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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Organizers of next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver unveiled their final transport plan on Wednesday, saying they are confident residents will help prevent traffic gridlock for athletes and visitors.
Organizers said they have also learned a lesson from Salt Lake City, which asked residents to stay off the roads during the 2002 Winter Games, thereby depriving many retailers of customers. They reminded Vancouverites that businesses remain open for regular customers even while the massive event is under way.
Vancouver is the largest city ever to host a Winter Games and because competitions will be held at various locations around town and at the mountain resort of Whistler, about 125 km (78 miles) away, transportation is considered a potential Achilles' heel.
Transportation planners want to reduce the Vancouver's passenger vehicle traffic by 30 percent to prevent traffic jams in the often congested downtown core.
Residents and visitors will have to use public transit to reach all the Olympic events, including the opening and closing ceremonies. The Games start on February 12.
"Based on the feedback we're getting, that 30 percent is not in jeopardy, we just have to get the word out," said Terry Wright, a Vancouver Organizing Committee vice president for Games operations.
Organizers will urge residents to change their travel habits with the message that good transportation during the Games is important if the world is going to see Vancouver in a positive light.
"People have a lot of pride in this region, and they're going to help us show that pride to the rest of world," Wright told reporters.
Salt Lake City successfully stressed the need to reduce traffic in the city during its Games, but the plan backfired when some businesses complained customers disappeared during the Olympics.
"Based on the advice from Salt Lake, we have been messaging: come downtown, use an alternative mode (of transportation)," Wright said.
Governments have spent C$561 million ($545 million) to upgrade the only major road directly linking Vancouver and Whistler and C$2 billion on a rapid transit line from the center of the city to the airport.
Planners said they will follow the example of the 2006 Turin Games and use police checkpoints to limit traffic headed to and from Whistler.
Organizers said they also hope some of the drivers who are forced to switch from private cars to public transit because of the Games will decide not to switch back when the event is over.
Reporting by Allan Dowd, editing by Peter Galloway