Yeah...yeah, the Olympic Games are coming. Vancouverites react to the news a few streets might be shut down early next month.
As I trudge my way to work by SkyTrain and bus on this wet, blustery and unusually warm day on the west coast, I can’t help but think what life will be like in Metro Vancouver about a month from now. I suspect my crowded Skytrain ride will likely be a bit more crowded, and the roads will be bumper to bumper with Olympic visitor traffic. However, for the most part, I still don't sense that Vancouverites are quite ready for what is about to hit them and there are likely three factors which help to explain their laissez fair attitude.
Firstly, unlike the Calgary 1988 Winter Games, the weather to date has been very conducive to hosting the Olympics. In Calgary, mild temperatures and a lack of snow kept everyone on the edge of their seats as to whether the weather would affect the Games. In contrast, metres of new snow have fallen on the North Shore mountains and Whistler this fall. It is only within the last few weeks, as El Nino strengthened off the coast of South America, that the weather even become mildly topical.
With all the mild air on the south coast today, I'm beginning to actually wonder if the Winter Games should be held in Naples, Florida rather than Vancouver, BC. According to my home thermometer, it was a sub-tropical 12 degrees at my home at 6 am this morning. All the while, southern Florida is grappling with below freezing temperatures and the biggest cold spell they’ve experienced in decades.
The second reason people appear to be lulled into complacency is the fact VANOC has done a superb job of finishing all of the venues ahead of schedule and on budget. By doing so, the usual wall-to-wall media coverage regarding “will the venues be done on time” just never materialized. Instead, the media have been relegated to filing stories on how great the venues are and how the American speed skating team were hard done by the folks running the Richmond Oval.
Even the official Olympic broadcaster NBC was reporting yesterday that this may be one of the least “hyped” Games in modern times. With a sheer lack of scandals, construction delays or budget fiascos, average folk just don’t appear to be prepared (or even aware) they need to make dramatic changes to their lifestyle in the next month. For most folks it’s simply business as usual.
I also think a big part of the reason Vancouverites are so blasé about the Games has to do with the role Vancouver has played as Host City. The responsibility to prepare citizens for what is about to take place rests mainly with the City of Vancouver and other venue cities, not VANOC. As many of you know, a big chunk of Vancouver’s current elected officials are less than enthusiastic about hosting the Games, and are loathe to promote it in any way. Heck, even Vancouver’s Olympic Mayor admitted when the plebiscite was being held in Vancouver to determine if we should host the Games, he was too busy to vote.
Little has been done by the Host City and its communications department to prepare the City for the Games. Other than the recent $56,000 four page text heavy insert they placed in the Vancouver Sun, I bet few people are aware of what the City has done to prepare for the Games and how it will impact them personally. Perhaps that’s why we’ve been getting so many emails asking us if we know when and where the street closures will be taking place.
For example, when the City shut down a small portion of Abbott Street last week in preparation for the Games, some commuters went ballistic. GlobalTV sent their cameras down to the site and angry motorists were complaining they weren’t notified of the street closure. Well folks, I hate to say this, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. In the coming weeks, even the Georgia Viaduct will be shut down to vehicular traffic. As VANOC likes to put it, the Games are going to be “business as unusual”. That's a great slogan. Too bad it wasn’t more widely promoted months in advance of the Games.
If you commute by transit like me, expect much longer delays at major transit nodes and crowded buses on the more popular routes. If you drive, the City's engineering department warns you should prepare for significant lane closures, restricted parking zones and increased volumes of traffic – everywhere! The concept of event more traffic on our streets is hard to fathom for those who regularly drive Vancouver’s already overcrowded road network during rush hour.
The best example of that is last Friday’s commuter challenge which VANOC announced as part of its overall strategy to raise awareness of possible traffic mayhem. VANOC and the City asked Metro Vancouver residents to try out their new Olympic work commute every Friday in advance of the Games. By all accounts it was a big flop. One Metro resident summed it up quite well when she told a CTV News reporter that the thought of testing out her work commute by taking transit in advance of the Games was a non-starter. She clearly had no interest in trudging to work by transit any earlier then she had to. I suspect I’ll likely never sit beside her on transit during the Games and she’ll stick to using her single-occupancy car during the Games, even if it is more inconvenient.
As someone who actively participated in the Torino, Italy Games, I know that we’re about to be hit by a tsunami of people in the next few weeks. The Province of BC and VANOC have done their part. The sponsors have bucked up the cash we needed. Now after almost 10 years of planning, the time has come to see if the City of Vancouver really understood what the term “host” meant when they were declared as the 2010 Games Host City. A numer of factors seemed to have lulled us into a slumber, but here's to hoping we all wake up...soon.
- post by Daniel