Road Warrior: VANOC's logistics guru, Irene Kerr, at YVR
Irene Kerr, of all the Olympics officials, has perhaps the most thankless task. Kerr is the executive in charge of VANOC’s transportation and logistics team, overseeing a transportation system that’s expected to move a mind-blowing number of people. An estimated 5,500 athletes and Olympics officials, 12,000 media personnel and more than 50,000 workers will all need to travel between approximately 80 Olympic sites. The system will also have to handle 60,000 to 135,000 spectators each day (the population of Victoria is about 80,000, just for context), with more than 20,000 of those daily spectators shuttling between the Lower Mainland and venues at Cypress Mountain and Whistler (that’s a bit more than Whistler’s entire population).
All of the plans that VANOC, the host municipalities and Translink are making to ensure that the 2010 Olympics remain navigable depend on one crucial thing: convincing locals to keep their cars off the roads. And for this job, the planners turn to Translink’s outreach experts.
JoAnn Woodhall is a transportation demand management officer with Translink, and her job for the Games is to sell people on using transit. Her target audience for this project is HR execs and office managers at downtown companies with 50 or more employees. She figures that Translink’s best chance to change downtown travel behaviour on a large scale is to get these leaders to commit to a company-wide travel strategy. Woodhall has a team of 16 – some staff, some volunteers – who have so far visited more than 350 downtown businesses, potentially reaching tens of thousands of commuters.
The strategies a company can use are nothing revolutionary – more bike parking, carpooling, subsidized bus passes, telecommuting and altered work hours to relieve the rush-hour crunch – and so far the reception has been positive. “Ninety-eight per cent of people have gotten the idea why things need to be different,” Woodhall says. While she hopes her efforts will help keep traffic moving for those 17 days in February, she also has her sights set far beyond that time frame. That’s why Translink is offering a special transit pass for the Olympics that is good for six weeks – longer than the Games are in town. The expectation is that good habits might stick and that a certain number of new local users will continue to use “the better way” once the world has gone home.
And let’s not forget the equipment that needs to be hauled between VANOC’s 500,000-square-foot warehouse and the various sites, including more than one million square feet of tenting (twice the area offered by Vanouver’s combined convention centres), which will be set up for front- and back-of-house operations at the venues, and more than 44,000 chairs (more than twice the number of seats at GM Place Stadium), which will be used for such things as outfitting the Media Centre. Were you to line up VANOC’s fleet end to end, the sedans, pickup trucks, coach buses and various other vehicles would stretch from YVR to the entrance of Stanley Park, Kerr estimates.
“If you look at the size of the Olympics,” Kerr says, “it’s been said that it is the equivalent to hosting three Superbowls per day for 17 days.”
Another challenge is the downtown peninsula, which is in a curious double bind. Planners expect 30 per cent more trips into downtown compared to a regular weekday, and, on top of that, half of the roadways leading into downtown from the east – the non-bridge routes – will be closed as part of the stadium-area security plan.
Luckily, the planners dealing with all of this have a wealth of knowledge from past Olympics and other major events to work with, along with the combined expertise of Translink and municipal traffic planners, who have been bent over their statistical models for years looking for workable plans. The solutions they’re proposing look something like this:
• Olympic lanes For those drivers worried about having to share a lane with official Olympic traffic during the Games, don’t bother; it won’t be an option. Eight main arteries will have lanes exclusively reserved for certified Olympic vehicles and public transit, including Hastings Street in and out of downtown, a criss-cross of downtown roadways, as well as generous chunks of Broadway and Cambie Street south of the downtown peninsula.
• Downtown pedestrian zones Thirty-two downtown blocks will be turned into a pedestrian zone from noon to midnight during the Games, which is hoped to keep other important vehicle routes free of revellers. Noise restrictions are being adjusted to allow downtown businesses to get their deliveries after midnight.
• Expanded transit Smooth transportation around the Vancouver venues depends on people choosing transit over cars. Translink is counting on some big permanent system improvements to handle the unprecedented number of travellers, including the new Canada Line as well as 48 new SkyTrain cars, a third SeaBus and 200 new buses added since 2007. Temporary services for the Games include extra West Coast Express trips, 180 more buses and a streetcar service between the Canada Line and Granville Island.
• Coach buses VANOC is mobilizing a veritable armada of coach buses to bring spectators up and down the mountains during the Games. Some 3,000 bus drivers and about 1,000 buses are being brought in from across North America.