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Olympics to push public transportation

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Expect long walks, lots of buses

Although nobody is going to force locals to stay off the highway and ride the bus for two weeks, the Olympic transportation work group for the Whistler area says they will do everything in its power to encourage residents and visitors to take public transit – by hook or by crook.

"We’re not going to put up road blocks in town, but we are hoping we can encourage people to use public transit, just while the Olympics are in town," says work group member Bill Murray, who spoke at the latest Vancouver Whistler 2010 Bid fireside chat on Dec. 6. Dena Coward, another member of the work group, was also present to help answer questions.

The focus of the work group, one of three different transportation groups working on the bid project, includes transportation between Whistler and the proposed Nordic facilities in the Callaghan Valley, and public transportation within Whistler during the Games. The other two groups are looking at transportation in Vancouver, and potential upgrades and alternatives to the Sea to Sky Highway.

And like other Olympic plans that have been presented, nothing is written in stone at this point. "A lot could change before 2010," says Murray.

On peak Olympic days, the transportation groups expect upwards of 60,000 spectators and day skiers to make the round trip from Vancouver to Whistler.

Separate arrangements are being made for the more than 2000 athletes taking part in events in Whistler and the Callaghan Valley, plus coaches, race officials, security personnel, media and volunteers.

Murray estimates that it will take 600 buses, leaving staging areas around Vancouver over a three-hour period, to handle traffic on the busier days – 10 times as many tour buses as currently come to Whistler on the busiest day of the year. As in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, all event tickets sold will include a seat on a bus.

Whistler residents will be encouraged to stay off the highway during the times slotted for the arrival of the buses, and some kind of pass system will be used on the highway to turn back people who don’t have hotel bookings or a residence in Whistler. Day skiers will also have to use mass transportation.

"All of the parking lots will be gone," says Murray. "There’s no public parking in any of the five day lots."

Lot one will be used for awards ceremonies and other special presentations. Lots two and three will be used to park and unload tour buses, and further overflow lots might be required at Spruce Grove on the busier days. Lot four will be turned into a public transportation hub for the expanded Whistler and Valley Transit Express (WAVE) system. Parking lots at Base II and Creekside will also be closed to the public.

"Yeah, that’s part of it, it’s a big disincentive," admitted Murray, when asked if the lot closures were part of the plan to keep cars off the road. "If there’s no place to park their vehicles, we hope people will get onto the public transportation system."

While you can still drive into town and take your chances finding a parking spot, the transportation group is putting together a plan to make public transit more desirable to local commuters and resort employees who reside in Pemberton and Squamish.

Scott Pass of Whistler Transit estimates that WAVE will have 30 buses on the road by 2010, and could bring in a hundred more buses and drivers to beef up service on residential routes. At this point in the planning, the local bus system will also be free during the Olympics.

The Creekside base parking lot will be closed to the public for security reasons, and because it’s being used as an access point for athletes, event people and the media. For the Creekside events, including the downhill races, the transportation group is looking into using the train as an alternative to buses for spectators coming from Vancouver. Either way, spectators will disembark on the west side of Highway 99. A temporary highways overpass will be built to get people to Creekside events, and a permanent tunnel will be built under the highway for people leaving.

Base II will be a finish area for many events on Blackcomb, and a staging area for others. Spectators attending events on Blackcomb will have no choice but to walk from the day lots to Base II. Exceptions will be made for elderly and disabled sports fans.

"It seems like a long way, but it’s actually not as bad as it sounds," says Murray. "At Salt Lake City spectators for some events are looking at a two mile walk. At Sydney, it was over a mile to get to many of the events."

According to Todd Allison, the manager of the Telus Whistler Sports Centre, spectators at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games had to walk halfway up the mountain at Nakiska to watch some alpine skiing.

Logistics are only part of the reason for the long walks. From a ticket checking, security and crowd control perspective, the walk will prevent crowds from arriving in one big group. It will stagger the arrival of visitors to the competition sites, and make it easier to conduct searches and other security checks.

The Callaghan Valley, which will host Nordic competitions and possibly the bobsled/luge/skeleton events, will see up to 20,000 visitors on peak days. The only access to the valley will be by bus. The majority of these will travel from Vancouver, although a few buses will travel south for people staying in Whistler.

There are still a few details to work out that are crucial to the transportation plan, including the location of the athlete’s village, and the timing and staging of events.

"We’re going to have open houses in Whistler with all the different working groups, so if anyone has any ideas how to make the transportation plan better, we’d love to have them," says Coward. "Our job is to try and work out the issues as they come up."

The open house Olympic meetings will take place in the New Year.

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