Will the legacy of these Olympic Games be that we value our transit system more?
A couple of nights ago I took my son to the soccer field for his weekly practice. While I was there, I had the chance to speak with a few of my friends to ask them how they were enjoying the Olympics so far. They universally responded by saying they were having a good time. Over the last week, I've actually made a point of asking dozens of people how they feel and it's been generally a big thumbs up. Some claim they're liking all the free stuff, while others simply love all the sporting events. One parent told me he's loving the Olympics because it's shaved about 20 minutes off of his regular car commute. He was thrilled that the traffic on Metro Vancouver's streets was as light as he's seen it since the 80's. So what gives? What happened to all the dire predictions of traffic gridlock?
Only a few weeks back we were hearing doom and gloom predictions of traffic chaos and the fact that reducing road capacity by 50% in some parts of the city would translate into gridlock. Those predictions have simply not come true. Based on the anecdotal stories I've been hearing over the last week, it would appear quite the opposite has taken place. Traffic on Metro Vancouver roads hasn't been this good since Madonna cut her first album.
Much of the credit goes to regular car commuters who got out of their vehicles and into transit. In all the years I've taken transit, I've never seen so many people hopping aboard transit as I have over the last 7 days. Regardless of how crowded transit has become, it is simply wonderful to see everyone dump their car in favour of the bus, SkyTrain, streetcar and West Coast Express - if only for 17 days.
So far the system has held up very well and TransLink officials deserve a lot of credit for their hard work in preparing for this big event. There have been a few minor hiccups at several popular SkyTrain stations, but considering how long you have to wait to get into the Royal Canadian Mint, a 30 minute line-up to jump aboard the Canada Line is a breeze.
Earlier in the week another friend of mine also relayed to me how thrilled they were that the roads were empty of cars and they could make their way throughout Metro Vancouver with relative ease. I gently reminded them they were also the same person who only a year ago didn't want to invest a single additional tax dollar in transit as it "doesn't benefit car riders". Well...do you still hold that position? Take a look around you? More transit service equals more transit riders. More transit riders equals less cars on the road.
Hopefully one of the legacies of these Games is that we now collectively understand that if more people take transit, there are fewer cars on the road. If there are fewer cars on the road, we then reduce carbon emissions and it's easier to get around for the rest of the folks who need to drive. If there is less congestion, commuters can get to their destination quicker and burn up less fuel. It's a big win-win for everyone. Unfortunately, I think once the Games are over the vast majority of people will simply jump back in their cars and we'll fall back into our old habits once again. Sigh.
In fact, in Salt Lake City during the Olympics, things also went swimmingly well during the first week of the Games from a transportation perspective. They went so well that word of mouth about the great road conditions led a ton of people to get out of transit and back into their vehicles in the second week. That shift translated into some real traffic nightmares as the Games wound down. Let's hope this doesn't happen here.
After one week our Games, we should all give a big shout out to TransLink for their hard work at quickly getting us where we want to go in a safe and clean environment. Given the stress that's been placed on the system, their collective efforts to date have been nothing short of a miracle! And let's also hope that a few folks have become transit converts, and they decide to give up their weekly commuter stress and replace it with time better spent reading a great novel on SkyTrain.