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A Move to Sustainable Transportation for Olympics Host Cities

The requirements and logistics associated with hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games have evolved significantly over the last decade. There has been a conscious aim to reduce the burden incurred by host cities in response to recent Games which have left minimal legacy for host cities while still bearing great cost. In order to improve...

By Marc Tan


October 3, 2019

The requirements and logistics associated with hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games have evolved significantly over the last decade. There has been a conscious aim to reduce the burden incurred by host cities in response to recent Games which have left minimal legacy for host cities while still bearing great cost. In order to improve the sustainability of Games organization and delivery, the International Olympic Committee has released a document, titled “The New Norm”. This document outlines recommendations that are meant to streamline Games planning and operations for future host cities. This is further aided by the decision to relax some of the previous Games delivery requirements.

Transportation is one of the major contributors to the impact incurred by host cities. Transportation planning and delivery is a large logistical undertaking for any Games city, accounting for the need to move thousands of athletes, officials, volunteers, and spectators across the many Games facilities. Depending on the city, this might take place on top of an already constrained transportation networks. Due to the scale of what’s required to operate the Games transportation system, applying better practices can increase the sustainability of a Games and its impact on Games stakeholders (athletes, officials, volunteers, media, and workforce). The New Norm document addresses the importance of transportation to the Games and has laid the ground work for new sustainable transportation strategies, as outlined below.

Host cities should leverage existing infrastructure, from venues to the transportation network, to the extent in which it is possible. This includes implementing strategies such as:

  • Locating venue clusters in proximity to existing and planned higher order public transit lines (Bus Rapid Transit, Light Rail Transit, and/or Metros) to move spectators and other Games stakeholders more efficiently;
  • Strategically grouping facilities within venue clusters to allow for interaction between venues, consolidating transportation resources to one location;
  • Leveraging the full transportation network, including rideshare and taxi services in combination with public transit to support transportation of Games stakeholders. This includes stakeholders like volunteers, employees, and spectators with a goal to reduce single occupancy vehicles; and
  • Working with local public transit agencies to promote the use of public transit for spectators. This includes scaling up service to venues by offering more frequent service with a larger coverage area to cover the footprint of the Games.

During past Games, different stakeholders had their own dedicated services for transportation which were provided by the organizing committee. Recently, the requirements for dedicated Games transportation services have been relaxed, opening the door for greater emphasis on strategies such as:

  • Promoting the use of public transit through free public transit for spectators;
  • Encouraging the use of public transit for media; and
  • Combining transportation services for different Games stakeholders, encouraging the use of public transit and sharing organizing committee services between Games stakeholder groups.

On-site spectator parking can have a significant impact on the road network surrounding Games venues. Controlling parking for Games events is key. Some strategies include:

  • Discouraging vehicle trips by eliminating on-site parking and implementing consolidated offsite parking and ride facilities in areas where traffic can be better managed; and
  • Investigating the use of technology to manage parking demand at park-and-ride sites to minimize impact to area traffic.

Future-minded transportation infrastructure is an important legacy piece of any Games. However, any infrastructure built for a Games must have both legacy and accessibility in mind. Strategies to ensure this include:

  • Planning transportation with accessibility at the forefront. Public transit and transit facilities should include stakeholders of all abilities and ages; and
  • Building transportation infrastructure to locations that will serve communities after the Games, providing a legacy. This could include providing new higher order transit services to under developed areas of the host city to encourage development.

While developing a robust transportation plan for the execution of any Games, the use of communication strategies and partnerships will be important to reduce the overall number of vehicle trips on the network. Some strategies to achieve this include:

  • Implementing a public education campaign through Transportation Demand Management. This can encourage flexible and/or telework approaches for the general public in order to reduce peak hour demand; and
  • Developing partnerships with education institutions (primary though post-secondary) to modify spring break and/or March break periods should this overlap with Games scheduling and thus contribute to transportation and infrastructure strains.

Overall, these are just some strategies that can be used to mitigate transportation stressors during the Games. As the next generation of Olympics and Paralympic Games unfold, the focus moving forward will be developing and implementing sustainable strategies. Look out for them in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Summer Games, 2022 Beijing Winter Games, and the 2024 Paris Summer Games.

Marc Tan, P. Eng., is a transportation engineer at IBI Group with experience in a variety of projects focusing on transportation operations, Intelligent Transportation Systems, data analytics, and large special events transportation planning. Marc has extensive experience with multi-modal transportation operations for large special events through his work on the Toronto 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games. For the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games, he coordinated and planned the transportation network for athletes and other Games Clients to ensure reliable trips. For the Calgary Olympic / Paralympic Bid Corporation, Marc worked as the Transportation Lead, leading the transportation working group and working closely with the City of Calgary to develop the transportation plan for the bid.

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