London 2012: traffic triumph or traffic tragedy?

Who isn’t getting excited these days? London, one of the most vibrant, multicultural urban centres in the world is about to host the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Millions of visitors are ecstatically awaiting a party beyond their dreams – and many of them could sooner or later wake up with a burning headache. There’s one major question recurring in ongoing discussions held by the public and the press: how is everyone supposed to commute to work quickly and comfortably when the city welcomes an estimated 5 to 9 million extra people? Business mobility will be furthermore impaired because of the Olympic Lanes: a network of roads accessible only to athletes and officials to ensure their full mobility. Londoners moan all the time about the transport in the city. Its low quality was also confirmed in the evaluation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which accredited London’s public transport a rather poor score.[1] And now, on the busiest days of the Games, Transport for London (TfL) expects an additional 3 million trips on the public transport network.[2] The picture looks bleak. Or is it? Apart from the Thames Clippers, are there any alternative transport modes that could keep business mobility alive during the Olympics? In the following we present two examples.

Emirates Air Line – London’s first cable car

It is a clever idea. When there’s hardly any space on the ground then why not ascend into the limitless sky? The Emirates Air Line takes you across the River Thames. Situated in the east of the city, it smoothly connects two major Olympic venues, the O2 arena and the ExCel exhibition centre. Furthermore, it links the regions of Greenwich to the Royal Docks, the latter being one of London’s most popular opportunity centres. As it can carry up to 2,500 passengers an hour whilst being a real tourist attraction, the cable car might actually take some burden off the public transport network during the Games.

Barclays Cycle Hire

To many urban centres out there, hiring a bike is old news. In London, however, to hire and not to buy a bike is a rather new invention. It was only in mid-2010 that current Mayor Boris Johnson introduced what Londoners now refer to as the “Boris Bikes”. Initially, the “Boris Bikes” were only a mediocre success.[3] Today, you can hire one of 5000 bikes at a docking station every 400 to 500 metres on average. This allows you to simply hire a bike at a station close to home and drop it off at one close to work. During the Olympic Games, when buses and taxis stand in traffic jams and the underground is too cramped, the good old bike hire could be a business mobility treasure. Yes, London extensively upgraded its rail and underground roads leading to the Olympic Park. Yet, the chaos might not happen on these routes but actually when visitors do sightseeing or return to their accommodation when the sports are over. Finally, Kevin Delaney, former head of traffic at the Metropolitan Police and now head of road safety at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, noted: "Many drivers will switch to public transport, which will also be used by many thousands of spectators, so the potential is there for even a small incident to bring London to a standstill."[4] Whether the newly introduced alternative modes of transport are able to prevent a transport collapse, we’ll have to see.

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