street to Howard Terminal is not scenic, whether you’re taking Broadway, Washington, or MLK. Forcing people to walk 20 minutes after taking in many cases a 15-25 minute BART ride is not convenient. It’s not up to the standards the public expects for transit availability. And it’s incredibly disrespectful to the needs of the disabled and seniors. You know what those people have in San Francisco? They have the ability to transfer to MUNI without leaving the station. Thousands of able-bodied fans do the same thing. They have the option to either walk or take transit directly to the park. That’s pretty close to ideal. Or if you want ideal access, there’s the Coliseum and the BART bridge. A’s staff are on hand at each end to help fans in wheelchairs. In upgrading ballparks, we shouldn’t downgrade access. We’re better than that.

As it looks now, SF’s Olympic bid is already doomed

San Francisco has a new Summer Olympics bid in the works. This time they’re targeting the 2024 Games as one of four cities competing for the US bid. The others are Boston, DC, and LA. The bid is Larry Baer’s quixotic dream, and if the region wins the Games he will rightly lauded for his efforts.

Already, the bid the appears to be off on the wrong foot. A $350 million pop-up stadium is to be the centerpiece, though it won’t be in land-starved SF. Instead the stadium and the Olympic village would be housed at the windy, cold Brisbane Baylands just south of the City. The former railyards there are a massive toxic site, needing years of cleanup before they’re ready to build. An EIR is in progress.

The Chronicle’s C.W. Nevius suggested Oakland as the better site, though it makes too much sense to actually happen. As Mark Purdy notes, the Bay Area’s unique brand of provincialism will probably ruin what should be a fully regional effort.

The problems in the Bay Area are simple:

  • Land is far too scarce and expensive to properly rein in the budget
  • The City of San Francisco lacks the outdoor venues to be a proper anchor
  • The previous bids were plagued by having multiple venues 2-3 hours away from SF

All of the places being discussed for a future stadium and village are brownfields like Baylands or former military sites like Hunters Point, Moffett Field, or Alameda NAS. Even Treasure Island has been discussed, and it too has the same infrastructural problems the others face. Tokyo, which won the 2020 Games, is seeing its budget blown to bits while trying to keep the bid compact – most planned venues are within only a few miles of the village).

The Bay Area, which has a gigantic body of water acting as both a physical and psychological barrier to residents and visitors, can’t dream of having a truly compact bid. Instead it needs to capitalize on the resource it has – a great number of existing venues that can host the Games with little need for new construction.

Bid specifics haven’t been released, but what I have seen so far concerns me. Besides the problematic Brisbane site, Coliseum City is mentioned as an adjunct. Meanwhile, $350 million would be spent on a disposable stadium. That’s utter nonsense. Phase the main stadium at Coliseum City correctly and you can save at least $1 billion while providing the Raiders the new home they want. Here’s how.

Phase I: Two main stands

Phase I: Two main stands

It starts with a technique used historically to build English soccer venues: build stands. One on each side of the field. The illustration above shows the track. Modern track meets and the Olympics require more buffer space around the track, which can be accommodated because the stands don’t have concrete poured all the way down to the field. The first 20-26 rows will be portable, similar to the east football seats for Mount Davis. The twin stands would cost $500-600 million to construct and hold 35-40,000 seats.

olympic-fb2a

Phase II: Fill in the ends temporarily

 

Next, put seats in the end zones and corners. Assuming that this stadium is ready for the Raiders by 2019, these seats don’t have to be on concrete risers. The space between the back of the football end zone and the track oval seats (brown) would be filled by additional rows that go all the way down to the field. There’s your Black Hole. New capacity: 62,000. That would work until…

olympic-fb2b

Phase III: Olympic configuration

After the final game of the Raiders 2023 season, remove the Black Hole seats and start adding temporary sections (green-brown) behind the oval seats. Capacity becomes 80,000 for the Games. After the games end in August, the temporary sections can be removed for football season. If the Raiders want to finish off the stadium in a revenue-maximizing manner, they can undertake a project after the 2024 season ends to remake the end zones.

Phase IV: New end zone sections (temporary sections outlined)

Phase IV: New end zone sections (temporary sections outlined)

The team could add field suites or a huge end zone lounge like what the Patriots are planning at Gillette Stadium. Final capacity: 63,000. This approach would avoid the pitfalls London faced when figuring out what to do with their Olympic Stadium. They did bidding on the post-Games venue after the Games ended, inevitably creating a much more time-consuming, expensive process of stadium redevelopment. If the Raiders are involved from the get-go, they get the venue they want with minimal disruption and cost to themselves. The total cost of this is probably $1 billion. Why? Because all of the important stadium amenities are packaged within the original stands, limiting the amount of square footage built. The two stands can also be built quickly, which should also limit cost.

BASOC’s 2016 bid famously suffered an embarrassing death at the hands of the 49ers, who showed no interest in a multi-use stadium. They had their own vision for a new stadium, eventually realizing it. The Raiders don’t really have a vision for a stadium, looking more towards fulfilling requirements. BASOC and Baer would be smart to recognize the Raiders’ needs as an opportunity. Then again, if the Raiders aren’t in the Bay Area long term, BASOC would have little reason to engage the Raiders.

It’s a shame. There is no market in the country with as many existing, ready-to-use venues for the Olympics as the Bay Area. By 2024 we could have:

  • An Olympic stadium and Village in Oakland with excellent built-in transit access
  • Levi’s, Stanford, Avaya, and Cal Memorial Stadium set up as soccer venues
  • Three major arenas (Warriors, SAP, Oracle), two college arenas (Haas, Maples), and two convention centers (Moscone, McEnery SJ) to handle indoor events
  • Limited new construction required

It would take SF allowing other communities to grab the spotlight. It would take Larry Baer actually being a champion to the region, which he is most certainly not. I too can’t see it happening. Dare to dream, Larry.

 

Election Day 2014

Update 11/5 6:00 AM – 100% of precincts are in and the ranked choice tabulations have been made. The next Oakland mayor is Libby Schaaf, who effectively trounced her rivals at the polls, nearly doubling Incumbent Mayor Jean Quan’s vote total. After RCV was calculated, Schaaf finished the night with 62.79% of the vote. Runner-up was Rebecca Kaplan. Quan was eliminated in the penultimate round.

Measure BB also won with 69.56% of the vote in Alameda County.

Sam Liccardo held on to win the San Jose mayoral job over Dave Cortese, finishing 51-49.

More commentary to come.

Update 11:30 PM – Results are coming back with some needed urgency. Schaaf has extended her lead over Jean Quan from 28.45-17.10 to 28.74-16.39, with Rebecca Kaplan now in third place at 14.36%. 44% of precincts have reported so far. Measure BB is now up 69-31. San Jose’s mayoral race has tightened up with Liccardo leading Cortese 50.9-49.1, a difference of 1,500 votes with 45% of precincts reporting.

Update 10:30 PM – The polls have been closed for over two hours, but results have been coming late, the last major update coming at around 9 PM. In Santa Clara County there have been technical (website) issues. Alameda County appears to have similar problems. I’ll hang tight for another hour before calling it a night. So far Libby Schaaf is ahead in the Oakland mayoral race, though be advised that these are extremely early returns and the ranked choice tabulations are not factored in yet.

oakmayor

 

Meanwhile, Alameda County Measure BB is ahead 68-32 and Sam Liccardo leads Dave Cortese 51-49 in the San Jose mayoral race.

Update 3:30 PM – San Jose City Council voted 9-1 to approve the A’s land option extension. Stand for San Jose’s law firm, Pillsbury, disagreed with the lease option on CEQA and referendum grounds. City attorney John Boyle clarified that a referendum wasn’t needed and that the EIR was certified. CM Pierluigi Oliverio was the lone no vote, saying that if the A’s wanted the land they should just buy it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dina-Roberts Wakulczyk

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Dina-Roberts Wakulczyk

Despite the general disinterest in today’s general election, there are some important races that will impact stadium efforts for the A’s and Raiders in the Bay Area. Let’s take a look.

Oakland’s mayoral race is the big one, with 15 candidates including incumbent Jean Quan. A KPIX 5 poll from two weeks ago had council member Rebecca Kaplan first at 19%, fellow CM Libby Schaaf at 17%, and Quan and SF State professor Joe Tuman tied for third at 15%. The Chronicle is reporting that final ballot counts may not happen for a few days, even though they now have the ability to do election night tabulations tonight. In 2010, tabulating the results of the ranked choice vote took the rest of the week to complete. Members of Save Oakland Sports and supporters of Coliseum City have thrown their weight behind Quan, while going against Kaplan, who helped broker the A’s lease extension. Kaplan hasn’t officially stood behind any one concept, though it’s a logical progression to think that she might support a Lew Wolff-offered, A’s-oriented redevelopment plan for the Coliseum. Kaplan had received campaign contributions from Wolff, but chose to return them after questions about impropriety arose. Schaaf and Tuman have been highly critical of the City and the JPA throughout the campaign season, but haven’t offered much in the way of solutions for keeping the pro teams in town. Port commissioner Bryan Parker has remained the most vocal supporter of Howard Terminal for the A’s.

If Quan loses, it’s unclear what happens to Coliseum City. The CEQA/EIR process will continue at least through the 90-day deadline set last month. Kaplan, who had previously considered the Coliseum site the best future place for Oakland sports, remains on the JPA board and could pivot as a “savior” of the plan if she wins. If she doesn’t win she’ll remain in her at-large council seat and on the JPA board. Schaaf is vacating her District 4 seat, so like Quan, if she loses she’ll be out of elected office in Oakland.

As results come in they’ll be posted here. Look for a followup post discussing impacts later tonight or tomorrow.

San Jose also has a mayoral race, though it is more traditional than Oakland’s RCV. The primary was held in June, and as expected the top two candidates were current council member Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese. Liccardo is being held up as the successor to Chuck Reed and is expected to carry on Reed’s pro-business policies if elected. Cortese, who was also a council member a decade ago, enjoys a great deal of support from labor and is considered the anti-Reed candidate. Both hold differing views on the baseball-to-San Jose effort. Liccardo prefers to continue Reed’s legal challenge of MLB, whereas Cortese has put forth a more conciliatory approach towards baseball. Both are proponents of bringing the A’s to San Jose.

Alameda County is set to vote on Measure BB, the 0.5%, 30-year sales tax hike for transportation projects. The tax would fund $7.785 billion in new projects, from more than $2 billion in largely deferred street maintenance to a Livermore BART extension ($400 million) to Bus Rapid Transit in Oakland ($35 million) to $284 million in improvements to I-880. Also in the package is $40 million for Coliseum City, money that would expand and better integrate the transit hub at the Coliseum BART station. This money is considered key to the success of Coliseum City, since additional privately financed development would be catalyzed by the creation of such a transit center. Two years ago a similar measure, Measure B1, barely missed the two-thirds majority needed for passage. Supporters of BB are vowing not to let such a defeat happen again by throwing greater campaign resources and garnering broader support for the measure. In 2012, Coliseum City basically had to punt while it waited for the next election, effectively delaying planning for nearly two years. With so much uncertainty surrounding Coliseum City’s prospects, another defeat could mean a very big nail in its coffin.

Finally, the City of San Jose’s City Council will vote today on the land option extension on the Diridon ballpark site for the A’s. The option, which is only for part of the fully assembled site, would run at least four years and up to seven at the A’s discretion. The cost of the option is $100,000 for the first four years, with additional years at $25,000. If the A’s exercise the option, they would pay $7 million for those 5 acres, and would have to buy the rest privately. No transaction can happen unless MLB approves a move to San Jose, which it has not done to date.

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Watch the top of this post for updates as they occur.

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.

LevisStadiumBusService

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.

Walking distances to ballparks

Before I head out to Maryvale today to catch some combo major league and A’s minor league action, I wanted to post a table showing the approximate walking distances from various rail transit stations to ballpark entrances. In most cases these are door-to-door, measured with Google Earth’s ruler (path) tool. I’ve only included ballparks which have adjacent or nearby (within 1 mile) subway, light rail, or commuter rail stations. Bus stops do not count. The one exception I’ve included is Dodger Stadium just to illustrate the distance.

walkingdistances

Distances shown in feet except when approximately 1/4 mile or longer

I measured the Howard Terminal distance using the approximate location of the ballpark in the Manica Architecture drawings. An infill BART station built at Market/Brush Streets between 4th and 5th would be around 1/4 mile away from Howard Terminal.

In case you’re curious, the distance from Lew Wolff’s Coliseum North ballpark concept to the Coliseum BART station would’ve been around 2/3 mile. Fremont Pacific Commons would’ve been 1.5-2 miles from the Warm Springs BART station depending on infrastructure. A ballpark at Warm Springs is unknown because there was no specific location unveiled. The San Jose Diridon ballpark site sits 500 feet from the Diridon Caltrain station and 800 feet from the San Fernando light rail station. The under-construction Berryessa BART station is nearly 4 miles away from Diridon.

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.