Organizers in a jam over Vancouver traffic

Tue Feb 9, 2010 8:52pm EST
 
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Vancouver residents are starting to heed calls to switch from their cars to mass transit, but are still short of the goal organizers set to avoid transportation problems during the Winter Games.

Organizers say a 30 percent cut in regular vehicle traffic in the downtown area is needed to accommodate the Olympics, but it dropped only 11 percent last week as the influx of visitors, athletes and media began, officials said on Tuesday.

A critical test for the Games transportation plan will come on Friday when some 100,000 people are expected to fill the downtown area for the opening ceremony.

A key bridge into the area will also be closed for the event, adding to a list of road and bridge closures that have given driving through some parts of the city a maze-like quality.

The earlier road closures did prompt people to switch to mass transit or bicycles, but it was not enough, organizers say.

"We need even more people to take transit, walk or cycle to come downtown and celebrate the kick-off of the 2010 Winter Games," city manager Penny Ballem said in a statement.

City officials had said they expected many people would wait until the last minute to change travel habits, and the 11 percent drop monitored during a test last week was three times better than during a test the week before.

Police checkpoints on the only direct link road between Vancouver and the mountain resort of Whistler - which are about 125 km (80 miles) apart - are also scheduled to begin on Thursday.

The recently upgraded "Sea to Sky" highway has the capacity to handle the Olympic travel demands, but parking space is so limited in Whistler that police are restricting how many cars can drive there during the Games.