Durable Growth, Transportation

NFL called for intentional grounding, penalty is loss of credibility

Transit in San Francisco

Transit in San Francisco

Back in 2012, the NFL was eager to tout the urbanist pleasures of Superbowl XLVI in Indianapolis, where many of Superbowl week venues, including the stadium, were within walkable distance of the host hotels.  Four years later, the NFL keeps stubbing its urbanist toe.

The first urbanist bust was at Superbowl XLVIII.  The NFL failed to account for the increasing use of transit to reach major sporting events and gave New Jersey transportation officials bad estimates of the division between car passengers and transit riders for game day planning.  When far more fans used transit than expected, the results were overcrowded cars and long wait times.

And now, in the run-up to Superbowl L, the NFL has misread the changing urban realities once again.

Having decided that most Superbowl festivities should be in San Francisco, rather than 45 miles south in Santa Clara where Levi’s Stadium is located, NFL officials have been meeting with representatives of the City of San Francisco to discuss event coordination.  One request recently made of the City was for the temporary removal of the overhead electric bus wires along Market Street.

I understand the motivation behind the request.  The overhead wires are ugly and detract from the vista down Market Street toward the Ferry Building and San Francisco Bay.  I’ll celebrate on the day when evolving technology allows the wires to be removed.

But until then, the overhead wires and the buses fed by them are key links in the San Francisco transit system.  While the NFL reportedly offered to reimburse the City for the estimated $1 million cost to remove and later replace the wires, no acknowledgments were offered to the commuters or businesses who would be inconvenienced by the weeks when the transit system would be compromised.

Luckily for all, the NFL recognized the problems with the request and soon withdrew it.  But having made the request at all shows urban colorblindness in NFL headquarters.

Choosing San Francisco over Santa Clara as the center of Superbowl festivities correctly acknowledged the fundamental role of major cities.  But cities are multi-layered entities with complex internal logic.  To blithely tinker with one element, such as a portion of the transit system, without trying to understand the integrated whole was akin to buying the Mona Lisa because of her enigmatic smile, but with the intention of adding braces.

It’s not that cities can’t be modified.  Indeed, they can be and must be.   But those changes must be carefully proposed and vetted considering all the ramifications, not suggested only to provide better photo opportunities for a week of football tourists.

Hopefully, the NFL will begin to grasp that urban reality before Superbowl LI.

Milestone Note: The first post in this blog was published on the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend of 2011.  Thus, this post is the end of my fourth year.  When I began, I had no expectation of how long I would continue.  But I kept finding topics about which I wanted to write and somehow the years passed by.

Thanks for coming along, reading, commenting, and being tolerant when I struggled to find my voice.

I have no plans yet to cease my efforts.  Instead, I’ll be back here in couple of days, starting my fifth year.  I hope you’ll be here also.  And if you want to bring a friend, I wouldn’t complain.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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