SAN FRANCISCO -- There's no way around it: If you visit San Francisco on this insanely busy autumn weekend, your experience is bound to include some degree of transportation-related torture.

Unless you have a helicopter to drop you off by rope ladder at Willie Mays Plaza or Marina Green, be ready to pump the brakes and grumble on the freeway, or pack chest-to-back into trains filled with fellow baseball, football, yachting, music or air-show enthusiasts.

Public safety and transportation officials are telling anyone heading into the city Saturday and Sunday to plan ahead, leave early and use public transportation if at all possible -- then take a deep breath and succumb to two days of record-threatening population density.

"We've never seen anything like it," said Laurie Armstrong, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Travel Association. "We can't think of anything in the past where there were this many major events happening at the same time. It could potentially be the biggest weekend ever."

The association estimates 1 million spectators will take in two Giants playoff games, the 49ers-Bills game, the America's Cup, Fleet Week and the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. But that may be a conservative figure, Armstrong said, considering everything else going on, from the Castro Street Fair to the Italian Heritage Parade. The city's population may well double.

"On top of everything else we're having a French cheese day," said Armstrong, referring to a pop-up tasting event Sunday at Minna Gallery.

Both Muni and BART are boosting service, anticipating that public transit will be stretched to the limit. Muni will have extra trains plus several special lines: the E streetcar will run from the Caltrain station to Fisherman's Wharf and buses will take people directly from the Civic Center to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park and Marina Green for Fleet Week and the America's Cup.

BART will run longer trains plus 16 special-event trains on Saturday and 22 on Sunday for people attending the Giants game and other major events.

Muni spokesman Paul Rose said people coming into the city from the East Bay or South Bay should take Caltrain or BART, then transfer to Muni, walk or ride a bike. Bicycles are available for rental, and an extra northbound bike lane will be added along the Embarcadero, removing a lane for vehicle traffic.

People who need to park at their local BART station should give themselves extra time to look for a spot. BART riders should buy a round-trip ticket before leaving for the city.

"That way you're not stuck waiting in line to buy the return trip when you're coming home," said BART spokesman Jim Allison, noting that Clipper cards allow for easy transfer between Caltrain, BART and Muni.

A Bay Bridge backup, 2009.
A Bay Bridge backup, 2009. (San Francisco Chronicle, Noah Berger)

Caltrain is rolling out its normal weekend schedule of 36 trains on Saturday and 32 on Sunday plus its usual two extra trains for fans leaving the Giants games. Spokeswoman Christine Dunn said the railway has limited equipment but will monitor ridership and boost train service where possible. There will be extra staff at the San Francisco depot to direct riders.

For those who must drive, the CHP advises carpooling, leaving early -- as in, an hour to several hours early -- and calling 511 or visiting www.511.org to plan out their routes.

"It's just going to be really, really busy," said California Highway Patrol Officer Mike Ferguson, "so people just need to be prepared and patient and safe."

Ferguson said congestion is certain to be heavy on the Bay Bridge and at the toll plaza, Highway 101 by Candlestick Park, and the Embarcadero. CHP will have additional patrols and tow trucks on the road for safety and to keep traffic flowing.

A common source of traffic backups in these circumstances is a car that runs out of gas, so Ferguson recommends that people fill up their tanks before leaving to account for time spent idling in traffic.

And yes, he knows gas prices are high. Still, he says, "If they have just enough to get where they're going, it's probably not enough."

Parking in the city will range from difficult to impossible, but the city is adding seven special-event parking areas near transit: two near Golden Gate Park, where Hardly Strictly Bluegrass organizers are also adding five lots at surrounding schools; three at the Civic Center; one near Union Square; and one by AT&T Park.

San Francisco Bay Ferry will more than triple its normal weekend service between the East Bay and San Francisco. Extra boats will make the trip between Jack London Square and the San Francisco Ferry Building, between Vallejo and San Francisco, and from Vallejo, Alameda and Oakland to AT&T Park.

Staff writer Mike Rosenberg contributed to this report. Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.

how to get there

What to do if you're heading into San Francisco this weekend:

  • If you're driving, call 511 or visit511.org to plan your trip. Leave early and make sure to fill up your gas tank before you go. Check out the map in the Muni brochure at bottom for locations of special parking areas. Visit the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass site for locations of additional event parking (www.hardlystrictlybluegrass.com/2012/info.shtml).
  • If you're taking BART (www.bart.gov) for Fleet Week and the America's Cup, go to the Embarcadero station and transfer to Muni (www.sfmta.com) to head to Fisherman's Wharf (F, FS or 4 lines) or Marina Green (4 or DT lines). You can also get to Marina Green from the Civic Center station on the 10, 47 or 47L (a special direct line). For Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, consider getting off at the Civic Center and taking the direct 5L or another line to Golden Gate Park. For the Giants, get off at Embarcadero or Montgomery station and transfer to Muni rail or even walk.
  • Caltrain (www.caltrain.com) will take you directly to AT&T Park for the Giants games. To get to Fleet Week/America's Cup, transfer to Muni service running along the Embarcadero, including a special E line.
  • For a map of special events this weekend, go to http://511.org/docs/americascup/AC34_October_Week_Events_2-7_120921.pdf
  • See Muni's Fleet Week/America's Cup brochure, including maps, at http://www.sfmta.com/cms/malerts/documents/AC34MuniVisitorBrch10.12FPOopt.pdf.

    Source: Staff research