49ers open new stadium, unleash traffic nightmare

The San Francisco 49ers‘ new stadium in Santa Clara had its soft opening on Saturday with a San Jose EarthquakesSeattle Sounders soccer match, and things went anywhere from pretty okay to terrible, depending on who you ask:

“I never had a feeling of pride in my stadium, but I went to Candlestick because that’s how I was raised,” said Alexis Marina Kershner, 34, of San Francisco. “I learned how to tailgate by the time I was 6, out in the parking lot, where it was cold and it was windy and my hot dogs blew away.

“But coming here? This is like a whole new level. This makes me proud.”

That’s good!

The VTA’s 5:54 p.m. train headed north from San Jose’s Tamien station was 10 minutes late. And then the power went off near the stadium stop — killing the air-conditioning. With panic levels rising, the cry went up to open emergency windows. A police officer on the platform raced up and slammed one window in a woman’s face; he later apologized. One pregnant woman nearly passed out.

That’s a lot less good! But hopefully the trains won’t break down every time.

With a goal of arriving 90 to 120 minutes before the 7:30 game (actual kickoff was at 7:53 p.m.), I followed the instructions on my parking pass, optimistically turning onto Tasman, the road that leads to the stadium, a little before 6 p.m. and hit gridlock. Complete and total, Candlestick-esque stopped traffic. It took a full hour to go one mile. But at least I was able to get one of the last parking spots when I finally got to my lot – which those behind me in the jam weren’t able to do. They were turned away and sought street parking in neighborhoods miles from the stadium, exactly the scenario many Santa Clara residents were concerned about…

The wireless crashed in the press box, just as it used to regularly do at Candlestick, and the TVs went out for a long stretch. Some ticket buyers who had tried to use the Levi’s Stadium phone app to buy parking passes before the game were unsuccessful. The sound system was muddied and roundly panned.

The will-call windows and security lines were jammed before game time. Many unhappy women didn’t realize they couldn’t bring their purses in – an NFL rule but not an MLS rule – and had to turn around and go back to their cars. Some security screening was lax and some elevators weren’t working. The women’s bathrooms, in at least one location, ran out of toilet paper.

That’s actually pretty awful!

Now, the whole point of a soft opening is to discover and fix problems like these, and some (“Buy more toilet paper!”) are easily enough fixed. A muddy sound system at what’s supposed to be a state-of-the-art stadium isn’t good, though, and traffic gridlock and insufficient parking — this at a game that only had about two-thirds as many fans as will be present for a 49ers game — isn’t promising at all. At worst, it sounds like 49ers fans will have traded a painful drive to a 50-year-old stadium for a painful drive to a brand-new one, and even if the concessions are now crazy expensive (“Are they paying for this place with beer?” one fan asked aloud on Saturday), at least they won’t be paying for it with tax dollars, only with PSLs. Which might be something they can look at as an investment, partly, maybe.

Meanwhile, no word that I’ve seen on how the app to tell you the shortest bathroom lines is working out. I am honestly stunned that, in Silicon Valley, this wasn’t the headline, but maybe all the tech reporters are still stuck in traffic…


27 comments on “49ers open new stadium, unleash traffic nightmare

  1. The Contra Costa Times reported that some of the traffic problems stemmed from Great America being busy. Apparently that won’t be a problem on Sundays.

  2. I can’t find that in the CC Times, but do now see it mentioned elsewhere:


  3. The 49ers lied about how putting a new stadium near candlestick was a deal-breaker because it would ruin traffic and tailgating, and everyone with eyes saw Saturday’s problems coming.
    The Yorks are hypocrites and don’t care about traffic. (Is the stadium still barred from having MNF due to lack of parking?)

  4. This is pretty much the same experience that I had going to the open house event on the 25th, and by pretty much I mean exact…same issue with traffic (Great America was not popping), terrible parking situation (no one even took our pass!), running out of supplies and food (with hardly any people comparatively), exorbitant prices for concessions and even more so for beer. Doesn’t sound like anyone in the planning department has learned anything. Its going to be a long season for season ticket holders, and this is just the beginning…

  5. Bob… do you remember what the beer prices were? Based on nothing besides the last 3-4 live sporting events I’ve been to, I get the feeling that owners have decided to test the limits of exactly how inelastic the demand for beer inside the stadium actually is and prices have spiked a couple of bucks pretty much everywhere.

  6. This will never happen but one thing killing the experience in the local rail line. Rip that thing up so that Tasman can be made a one way street on game days and this thing would work a lot better. Just run busses for public transportation like to Meadowlands Stadium.

  7. See, the thing that bothers me about this is that these entities are required to write an EIR, and then have it approved, and once it has been approved, they’re in the clear.

    It shouldn’t be that way. If the EIR says, “This won’t cause traffic issues!”, and then it turns out that they missed that mark by miles, then the ones who wrote and the ones who approved the EIR should be financially liable to resolve the problems. If that means they have to add a lane on the freeway for 2 miles in all applicable directions, then so be it.

    If this had REAL penalties, maybe EIRs wouldn’t turn out to be the steaming piles of bullshit they currently are. So sure, people can claim their EIR surpassed requirements, but it ain’t exactly like the requirements are worth a plug nickel.

  8. Yup it depends who you talk to! … I attended an Earthquakes ST tailgate in red lot 5 off Great america parkway, i pulled off 237 about 4pm there was no traffic, went the few blocks south and pulled into red lot 5. Like others have said, no one took my printed pre paid pass. So i wonder how they keep track if lots are full? Red lot 5 never got full i want to say it was 60% full, lot of empty spaces but don’t know if they were turning people away. ~15 min walk to stadium.

    Leaving i walked by a lot of grid lock traffic with in the first few blocks around the stadium after the Hyatt on Great America Parkway traffic was moving. From when the game ended, the walk back, the lolly gagging in the parking lot, to when i actually left the parking lot was an about an hour. Took maybe 15 min once on great america parkway to get to 237, then i was heading home.

    I didn’t try to pull up into the lots closest to the stadium an hour before the game, thats not going to be possible. Your going to have to arrive early and be prepared to hang out in your car after the game. From what i could see the closer the lot is to the stadium the more issues it has.

  9. Dan,

    Thanks for the attendance figures.

    Marie Denise York appears to live in Youngstown, Ohio. So how many 49ers games per year does she attend?

  10. A Personal Seat License (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_seat_license).

    It’s an option to buy a season ticket before you buy a season ticket. So the team can charge you twice for the same transaction.

  11. @kbredman, think of it as a one time “fee” for the right to be allowed by the team to purchase season tickets before any one else.

    Its like a costco membership card that requires you to spend X amount every year at costco, if not then you will lose it and all money they charged you to be a member.

  12. Guey, So you arrive three hours early and stay for two hours after the event and call this acceptable?

    Wow, I never thought of that. I could head out the door every morning at 3:00 AM and then sit in my car until 7:30 PM to avoid the rush-hour traffic. Not much time left in the day for anyting else, but I can avoid traffic.

  13. @RA, really? your comparing driving to work every day the same as going to an event 1 or 2 times year ( at least for me). ST holders maybe 10-12…

    No its not ideal, but knowing that no matter how much they plan there will always be congestion. Plan ahead, use some common sense, some walked longer distances to their rides/cars others hung out in the parking lot.

    But i know one thing, i was not stuck in traffic, it was not a nightmare, had a great time with friends and it was a neat experience.

  14. Congestion is one thing, gridlock is another. What I have heard described, both in articles and in traffic reports at the time, was gridlock.

    Not only people attending the game are affected. The stadium will likely be in use beyond the 10 to 12 times that the 49ers will be playing. As MikeM stated, the builders of such projects should be required to accurately identify the issues AND mitigate these problems. Expecting attendees to sit for three hours before an event and for three hours after is not mitigation and is not a valid solution.

    Bully for you that you were happy with the experience. I bet you don’t live or work in the area and thus will not have to put up with it for every event. And for those who do, yes, it is comparable to commuting to work.

  15. Looking at the satellite images of the lot design, it looks like a part of the problem is it was designed for to make it easier for the operators to manage prepay-ed passes or charge on the spot, rather than making ingress/egress the priority.

  16. This is all part of the master plan…

    The one thing sports team owners have not yet had the stones to do is charge fans to leave the stadium/parking lot after the game. It’s coming… you are all falling into their carefully crafted web… again…

  17. Well now, isn’t this exciting?


    (I don’t like it either, especially when I found out that SBH wants to be in on this. Between this and the arena, we’ll be in deep with the Vampire Squid.)

  18. @Mike M – Yes, there was an EIR. The 49ers paid for it. The parking and traffic portion of the EIR predicted a level of service of ‘F’ at intersections near the stadium – that’s complete gridlock. Our City Council knew this and approved the EIR anyway. It isn’t a matter of the EIR hiding the truth – the truth was exposed and our Council and the 49ers wanted a stadium in that location so badly that they just ignored the EIR.

    No one seems to care about the residents who live on the north side. They are getting caught up in this awful traffic and can’t go about their normal routines. Neighborhoods were supposed to be protected with ‘neighborhood intrusion controls’ to keep stadium patrons from parking up the streets – that didn’t happen last Saturday, and residents are hopping mad about it.

    We have a City Council which all live in the older, single family low-density residential area of Santa Clara, far from the stadium, so our council members don’t have to experience the traffic that our north side residents experience.

  19. Interesting that the area’s provincialism shows itself in the reporting, San Who-say? paper is glowing, East Bay rag with some criticism and the Frisco locked gate puts the hammer down. After my time there this is not surprising.
    BTW – Has the little detail of air traffic problems (noise etc.) been addressed?

  20. Candlestick was 2-2.5 hours just to get to the freeway. At Levi’s at least its around an hour which is actually a huge improvement.

    I was on the VTA train that lost AC. The train was so over capacity it could not move with the AC on. So we suffered big time. An old lady in my car almost popped the emergency window open but people stopped knowing it would stop the train period.

    It was miserable, but good news is they now have data on which lines most people are coming from on VTA and new tracks being installed to be able to send out more trains after the game.

    This is what happens when you build something that houses thousands and thousands of people. You take the data you get and make improvements.

    The Giants and A’s both wanted this site years ago so the 49ers going after should be no surprise to anyone.

    In the end, VTA will be far improved and traffic out of the lots will be down to 30-45 waiting to get to the freeway after games.

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