Transportation planning is critical to a successful Olympics (Part 3)
The 2012 Olympic Games in London kick off today, and over the past week I have shared some insights in terms of what organizers are dealing with in terms of public safety planning for the games, based on my experiences with the Salt Lake City Olympiad that was held a decade ago. (See Part 1: Olympics security requires an olympian effort and Part 2: Public safety at an Olympics is quite a challenge.) Today I'll conclude the series by discussing a few more challenges.
Traffic is a major issue for public safety during an Olympiad that requires working with the key constituents within the International Olympic Committee and the local community. Indeed, the logistics are so complex that this effort requires years of planning between all stakeholders. London is expecting 20 million spectator journeys, with 3 million trips alone on the busiest day.
More than 30 miles of London roads will provide dedicated access to Olympic venues. This disruption only will be in place for a few days before the games and through the closing ceremonies. The focus of the lanes will be athlete and media buses and vans. Although Athens had 99 miles of these lanes, some previous hosts — for example, Salt Lake City — decided against having them at all, because of the impact it would have had on the day-to-day lives of the locals.
With more than 200,000 volunteers, contractors and paid staff — as well as thousands of athletes — traversing these roads, they will be quite busy. One of the ways the Olympic committee and local law enforcement plan to relieve congestion is by encouraging fans to arrive early and leave the venue slowly, allowing the impact on mass transit and on roads to be more gradual. This can be facilitated by offering entertainment in and around venues to help keep spectators engaged and to encourage folks to arrive early. This also helps to shorten the overall queue for security lines and to improve the spectator experience.
Another tool that I have found to be very helpful in my past experience is to employ traffic and mass-transit modeling to detail when and where you think congestion issues will occur. This is money well spent, because it will indicate the three or four days that are most critical, and the times of day you will have the biggest issues.
For example, we realized that, if we had large semi trucks travelling Interstate 80 between Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah, on certain days, it would completely shut down traffic headed to the venues. The modeling helped us convince the Olympic committee to offer free buses from Salt Lake City to Park City to reduce highway traffic headed to park-and-ride lots near the venue. We also set up a major information campaign for large trucking and transportation companies to take Interstate 84 instead of I-80 on these days. We actually set up an information booth with free food at the port of entry coming into Utah from Wyoming to voluntarily ask the commercial drivers to avoid I-80. It worked extremely well.
The other tactic is to educate the public with media reports about how bad the roads will be, so they stay off the roads during the games, carpool with others, or ideally use mass transit. London is well positioned to do well in this regard, thanks to its extensive subway system known as the Tube, and the country's far-reaching rail network. Due to heavy traffic, London already has a congestion-pricing scheme that charges drivers entering the central part of the city. This makes it quite expensive to drive a car in London and all but discourages it on an everyday basis.
The Olympics present a unique opportunity to shine for public safety, due to the omnipresent media. This really will drive world perception of the public-safety effort related to the games. The London games will have 21,000 international media reporting on top-level stories and key local stories of interest to the 204 host countries. If the local agencies plan well, they will have public-information officers ready to talk about the extensive preparations each day leading up to the games and even more during the Olympics themselves. Twenty-one thousand media are a lot of mouths to feed, and it is critical that you are feeding them the honest story about your detailed and lengthy preparations to deal with everyday issues, and to provide the unique stories that relate to your jurisdiction and the events unfolding each day.
Let the games begin.
TJ Kennedy is Raytheon's director of public safety and security. He held multiple leadership positions for the Utah Olympic Public Safety Command. He can be reached at [email protected].