Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

London's Daily Commuters Brace for Olympic Influx

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

London's Daily Commuters Brace for Olympic Influx

Article excerpt

Scaring residents off the streets is only one way London is preparing for the athletes, sponsors, officials and spectators who are expected to swarm in during the Summer Games.

London's commuters have been warned to expect gridlock on the roads and paralysis on the Underground. They have been advised to leave home well before rush hour; to travel by foot, bicycle or boat; and to forget about trying to drive anywhere even remotely connected with the Olympics.

And so John Horner, seasoned commuting veteran, has devised a simple personal transportation strategy for the Summer Games: Go nowhere.

"I plan to stay at home for two weeks," Mr. Horner, 52, a government worker, said the other morning, as he rode the Underground across London. "I have taken annual leave between July 27 and Aug. 12 so that I can sit at home and watch the games on TV."

Scaring residents off the streets is only one way London is preparing for the influx of athletes, sponsors, officials and spectators who are expected to swarm in during the Summer Games. Three million of them are likely to use public transportation on the busiest days.

Among other things, the government has spent Pounds 6.5 billion, or $10 billion, on the city's public transportation system over the past seven years. It has increased capacity on some train and Underground lines; spruced up others; and built new services like the so-called javelin train, which travels between St. Pancras and the Olympic Park in a cool seven minutes (when it works).

During the Olympics, there will be 30 or so miles of special road lanes reserved for the exclusive use of 80,000 dignitaries, athletes, officials, sponsors and members of the news media. A larger, 109-mile, or 175-kilometer, London "Olympic Route Network" in which normal procedures like parking, getting on a bus, unloading goods and crossing the street will be all or partly suspended, is meant to ensure speedy traveling between venues.

At some junctions, traffic lights will be turned off, and in some areas, traffic lights will be altered to give priority to Olympic cars.

London's bicycle-rental program has been expanded. And when the games begin, 300 workers in bright pink high-visibility vests will be posted at particularly overstretched Underground stations to explain to commuters that they might want to consider not going inside.

In a city that never moves easily at the best of times, there are a lot of looming "ifs." What if an Underground line breaks down or is closed by a bomb scare? What if it rains and no one wants to bike? What if residents are repelled by the spectacle of Olympics dignitaries barreling down the specially designated traffic lanes while everyone else snails along the congested lanes?

"A lot of time and effort and thought have gone into putting the measures in place, but there's no real way of guaranteeing that it will be effective," said Karen Anderton, a researcher in the transport studies unit at the Oxford University Center for the Environment. …

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