Chase Center crowds pack a Muni platform awaiting the T-Third train and S-Castro Shuttle after a Metallica concert September 6, 2019. Photo by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

No traffic, no problems: Chase Center’s transit push strikes sweet note for Metallica concert

Traffic? What traffic?

Metallica fans by the thousands flooded Chase Center arena’s opening night, Friday, but few found themselves stuck in bumper-to-bumper madness.

Instead, an estimated 16,000 concert-goers seemingly got the message: Don’t drive near the arena.

They rode gliding Muni trains. They head-banged aboard swift-moving bus shuttles. They crested waves aboard ferries. They pedaled atop bikes. They canoodled romantically in pedicab carriages. They zoomed on e-scooters.

And yes, some braved light Mission Bay traffic snug in their Ubers.

Those that did drive parked far enough away from Chase Center to ensure the crippling traffic snarl that many feared never materialized. While one vehicle collision on Third and Mission Streets gummed up traffic briefly, trains filled with concert-goers circumvented the aftermath speedily.

And the absence of car-carnage on Chase Center’s doorstep was a relief to many concert-goers who spoke to the San Francisco Examiner.

“I was really surprised,” said Kara Sato, who rode an Uber from Nob Hill. She was dropped off in one of Chase Center’s designated ride-hail dropoff zones. “It was a really short” ride, she said.

It was a hotly anticipated night as San Franciscans and Bay Area denizens were buffeted with warnings from Mayor London Breed and Golden State Warriors officials that driving would be the worst possible option for Chase Center travel.

Fears ran high: Across the street, UCSF Medical Center staff assembled in a “war room” armed with land-line phones, hoping to guide patients and doctors through any possible transit crunch.

The Warriors even ponied up funding to make Muni free for Chase Center-goers. That was viewed as a key move since on-site parking is largely non-existent for most headed to the arena, which expects a ceiling of 9,000 people for most events, but an estimated 2,000 or so parking spaces nearby.

The Metallica concert, however, was estimated to draw 16,000 people. So did the Warriors’ gamble on transit work?

If the free flowing traffic of Mission Bay revealed anything, the answer is a resounding yes. There is a caveat: Fine-toothed Chase Center traffic data will not be available until arena officials release surveys to The City in coming weeks, and until transit officials tally ridership after this weekend.

Battle plan

From the observations of the San Francisco Examiner, and numerous interviews conducted outside Chase Center, as well as conclusions based on available traffic data via Waze, Google Maps and available San Francisco traffic alerts, the transit plan was executed with few hitches.

It’s no wonder — a veritable army of employees were dispatched to make sure everything went smoothly. Squads of traffic cops patrolled the arena on their motorcycles, and numerous San Francisco police patrolled the newly rebuilt double-size train platform on Third Street, across from Chase Center.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also deployed 26 parking control officers to direct traffic, bolstered by neon-yellow jacket-wearing members of the Muni Transit Assistance Program — staff experienced at coordinating knots of ornery San Francisco Giants fans after ballgames.

Lastly, untold hundreds of Chase Center employees in black jackets roamed Chase Center’s “Thrive City,” the plaza that serves as the arena’s front yard, ushering people in to hear Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” for the thousandth time.

No car, no problem

Examiner reporters themselves arrived by transit, taking a 25-minute T-Third train ride from Powell Station all the way to Chase Center’s front door. But the easy ride wasn’t unique.

Nearby transit flowed as harmoniously as the San Francisco Symphony’s duet with Metallica, transit-goers said.

Danielle and Craig Ross arrived at Chase Center by Muni’s T-Third train, but each started their journey separately. Danielle took a ferry from Marin and connected to a T train at Embarcadero Station. Craig drove up from Cupertino, parked by the water, and rode the T from Embarcadero, too.

“It was actually a lot better than I thought it’d be,” Craig said. Danielle called the trip “easy.”

Just behind Danielle and Craig Ross, pedicabs streamed across Third Street, filled with chain-wearing conert-goers clad all in black. E-scooters from companies Scoot and Skip were spotted locked to banisters all around Chase Center.

Muni and neighborhood traffic were both briefly gummed up by a traffic collision at Third and Mission Bay Streets, but ultimately only one T-Third train had to be circumvented around the incident, according to the SFMTA.

Perhaps oddly, the longest line to be found outside Chase Center wasn’t one to enter the arena, it was the line for official Metallica merchandise outside the west entrance where the majority of attendees were estimated to arrive.

Stuck in the long merch line were mother and daughter Jennifer McClellan and Celeste Venega. Their mode of travel to Chase Center was simple: They walked. (And, admittedly, hit a few bars on their way down from the Hilton Hotel in the Financial District, they noted with a laugh).

The two are locals, from Antioch and Santra Cruz, respectively, so they knew the walk would be quick. Venega even played Pokemon Go on her way down — she caught a rare “shiny” creature, a bonus.

Around the south side of Chase Center, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition ran a free “bike valet” service for event-goers arriving on two wheels. About 30 bikes were hoisted on racks in a small inset lobby built into the arena’s side.

“I’m super thankful it’s here,” said Nate Brennand, who had biked down with Sam Vahia from Market and Eighth Streets. “We got here in fifteen minutes from SoMa,” Vahia said.

While people arrived at Chase Center in an orderly fashion, Daisy Avalos from the Muni Transit Assistance Program said that was the “easy part,” because people arrive over the course of hours. When they leave, however, it’s all at once.

That can be chaos.

“It’s the after-event when we see what we’ve got to tidy up on,” Avalos said.

‘Exit light, enter night’

After Metallica’s last bow, Chase Center’s crowds flooded out by the thousands.

Julie Kirschbaum and Tom Maguire, SFMTA’s director of transit and acting agency director, respectively, stood atop a tall set of stairs in Chase Center’s plaza to survey the crowd’s movements. While there were few problems, the exit didn’t go as expected.

SFMTA had its trains sitting, awaiting passengers at the newly rebuilt, double-long train platform across the street from Chase Center. But from the tall vantage point the SFMTA directors stood from, it was easy to see the first wave of concertgoers opting to walk up Third Street towards the parking lot across from Oracle Park — leaving the train platform unused.

Muni’s first round of trains departed, mostly empty, before the first crowds started swarming the platform. They weren’t kept waiting long, and the trains arrived at rapid-fire speed until the area was clear.

Even Uber didn’t see too much of the dreaded “surge” pricing. An UberX trip to the Marina District from Chase Center is about $16 in off-peak hours, but hit $34 after the event. That’s not great, sure, but it’s also not the astronomical pricing seen at other city events.

Perhaps that makes the Warriors officials sages, as before the event, they sounded a note of confidence.

“While some learning curves are to be expected, we have engaged in a full-court press to educate people on the best ways to get to Chase Center, which are to ride a bike, walk or take public transit,” said PJ Johnston, a Warriors spokesperson. “And we will continue to improve on what’s working and what could work better.”

Metallica’s song “Fuel” opens, “gimme fuel, gimme fire gimme that which I desire” — but Metallica’s fans had little need for fuel Friday night as they zoomed off on Muni and BART back home.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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