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Super Bowl Impact: How will the big game affect your commute?

Although the Super Bowl game is taking place in Santa Clara, the majority of pre-game celebrations will take place in busy downtown San Francisco and along the Embarcadero.

They will last for nine days — Jan. 30 through Feb. 7. Traffic re-routes are already in effect, and an estimated one million visitors are going to start flooding into the Bay Area in just a few days. This is going to effect, not only traffic and public transportation, but how some companies conduct their business.

Starting Saturday, the corner of Market and Spear will swarm with people wandering around Super Bowl City presented by Verizon—a corporate-driven free “fan village” for visitors to watch performances, eat food, and generally celebrate football. It’s also where Byron Yoanidis sells bouquets out of Trolley Bus Flowers.

Yoanidis is worried. He’s worried that he won’t be able to get to work easily. And more importantly, he’s worried about how he’s going to transport his flowers to work.

"How am I going to carry my flowers? You know, I go to the flower market at 4, 4:30 in the morning," he tells me. "I bring my flowers here so I can make a living out of it."

Not just during Super Bowl festivities

That's one of the things that Peter Albert, Planning Director at the SFMTA, is trying to figure out.

"This is nine days of Super Bowl City and the NFL experience, but it actually is even more days in terms of traffic issues," Albert explains. Both events have installations that have to be set up ahead of time, like the Fan Energy Dome powered by SAP,  which will have ‘interactive gaming and data visualizations,’ or Hyundai’s Blue Drive Lounge which will display eco-friendly vehicles.

So, there's actually 21 days of traffic implications.

Important things to know

  1. If you can avoid it, don’t drive downtown. Streets will be closed, parking will be limited, and traffic will be bad.
  2. If you take a bus that stops along the last couple blocks of Market Street, check the SFMTA website to find out how it will be rerouted - at least 17 different routes are being rerouted. Muni Metro and BART will be running regularly - in fact, BART is going to beef up its service - but both will be crowded.
  3. Pedestrian and cyclist access will be more limited and rerouted.

Escalator Woes

This kind of planning is really complicated. The SFMTA needs to work with other city departments, homeland security, and of course, the NFL Host Committee. The problems they're tackling range from how to help merchants like Yoanidis conduct business, to figuring out what to do with the Muni escalators.

These escalators break pretty frequently with regular use. And at big events?

"More often than not if we leave the escalators on they will definitely break fairly early in the evening," says Chris Grabarkiewctz, director of Security at SFMTA. He's speaking to the Citizen’s Advisory Council meeting, a group of people who provide recommendations to the SFMTA. And the Council does not like the idea of stationary escalators—particularly council member Mark Ballew.

"I’m outraged that that’s even being considered," Ballew says. "I mean the elevators are a non-option here." He continues, "They don’t have the throughput to carry wheelchair users, let alone anybody else."

In the end, the council passes a motion recommending that SFMTA keep the escalators open.

The complications of coordinating

The argument about the escalators represents one of the smaller controversies surrounding this Super Bowl. Take for example the overhead Muni wires. In November of 2014, there was much speculation that the SFMTA might actually take them down for the San Francisco Super Bowl events, due to concern the structures might get caught in the wires. .

"It's not stringing Christmas lights, it's a much more complicated deal than that," Albert tells me. "When we were able to make that really clear and show how much the cost and the long term implication would be, we got a very good supportive responses from the Host Committee."

But changing that element of the set-up complicated planning. And as planning has gotten more complicated, it's also gotten more expensive. The transportation is the biggest part of the city’s projected costs for the Super Bowl - and that number has been steadily rising. Currently it’s going to cost a projected 2.3 million dollars for transportation, and a little less than 5 million dollars total. And the more-than-million-dollar question? Who’s going to pay for it.

"What we've done is we've done what we can do best which is figure out who's involved," Albert tells me. "How much they need to be involved track those hours. Cost those hours. Figure out is there any capital. Like infrastructure changes do we need a new switch in our intersections and yes we needed a couple. We documented all that we put that into a spreadsheet and we put a cost to that."

The SFMTA will hand that information off to the mayor’s office, who’s said the city will cover the costs.

But Albert says that money is going to help with some lasting changes, like investments in the overhead wire system that were needed.