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2012 Olympics to be 'car-free'

Except for Olympic officials

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The London Olympics of 2012 will be the first to prohibit spectators arriving by car, according to reports. However, some 80,000 officials, athletes and accredited media will be provided with parking - and will have special Soviet-style VIP lanes on important London roads for a period of two months.

The Times reports this morning that it has been given an exclusive advance look at the transport plans for 2012, described by UK Olympics officials as Blighty's "largest peacetime logistical operation". The administrators expect some eight million spectators to attend the games, and plan to prevent almost all of them from coming by car. It seems that only limited numbers of disabled people will be exempted.

The schemes feature "car exclusion zones" around all the main venues in the cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cardiff. There will also be no-go areas at the watersports events in Weymouth and Portland on the Dorset coast. People will still be able to drive most of the way, park somewhere and only then get onto mass transit, but even this is being discouraged; the original bid included plans for massive park-and-ride carparks within range of the main London venue, but these have now been scratched.

It seems that up to 800,000 people per day will travel to and from the various sites, all by mass transit, walking or cycling. Everyone booking a ticket will be sent a "personalised, detailed itinerary" telling them how to get from their front door to the event in question. (We're guessing this will be automatically generated, in fact; and given the curious quirks that routing software can sometimes display, there could be some embarrassing hiccups ahead.) There will also be live travel updates sent to travellers' mobiles as part of the Olympic experience, and people may be re-routed by this means in the event of delays.

Meanwhile, as the hoi polloi ride the rails and buses, or get there by their own muscle power, the "Olympic family" will motor smoothly to and from the events in a new fleet of 3,500 cars using special reserved lanes marked out across the cities in question. It seems that most of these 80,000 Olympian aristos will not be athletes, in fact - the Times reports that there are only 11,000 competitors in total and that more than half of them will be accommodated within walking distance of their events.

The special lanes will apparently be policed by our old friend the numberplate-scanning camera (presumably hooked up to the special-powers cops like the rest of the capital's robo-spies) and "a team of enforcement officers".

Apart from buses, most of the available transport links will deliver people into just one chokepoint: the Stratford rail terminus, which will indeed - as the Olympic planners suggest - be required to operate at the sort of levels previously only achieved by the German general staff. Trains will need to arrive at 14-second intervals. Given that some people will be seeing the Games as a military target, a single point of failure like this seems a risky plan.

As the organisers don't want to build "white elephants which won't be used after the games", there won't be any serious new transport infrastructure for the neighbouring borough of Hackney, despite the fact that it is amazingly poorly served at the moment. The somewhat erratic North London overground rail line will be "almost doubled in capacity", but this actually means nothing more than longer platforms and improved signalling, not any more actual rail. As soon as enormous freight trains start to roll in and out of the Stratford container yards once more after the Games, using the overburdened North London track as they do today, one might speculate that travellers can look forward to a resumption of maddening delays.

Ironically perhaps, given the campaign against road vehicles and the Games' associated desire to promote a healthy image for ordinary folk as well as athletes, the "Northern Spectator Transport Mall" - the biggest carpark - for the main Olympic Park in East London will constructed by tarmacking over some existing grass playing fields. ®

Disclaimer: This article is written by a Hackney resident, who'd love to believe that the Games will transform the notoriously poor, crime-ridden and difficult-to-move-about-in borough into Paradise on earth. However, we don't seem to be getting much in the way of lasting infrastructure improvements for our council tax payments into the Games (and everyone else's) and we are definitely losing a nice bit of green space. To be fair, there is talk that the lost sports pitches will be turned back into grass afterwards.

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