Vancouverites encouraged to find transport alternative as Winter Games approach

14:35, January 13, 2010      

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Much like Beijing two years before it, Vancouver is telling local residents to come downtown and enjoy the city's hosting of next month's Winter Olympics, but please, leave the vehicle at home.

In this Canadian city divided geographically by mountains to the north and east, the U.S. border to the south and water nearly everywhere else, for most people the car is king -- the favored mode of transport in this sprawling metropolis of just over two million residents.

This reliance on private cars, and not public transport, is what has official of the City of Vancouver concerned. To clear up the roads during the city's hosting of the Winter Olympiad starting February 12, and subsequently the March Paralympics, it has set a goal of reducing vehicle traffic in the downtown core by30 percent come Games time.

At the first testing of the weekly "Travel Smart 2010 Challenge "held last Friday to encourage people to practice their Games-time travel plans by using public transit, the end result proved Vancouverites had not quite warmed up to the idea of hopping a bus.

According to a city manager Penny Ballem, the estimated vehicle reduction rate last Friday was 2.5 percent, half of the five percent target goal for the first week. The challenge is to continue over the next four Fridays in the run-up to the Games opening ceremony.

Vancouverites inevitably, however, will have to go without their vehicles temporarily during the Games. The city announced on Tuesday temporary closures of streets and the Cambie Street Bridge that connects to the downtown core during sporting spectacular. This move is to accommodate the movement of athletes, performers, spectators and media for the opening and closing ceremonies, and their practice days.

Ballem suggested at a press conference that people who hadn't used public transit, or planned to ride a bike to get downtown where many of the sporting events, street festivities and the Cultural Olympiad were taking place, to get prepared as the road closures loomed.

In addition, starting February 5 the Olympic torch will be traveling through 45 communities around metro Vancouver, adding to the traffic closures. On February 12 alone, the torch will cover about 80 kilometers through the city.

The arrival of the torch in British Columbia, Vancouver's home province, on January 21 marks the home stretch of journey that began in Olympia, Greece, on October 22 last year. Since arriving in the provincial capital Victoria, BC, on October 30, the torch has been an ongoing 106-day relay to great fanfare throughout Canada, covering about 45,000 kilometers in all.

"Everyone is part of the solution, everyone needs a plan," Ballam said of the need for transport sustainability among Vancouverites. "Everyone is starting to understand that if they can leave their vehicle behind and use a sustainable choice for transportation, that's going to be more successful."

It was also revealed Tuesday that only about 40 percent of the tickets for the Olympic Bus Network had been sold in advance. While there are private carriers transporting spectators to Games venues, the network, which has been selling tickets for a year, is the main form of transport available for Cypress Mountain, venue for the freestyle skiing and the snowboarding, and Whistler, home to the Alpine and Nordic events. All private vehicles will be prohibited to traveling to those sites during the Games.

Terry Wright, Vanoc's executive vice president of services and Games operations, said an "early-bird pricing" promotion that was offered to encourage the public to book their bus seat would be extended another week.

He encouraged ticket holders to book now because if they waited "we're just not going to be able to get everyone to the venues on time with the different security apparatus and what not. We don't want people to be disappointed."

Asked about Vancouver's Chinese New Year parade scheduled for February 14, Wright said the annual event would add to the Olympic experience. The parade usually attracts upwards of 50,000 people, but the figure is expected to be much higher this year with the Olympic visitors.

"Our plan is to work closely with the City of Vancouver and the security forces to ensure that we can accommodate the parade which is a Vancouver tradition, as well as manage the event that day," he said.

"The team feels pretty confident that collectively the two plans can work together and I think it will be a really special day for all our visitors to see Chinatown at its best," he added.

Source: Xinhua
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