SANTA CLARA -- The San Francisco 49ers were finally ready to open Levi's Stadium on Sunday. Outside their new home, they blocked off streets, set up security lanes for fans and put up signs telling Niners faithful how to get around the massive, new structure.

The only thing missing? A boisterous crowd of about 70,000 fans, and, you know, an actual Niners game.

But following the time-tested mantra of coaches everywhere -- that practice makes perfect -- the Niners, city of Santa Clara and Valley Transportation Authority staged their first and only mock stadium event Sunday to test out the game-day plans they've been honing for years.

The "dry run" was an opportunity for the team to show anxious fans that it will indeed be ready when the stadium opens in less than five weeks. Traffic, parking and general questions about how everyone is going to get around on game days continue to be the top concern of fans. And Sunday's event was designed to make sure authorities will be as ready as possible for the unprecedented crush of people descending on suburban Santa Clara.

"We had some of those same concerns, when you're not necessarily sure that you've got it right," Jim Mercurio, the 49ers vice president of stadium operations and security, said during a break in the dry run. "It was actually very successful today. There hasn't been anything today that was an 'uh-oh, we forgot this.' What we learned was the plans that we had should work."


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Planned escape

Sure, there were no fans, but the simulation was no joke -- like the stadium's version of a hard-hitting exhibition game. Cops barked at drivers to move it along. VTA workers made sure the mobile Clipper Card readers worked under rapid-fire conditions. The Niners timed everything to make sure they knew exactly how long it would take fans to get through security gates. Workers barged into the chain-link fences to make sure drunken fans couldn't knock them over.

Overall, more than 100 workers were out there for about 12 hours testing their plans on a closed-off stretch of Tasman Drive, which runs the length of about five or six football fields. When they do the real thing, thousands of workers will be outside the stadium and will start setting up 24 hours before kickoff.

Fans will enter the stadium on foot along Tasman or from an expanse of parking lots that lead to three steel pedestrian bridges. They'll have to pass through metal detectors several hundred feet from the stadium entrance. Mercurio said anyone who reaches the outskirts of the stadium by 12:30 p.m. should have no problem being in their seat for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

On the way out, fans taking transit can tap a mobile Clipper Card reader or buy a ticket from a sales booth, then line up for one of the four light rail routes leaving the stadium. For fans driving home, officials warned it could take a "long, long time" to get out if you park in one of the few lots very close to the stadium.

The two big pieces of advice from officials: Come early if you can, and prepare your escape route -- including buying transit passes -- ahead of time.

Despite the drill, Mercurio conceded there's only so much planning they can do before the real thing. And a lot of fans aren't convinced it'll be so smooth.

"The stadium is going to be awesome, but the one concern is Candlestick was a nightmare getting in and out of there, and I'm not sure how much better it's going to be in Santa Clara," said season ticket holder Jeff Deeney, 41, of Foster City.

Fixing problems

But Levi's has advantages over Candlestick -- including many more freeway off-ramps and a train station outside -- which has some fans at least optimistic.

"It's going to be a learning process," said Dustin Guglielmelli, a season ticket holder from Dublin. "It's going to be 100 times better than Candlestick right off the bat. But you have to expect a learning curve to come with it."

Mercurio conceded problems are inevitable as fans adjust to the new routine, and the team, city, police, VTA and others will figure out after each game what they can do to improve. But he stressed that they're doing everything they can to prepare.

Nevertheless, there were some issues Sunday: They figured out they could squeeze more metal detectors onto the streets, that more barricades were needed and that some of the rope-lines simply looked ugly. But most of the problems were relatively minor.

The next weeks will be all about practice. On Tuesday, the VTA will hold a "dry run" of service at the Mountain View transit station to figure out the best way to get fans transferring from Caltrain onto light rail. Then VTA will test out its new special-event service by bringing crowds to downtown San Jose for the Fourth of July fireworks Friday.

But the final exam will come Aug. 2, when the stadium hosts its first event, a San Jose Earthquakes soccer match that should feature about two-thirds of the crowd expected for 49ers games, which start two weeks later.

"That's really what we're doing this for," VTA spokeswoman Colleen Valles said during the dry run, "to make sure we're ironing out the kinks ahead of time."

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at Twitter.com/rosenbergmerc.