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TransLink’s Olympic story, part 4: reducing car traffic and offering travel options

TransLink’s Olympic story, part 4: reducing car traffic and offering travel options

The Olympics arrive in February, and TransLink has the huge task of helping people get around during the Games. So here’s a series of articles illustrating the challenge and how we’re preparing to handle it! This article focuses on the TravelSmart outreach program, which has been working to reduce vehicle traffic in key areas for the Olympics. (Check out past articles on Check out past articles on TransLink’s overall Olympic strategy, the Transportation Management Centre and the transit host program!)

With an extraordinary boost in traffic expected for the Games period, one strategy to manage the crowded streets was obvious—cut regular traffic levels to make room for the Games time increase, and give people other travel options to get where they needed to go.

This initiative was assigned to TransLink due to our existing work in Transportation Demand Management (TDM), which is also known as our TravelSmart program. (Mandated by the Province, our task is to manage traffic and encourage transportation options beyond driving alone.)

Downtown Vancouver is the focus for TravelSmart efforts—with a limited number of access points and a high concentration of workers, it’s also the central location for key Olympic venues and entertainment sites. In other words, it’s busy already, and will only get busier during the Olympics.

“For the Games to be successful, we needed to reduce vehicle traffic by at least 30 per cent downtown,” says JoAnn Woodhall, a TransLink TDM Officer, who led the task of developing the Olympic traffic reduction strategy.

“We’re expecting between 60,000 and 135,000 ticket holders a day, and 60,000 folks going to free celebration sites. The big focus was that we wanted to make sure businesses could keep running smoothly, and staff that needed to get to work in the downtown were given the information they needed to get there.”

Reaching out to downtown businesses

Part 1 of the TravelSmart presentation given to businesses in downtown Vancouver: here’s part 2 and part 3.

Outreach with over 750 downtown Vancouver businesses has been underway for almost a year. In March 2009, the TravelSmart team began a dialogue with these companies, sending out materials and meeting with staff. The first key step was helping businesses think about a Games travel plan.

“To get a Games travel plan prepared, we asked what steps were they as an organization going to take,” explains JoAnn. “It began with doing a review of their workforce to see who needs to come to work in the downtown, followed by seeing how they could encourage people to walk, cycle, take transit, rideshare or carpool, or telework if they can. Some companies took it one step further and actually looked at satellite offices.”

The other part of the message was asking businesses to help staff avoid peak travel times. Traffic modelling showed that arriving before 7 a.m. and leaving by 2 p.m. would allow downtown staff to avoid the busiest times on the transportation network.

As well, the peak period runs throughout the day owing to the scheduling of Lower Mainland Olympic sport events—since most of the Lower Mainland Olympic venues are indoors, events can be run at any time. In comparison, peak periods in Whistler will be early, since Whistler’s outdoor events must start early to catch the daylight hours.

“If they get out of the office by 2 and are off the road and transit system by 3 p.m., their travel time will be minimized, and our Olympic guests can get to their venues,” says JoAnn.

“But the other option is if they can’t leave the office by 2, stay downtown and enjoy the celebration sites that will be available to them. Then they leave by 7 p.m., which is when the major peak should be over.”

Reception: pledging to TravelSmart

Who’s pledged to TravelSmart during the Games?
– Academy of Learning
– Allstream
– AMEC
– BC Chamber of Commerce
– BC Transmission Corporation
– Best Buy Canada
– Boughton Law Corporation
– Cadillac Fairview
– CDI College
– Chubb Ins. Co. of Canada
– CTV British Columbia
– And more: see the full list here!

So far, downtown businesses have been incredibly open to the message JoAnn’s group has been delivering. Property management companies and big organizations like RBC and Deloitte have even organized group events, so that many businesses could hear the presentation on Games-time travel issues.

“The reaction from 98% of businesses is ‘Tell me what you need me to do,’” JoAnn says. “They’ve been very supportive and made it a terrific experience.”

Businesses have started to make changes that will make it easier for their employees to travel for the Games—like waiving fees for showers in the building, letting people know where secure bike parking is, and buying transit fares for staff.

Companies were invited to make a “pledge” and commit to a Games time travel plan with actual targets for traffic reduction. Thus far, over 200 companies have pledged to “TravelSmart” during the Games, and over 100 are continuing to work on their travel plans. The final tally isn’t yet known, but a 30 per cent traffic reduction is in sight.

The companies also will be recognized in newspaper ads from the Partners in Olympic and Paralympic Transportation Planning, and will also be entered to win tickets to Olympic victory medal ceremonies at B.C. Place.

Halting the rumour mill

An Olympic lane sign from vancouver.ca. Olympic lanes are only <u>one lane of traffic</a> -- cars can use the remaining lanes on the street.
An Olympic lane sign from vancouver.ca. Olympic lanes are only the curb lane -- cars can use the remaining lanes on the street.

Oddly enough, meeting with companies served another key purpose—dispelling rumours about Games travel.

“There were rumours like all of downtown is going to be shut down, that you’re not going to be allowed to drive your car, that it’s going to be gridlock, and it’s going to be chaos,” said JoAnn.

“One rumour was that Stadium SkyTrain Station would be shut down. And of course, there was a rumour that to take transit you’ll have to go through a security check. None of those things are true.”

What is true is that road closures will happen around the venues, but even those may not be as severe as you think. The dedicated Olympic lanes on other roads are only the curb lanes, and motorists can still drive on the other lanes.

“Yes, it’s going to be challenging no matter how you travel during the Games, and we need people to remember to add more travel time and dress appropriately, but it’s not nearly as bad as the rumours make it sound,” JoAnn says.

She suggests that people go to travelsmart2010.ca for all the information on transit service lifts, road changes and travel options, so everyone can develop their own Games time travel plan. “Ridesharing is another one,” she suggests. “Look for a rideshare match at ride-share.com, and sort out the logistics of doing that now.”

TravelSmart for schools and community groups

Detail from a TravelSmart poster encouraging families to try travel alternatives to get to school.
Detail from a TravelSmart poster encouraging families to try travel alternatives to get to school.

Another TravelSmart initiative focused on schools and community groups. Karen Halex and Vincent Gonsalves from TransLink have been the leads on each project respectively.

“We’ve been working with about nine elementary schools in downtown Vancouver and one on the North Shore, and the kids are hearing the same TravelSmart message about their travel to school,” said JoAnn.

“Student leaders are delivering the message, so they’re teaching each other, and they’re also influencing their teachers and parents. It’s great to see how they use their creativity to send this message—poems, raps, we have a video of school who played a song on ukuleles, and others are working to make a video called TravelSmart, the movie!”

For community associations, the TravelSmart message has been delivered by working with groups like the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, ZipCar, the City of Vancouver, and the Cooperative Auto Network—providing people with the info they need to leave their cars at homes during the Games.

Both students and those in the community have been asked to make pledges, too.

“We really need people to think so they’re not looking for information on the evening of February 11, 2010—the day before the Olympics starts,” says JoAnn. “We’re really encouraging them to look up the information now and come up with a plan.”

Legacy: carrying the TravelSmart message past the Olympics

A detail from one of our TravelSmart posters, encouraging people to try alternatives for their commute.
A detail from one of our TravelSmart posters, encouraging people to try alternatives for their commute.

There’s a bright side to the challenging travel demands of the Olympic period—it’s a huge chance to get more people comfortable with different travel options, and continue leaving their cars at home even after the Games.

“This work builds on the incredible foundation started by Frankie Kirby, TDM Program Manager and TransLink’s TDM department. The need to reduce vehicle traffic during Games is crucial and we can offer options because we have the services in place,” JoAnn says. “The legacy opportunities of this work are tremendous.”

After the Games, JoAnn looks forward to staying engaged with schools, community groups, and businesses.

“And with the 2010 Games transit pass lasting till March 21st, people can continue to try transit and see if it works for them under more normal circumstances,” JoAnn adds.

This whole Olympic project has been a dream for JoAnn. As a former transit planner and TDM specialist in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, she’s drawing on every bit of her career experience and interests to make this project go.

“Nothing can compare to working on TDM for the Olympics,” she says. “This is the most exciting project that somebody in our field could have the privilege and the honour to be working on. It’s the most exciting time to be in TDM and to be in Vancouver.”