Vancouver to reduce downtown traffic

Targets a 30 per cent decrease in downtown traffic for Games

By BOB MACKIN, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER - Boosters of the 2010 Winter Olympics boast that Vancouver is the biggest Winter Games’ host city in history.

But if weather, local commuters and companies operating buses from as far away as Alabama don’t do their part, Vancouver 2010 could be the winter version of Atlanta 1996 where athletes were late for competitions.

VANOC and the City of Vancouver have set a 30 per cent reduction in downtown traffic as the goal to accommodate 1,100 chartered buses and 4,500 General Motors cars and trucks carrying athletes, officials, Olympic and sponsor executives and media. The drastic measures include closure of downtown’s only elevated expressway and implementation of exclusive lanes for VANOC-permitted traffic.

Use of curb lanes for parking or driving on some of the city’s busiest routes is banned for both public vehicles and taxis until March 1. A security perimeter around the east end of False Creek has enveloped B.C. Place Stadium, General Motors Place and the Vancouver Olympic Village and the Cambie Bridge is closed from noon to midnight during on Feb. 12 and 28.

Authorities want Vancouverites to park their cars and take transit, bike or walk. But bikes are banned from the SkyTrain rapid transit system at Games-time and some bike routes are closed altogether because of the security overlay at venues.

SkyTrain president Doug Kelsey, a senior member of the Olympic and Paralympic Transport Team admitted that during peak hours, commuters could face waits of more than an hour to get on a bus or rapid transit.

“Come down and enjoy it but don’t take your car downtown,” said Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem, who is also a VANOC director.

A campaign to encourage drivers to be Travel Smart on the last five Fridays before the Games failed to reach traffic reduction goals.

Meanwhile, the company operating a fleet of more than 200 public transit buses with California licence plates scrambled Feb. 4 to quell a mutiny among bus drivers who were working up to 18 hours a day. The Edison Transportation buses were parked for a day and replaced with Coast Mountain public transit buses and drivers while the company recruited more drivers.

Most buses in the fleet chartered by VANOC’s Florida-based contractor Gameday Management Group are outfitted with GPS units to help prevent drivers from getting lost.

VANOC executive vice-president Terry Wright said the bus troubles are not unexpected.

“That’s a natural situation when you begin transportation at Olympic Games,” Wright said.

Adding to the frustration are threats by anti-Olympic protesters to block traffic.

“If you block a major artery that commerce, industry, business and the opening ceremonies require, the tolerance of police is likely to change quickly,” warned Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit chief Bud Mercer.

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