– Traffic routes closed for 2010 party

Vancouver Sun

By Kelly Sinoski

2010sign2VANCOUVER – Vancouver will face one of its most ambitious tests during the 2010 Olympic Games as it attempts to move Super-Bowl-sized crowds around already-congested city streets and into the mountains in the dead of winter over 17 days.

To deal with the crush, Vanoc partners revealed this week they plan to close nine major routes in and out of the downtown core, convert 32 city blocks into pedestrian-only corridors, develop 170 Olympic bus lanes and increase the fleet of buses and SkyTrain to get more people using transit.

Cited as probably the largest single event ever held in Vancouver, the Winter Olympics will host up to 135,000 spectators a day in Vancouver, 58,000 in Whistler and 60,000 per day at Vancouver celebration sites.

With 10,000 accredited media, 5,500 athletes and a 55,000-member workforce, the daily number of people roaming the downtown core for Olympic entertainment on any given night would be equivalent to the crush after a summer fireworks night coupled with a Madonna concert, TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said.

The Olympics is considered a major challenge for both Vancouver and Whistler, which are restricted in size and are losing road capacity in their main centres because of geography; Vancouver is bound by bridges and water and Whistler by mountains.

Compared with Salt Lake City, which had five Olympic venues within a nine-kilometres radius of its downtown, Vancouver will have 10 venues within the same radius. Four of those are within one kilometre of the downtown.

While downtown residents will be encouraged to walk or cycle to the venues, and athletes, spectators and Olympic officials will have access to a Vanoc transit system running along priority Olympic bus lanes, others coming into the city won’t be able to leave unless they hitch a lift in a taxi or hop on a TransLink bus or SkyTrain.

This is because major routes in and out of the downtown core — including the Expo and Pacific boulevards, Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts and Renfrew Street between Hastings Street and McGill — will be fully or partially closed during the Games to limit the number cars on the road.

Extended parking restrictions, some of them in effect for 24 hours, will be in place along 650 city blocks. Another 32 blocks — along streets such Robson, Granville and Hamilton — will be converted into pedestrian-only corridors from noon to midnight every day.

Catherine Iannella, co-owner of Expedia Cruise Ship Centre, wonders how she and her clients will get to her storefront on Pacific Boulevard.

“We have clients who drive all the way down here to visit us,” said Iannella. “And we wouldn’t be able to access our own business.”

Darren Chiang, director of SKU Clothing on Hamilton Street in Yaletown, said that any time you lose parking and traffic flow, it’s bad for business.

“Even construction for a week is bad for business.

If they’re closing off the whole radius around here, I’m not sure how people are going to get through unless they take the new SkyTrain.”

Chiang has mixed feelings about the Olympics. “I’m not as worried as some. I’m a little more optimistic that the Olympics will drive traffic here. I believe overall it will drive more people here than normal. But the more parking available the better.”

Jennifer Ogilvie, who lives in a Yaletown condo, wonders how she’ll get to her software job in Richmond.

“I think it’s definitely going to be a pain. But I think obviously we have to understand that it’s only for the two weeks during the Olympics.

“But for those of us who have to commute in and out of the downtown, it’s going to be tricky.”

Her employer is thinking of having her work from home for those two weeks or living in the United States where her customers are based.

In Whistler, people won’t be allowed to drive into the village subdivisions without a permit as parking will be restricted to residents. A northbound checkpoint will also be established to discourage “unnecessary trips during peak periods.”

A new Olympic Express route will be added along Highway 99 with community bus service on five neighbourhood routes.

The aim, according to the Olympic transportation plan unveiled today is to reduce gridlock in the downtown core and in Whistler village during the two-week Games by reducing traffic by 30 per cent and boosting transit ridership by 33 per cent. This would see the number of transit users jump from 730,000 today to 960,000 by February 2010.

The cost of a return trip — offered by Vanoc — to Whistler for an Olympic spectator on the Olympic Bus Network is $25; a return trip to Cypress is $12. Departure points, such as Capilano and Simon Fraser universities and park and rides, will be set up around the region.

A two-zone transit pass — about $200 — will allow spectators total access to TransLink transit as part of their Games ticket. Regular transit buses will also have access to the Olympic lanes, which will be open 24 hours and run along routes such as Burrard and Granville and the approaches to the Lions Gate and Ironworkers Memorial bridges.

The surcharge on the ticket will cover administration costs, with $17.3 million going to TransLink.

The Olympic transportation plan is expected to kick into gear two weeks before the Games to ensure Metro Vancouver residents are prepared to take transit, walk or cycle around the city and into the mountains.

To keep people moving freely, Vanoc expects to have more than 950 buses and minibuses on the road to move athletes and other Olympic officials.

By then, TransLink will also have added another 200 buses, the Canada Line and 48 new SkyTrain cars, a third SeaBus, as well as another 180 buses on standby, for any added commuter crunches.

The West Coast Express will also add 80-per-cent capacity — or up to 2,000 people per day — with extra trips during the week and weekends, while temporary cycling routes will be added in the downtown core.

A free streetcar connecting Granville Island and the Canada Line will also be offered in January and February.

The closure of Metro Vancouver universities is expected to free up space on the transit system. Taxi capacity will be also be increased during the Games.

A Know Before You Go campaign will urge residents and commuters to plan ahead to get to events because of potential waits for transit, walks to the venues from transit dropoff points and the time it will take to clear security.

A trip from Surrey to Vancouver usually takes 40 minutes on SkyTrain, for instance, but travellers should probably give themselves an hour and a half to ensure they clear security and get to their seat on time.

The City of Vancouver is also preparing for potential problems in case of heavy snowfall.

The city plans to borrow or buy snow removal equipment to ensure the main roads will be clear in the wake of a heavy dump.

The Ministry of Transportation will also boost its snow removal equipment and plans to upgrade the Duffy Lake Road as a back way into Whistler in case of emergencies. An emergency ferry from Horseshoe Bay or Porteau Cove to Squamish is also in the works.

ksinoski@vancouversun.com

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