Levi’s Stadium is a state-of-the-art, $1.3 billion sports facility, the jewel of the South Bay. If only anyone could get there to see it.
Last Saturday’s inaugural event, an Earthquakes-Sounders MLS soccer game, was a picturesque affair once the whistle blew, but ingress to and egress from the Levi’s site in Santa Clara reportedly was a nightmare. Fans sat gridlocked for hours, only to be told the lots were full when they finally reached them; after the game they were gridlocked again.
Worst of all, those who arrived via VTA Light Rail seemed to fare no better. There simply weren’t enough trains to handle the load of soccer fans. The air conditioning failed on one train and, according to one commenter, “people had to pry open emergency windows to avoid suffocating.”
Just check out the comments on this Levi’s Stadium Facebook page.
Or at the bottom of this ABC 7 news report.
Or attached to Ann Killion’s story from the Chronicle.
Optimists argue that the reason Levi’s opened with a soccer match, and not a 49ers preseason game, was to give everyone a chance to work out some of the infrastructural kinks. Santa Clara will add more traffic police, the 49ers and their contractors will tweak the routing, fans will learn more efficient ways to the game and the process will become more streamlined over the course of the season.
Realists point out that Saturday’s attendance was less than 50,000. Capacity at Levi’s is 68,500, and will expand to as high as 75,000 for big games. You can station a traffic cop at every intersection in Santa Clara, but there are only so many routes to the stadium.
Here’s my public service suggestion: private shuttles.
I asked 49ers PR rep Bob Lange if the team has explored using buses to shuttle fans to the game from remote lots. This was his email reply:
“We absolutely have shuttle services from all the lots we have partnered with for people with special needs. Anybody who has a handicap badge can also park in Green lot 1 (the Great America Lot right next to the west side of the stadium) even if they don’t have parking pass for that lot. We have plenty of parking spots in walking distance of the stadium that people can utilize too. Parking spaces is not an issue.”
Running shuttles for those with disabilities is laudable, even essential. But that isn’t particularly relevant to overall traffic flow.
Nor do I dispute Lange’s observation regarding the abundance of parking spaces near Levi’s Stadium. The problem is getting to those parking spots. If Tasman Drive and Great America Parkway are reduced to a snarled mess, those empty parking spaces are just teases.
So why not shuttles, like the ones they run in Yosemite and Denali national parks? Santa Clara does not, and never will, enjoy the charm of San Francisco. Not enough hills. Not enough Victorian row houses or bridges. What the area does have is parking spots – at hotels, at schools, at sprawling Silicon Valley campuses like Cisco Systems and Oracle.
The 49ers should be working hard to set up park-and-ride agreements with some of those businesses, using portions of their lots on game day. The buses could get express priority to the stadium, allowing fans to avoid the heart of the congestion. The 49ers could use whatever fee they charge patrons and split it between the bus company and the business that owns the lot. Even if the team loses money on the shuttles, it will be worth it to avert a public relations disaster.
The Niners have invested crazy time and money on getting Levi’s Stadium built, and on putting a Super Bowl-contending team on the field. They can’t let a lack of urban planning undermine those efforts.