Transportation still big issue for Vancouver

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Come downtown but leave your car at home.

That is the mantra organizers of the Vancouver Winter Olympics were reciting on Tuesday as transportation, particularly the movement of people, remained a huge issue one month before the start of the Games.

In a city divided geographically by mountains to the north and east, the US border to the south, and water nearly everywhere else, Vancouverites appear to be slow, or perhaps defiant, in getting the message about going without their vehicles during the Winter Olympics starting Feb 12 and the March Paralympics.

With the City of Vancouver's goal of reducing vehicle traffic in the downtown core by 30 percent come Games time, the first test of the weekly "TravelSmart 2010 Challenge" was held last Friday.

The bid to encourage people to practise their Games-time travel plans by using public transit proved a resounding flop.

According to a city manager, Penny Ballem, the estimated vehicle reduction rate last Friday was 2.5 percent, half of the five percent target goal for the first week. The challenge is to continue over the next four Fridays in the run-up to the Games opening ceremony.

Vancouverites inevitably will have to go without their vehicles temporarily during the Games, as the city announced temporary closures of streets and the Cambie Street Bridge connects to the downtown core.

The closures are designed to facilitate the movement of athletes, performers, spectators and media for the opening and closing ceremonies.

In addition, starting Feb 5, the Olympic torch will be traveling through 45 communities around metro Vancouver, adding to the traffic closures. On Feb 12 alone, the torch will cover about 80 kilometers (50 miles) through the city.

"Everyone is part of the solution, everyone needs a plan," Ballam said. "Everyone is starting to understand that if they can leave their vehicle behind and use a sustainable choice for transportation, that's going to be more successful."

It was also revealed on Tuesday that only about 40 percent of the tickets for the Olympic Bus Network had been sold in advance.

While there are private carriers transporting spectators to Games venues, the network, which has been selling tickets for a year, is the main form of transport available for Cypress Mountain, venue for the freestyle skiing and the snowboarding, and Whistler, home to the Alpine and Nordic events.

All private vehicles will be prohibited to traveling to those sites during the Games.

Terry Wright, an official with the Vancouver Olympic organizing committee (Vanoc), said an "early-bird pricing" promotion that was offered to encourage the public to book bus seats would be extended another week.

He encouraged ticket holders to book now because if they waited "we're just not going to be able to get everyone to the venues on time with the different security apparatus and what not. We don't want people to be disappointed."

Addressing the media following the transport announcements, Vanoc CEO John Furlong said the Games venues were all in "good shape" but there was still much work to be done.

"(We're) moving very fast. There's a lot of positive anxiety inside the organization right now. We're very focused on what we have to do," he said.

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