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'The smartest commute is no commute' Add to ...

Confronted with the largest, prolonged event in the city's history, much of it centred right downtown, traffic planners for the 2010 Winter Olympics have some advice for Vancouver's work force: stay home.

Do the math. Add 30 per cent more trips, 20-per-cent reduced road capacity, 50-per-cent less metered parking, and what do you get? Dawn to dusk gridlock, a nightmarish traffic jam that would not be out of place in car-choked Beijing or Bangkok.

"Now you know why I don't sleep at night," joked the city's Olympic transportation director, Dale Bracewell. "We have never handled that amount of demand with that reduction of road capacity."

The only hope to avoid mass congestion is to get work-a-day residents out of their cars. It's why VANOC, public transit and traffic officials have been working for months to pound home the message to city businesses to plan now for what their slick brochures call "a cool commute in 2010."

Bike, walk, car pool, hop public transit, or, best of all, don't bother to come downtown at all. Work from home, the brochures proclaim. "The smartest commute is no commute."

Their ambitious target is to get at least 30 per cent of the vehicles that are normally being driven, off the road. Otherwise, chaos.

"We're really starting to ramp it up," said Mr. Bracewell. "We want people to realize that, wow, there really is a need to reduce their vehicle use."

With VANOC set to unveil its completed Olympic transportation plan later this week, signs are good that the message is already being heard.

"We are encouraging our people to telecommute, rather than coming in to work," said Ken Werker, managing partner of the prominent executive search firm, Ray & Berndtson, with offices on busy West Pender Street.

"We are trying to schedule things with our clients so there will be no face-to-face meetings during the Games. We'll work by video-conferencing, Skype, or the telephone. We've only got 30 employees, but it all helps."

At Telus, which has about a thousand staff stationed at its main building a few blocks from key Olympic venues, investor relations vice-president John Wheeler said his employee team has already conducted a week-long trial of working from home.

"It went quite well, and we learned a few lessons. It's one thing to have a plan in your bottom desk drawer. You need to practice it," Mr. Wheeler said. "We don't see the Olympics as a disruption, at all."

Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said the company is encouraging its work force to telecommute or work from an alternate site away from the downtown core.

"We certainly have the technology. If we are able to take almost a thousand people out of the downtown for the Olympics, that's a real contribution," said Mr. Hall. "As for myself, I'm planning to work at home, but come down a few times at night for the fun."

Software firm SAP Canada - its Vancouver operation within a stone's throw of the Games' opening and closing ceremonies at B.C. Place - is hoping as many as 90 per cent of its 1,100-strong staff will not drive to work while the Olympics are on.

"There are a lot of moving parts, but we are definitely trying," said managing director Kirsten Sutton.

She echoed VANOC's wish that changing commuter habits during the several weeks of the Olympics may lead to more permanent, non-driving habits.

"There's no value in grumbling. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a 'green' legacy. It can be a catalyst for change," said Ms. Sutton. Traffic will have to cope with hundreds of additional VANOC vehicles and buses on the road, scores of lane closings restricted to Olympic and bus transportation, outright closings of streets close to Games venues and round-the-clock parking restrictions.

To help handle the anticipated crush, Translink is adding extra buses, Skytrain cars and a third SeaBus. There is also the recently opened Canada Line between downtown and Richmond, including the airport. As well , the West Coast Express commuter trail is scheduling six additional trips on weekdays, plus new, frequent service on the weekends.

There will even be a blast from the past, a streetcar, operating between Granville Island and the Canada Line stop at the Olympic Village.

Even if everything goes according to plan, however, and commuters do abandon their vehicles in large numbers, Mr. Bracewell said that anyone travelling anywhere in the city should prepare for a longer journey.

"We will be running at peak capacity, like rush hour, for 12 hours a day," he said. "So give yourself more time, and plan ahead. We don't know how much extra time you will need, but we do know it will take longer."

With all that, Mr. Bracewell said he's actually enjoying the challenge and remains confident traffic will not be an Olympic headache.

"It's dependent on everyone working together, but I fully believe we have a transportation plan that will be successful."

Even if it snows.

"A very robust snow removal plan is being developed," Mr. Bracewell affirmed, with no apparent lingering concern from last winter's heavy snowfalls that clogged city streets for days.



With no spectator parking at venues and limited parking options for non-residents near Olympic and Paralympic venues, private vehicles will find it heavy going during the Games. Think of it as rush hour 24 hours a day, seven days a week - only with some of the busiest roads closed or partly closed to vehicles.

CLOSED: West Georgia Street

TWO LANES LOST: Burrard Street Bridge



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