Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 | 2 a.m.
To the roughly 20,000 people the Raiders expect to walk from the Strip to every home game: Never fear, because we tested out the sweaty hike Sunday afternoon, years before you have to do it.
Joined by Sun photographer Steve Marcus, I set out from Mandalay Bay on a cloudless 90-degree afternoon with a goal few Las Vegas natives ever achieve — walk to your destination. We encountered more angry drivers (one) than fellow pedestrians (zero), and discovered how visitors might enjoy an easier time getting to the stadium on foot than locals.
The parking study conducted this summer for the franchise by engineering firm Kimley-Horn estimates half of a 65,000-person Raiders capacity crowd will arrive from out of town. Of those 32,500 people, the study concludes 19,693 will choose to walk 20 to 25 minutes from hotel rooms within a mile instead of driving or using ride-share or cabs.
In the name of science and research, I started Sunday morning by taking in the early NFL games at the Mandalay Bay sports book. Both locals and tourists might spend their pregame time at the book before a Raiders kickoff at 1:30 p.m., enjoying a hot dog and a libation. Clearly we must replicate the actual conditions of football fandom as accurately as possible.
My drive begins at 9:25 a.m. in Green Valley and lands me in a Mandalay Bay parking space at 9:38 a.m. Don’t expect a breezy 13-minute commute and a reasonable $10 parking charge on game day in 2020, but it works well today.
Within 15 minutes, the last open seat in the sports book becomes mine. Around me are NFL jerseys from across the spectrum of popularity, with the Raiders well-represented by multiple Derek Carr shirts and a Bo Jackson throwback. Over the sports book loudspeaker comes this cheeky call at 9:57 a.m.: “Two minutes to the kickoff of the NFL. We haven’t met our quota, so the big screen will be showing the Kardashians.” It’s no surprise that the Raiders game gets the audio in the book as we kick off the 2017 season.
About noon, we leave the icy air conditioning and begin the walk around the same time we expect fans might. We exit the garage at the property’s west end at 12:08 p.m., and walk across the lanes of traffic entering and exiting. Not much activity at this midday hour, though, so we quickly advance to the traffic light at Hacienda Avenue and start our uphill journey along the freeway overpass as a nasty wind gust blows some convection-oven heat in our faces.
The bridge covers the majority of the journey from the hotel to the stadium site, spanning a total of 26 lanes of traffic on Frank Sinatra Drive, Dean Martin Drive, and Interstate 15 (and its dubious collector-distributor roads).
The narrow sidewalk on the south side of the street will not accommodate more than two people shoulder to shoulder, which could cause a problem once thousands of people take to them. The Kimley-Horn plan calls for a new pedestrian overpass spanning I-15 at Hacienda, though. Our experience suggests that option needs strong consideration, especially if the Las Vegas Monorail is extended to Mandalay Bay.
This is a low-effort walk for those in moderate or better health, but anyone with a disability or limited mobility could find it challenging. The initial grade of the overpass will not be as welcoming as the one stretching from the Coliseum BART station in Oakland to the stadium entrance.
We cross the overpass and reach the edge of the stadium site at Aldebaran Avenue in a little more than 11 minutes, the walk covering just less than a half-mile. The first time we must stop to let a car pass happens after we turn at Aldebaran and cross the small road connecting to Dean Martin, which fronts the area of the stadium’s planned north entrance.
It’s a much easier trek than expected, although adding the distance from Excalibur, Tropicana, New York-New York or MGM Grand could increase the difficulty. The Raiders study anticipates more than 8,400 of those walking to launch from Mandalay Bay, Delano or Luxor, though, giving us a good read on the trip for the bulk of those on foot.
Continuing on toward the intersection at Polaris Avenue, we prepare to explore the walk for locals coming up Russell Road from the Bali Hai Golf Club — the dream parking and tailgating site for the Raiders at 13,000 spaces. (A federal lawsuit and a lessee on his way to prison complicate that site quite a bit, but it’s worth a few minutes while we are already out in the heat.)
So far, we have encountered no other pedestrians in the commercial and light industrial area adjacent to the 62-acre stadium site. Standing at the intersection of Hacienda and Polaris at 12:35 p.m., we first begin to feel the glare of the afternoon sun as a man behind the wheel of a silver Ford Focus with "Welcome to Las Vegas" license plates rolls down his window. He surveys us briefly before yelling, “Raiders suck!”
Noted, sir. Thanks.
Along Polaris, the sidewalk buckles up into a small mound in one spot near Russell Road, forcing a detour into the street. Otherwise, our only obstacle is sweat and thirst as we pass 30 minutes totally exposed to the sun. The 94-degree high on Sunday falls one degree shy of the historical average for Sept. 10 and just two degrees below the day’s record high of 92 in Oakland. The historical highs in Las Vegas for Sundays in September do not dip below 90.
Again walking uphill to cross the freeway at Russell Road, its entrance and exit on I-15 present more problems than going on Hacienda. Twice we stop at traffic lights and allow cars to enter and exit the freeway before waiting again at 12:59 p.m. for traffic entering northbound I-15 from westbound Russell. There’s no light or stop sign here, meaning foot traffic and cars must cooperate; at least one will back up. Fortunately, the second car — a black minivan with California plates — lets us continue back toward the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
Our roughly one-mile walk takes 25 minutes including the stops at lights, but clearly would be a bit shorter for fans entering the stadium from the south. The extra distance to the nearby Bali Hai property would add at least 10-15 minutes.
Overall, the heat is noticeable but manageable. After a couple of brews and burgers at a nearby tailgate, it might take more of a toll, but nothing a hearty football fan could not endure. Tight, cracked sidewalks will need attention, as will options for those with mobility concerns if the Raiders expect almost 20,000 people to make the walk into Raider Nation.