Massive Influx of Passengers Will Have London’s Tubes Tied During Olympic Games

London’s commuters have been warned to expect gridlock on the roads and paralysis on the subways. They have been advised to leave home well before rush hour; to travel by foot, bicycle or boat; and to forget about trying to drive anywhere even remotely connected with the Olympics.

And so John Horner, seasoned commuting veteran, has devised a simple personal transportation strategy for the Summer Games: go nowhere.

“I plan to stay at home for two weeks,” Mr. Horner, 52, a government worker, said the other morning as he rode the subway across London. “I have taken annual leave between July 27 and Aug. 12 so that I can sit at home and watch the Games on TV.”

Scaring residents off the streets is only one way London is preparing for the influx of athletes, officials, spectators and sponsors during the Olympics. Three million of those visitors are likely to use public transportation on the busiest days, officials say, adding to the 12 million trips already taken daily on the city’s trains, subways and buses.

The government has braced itself for the onslaught with a $10.2 billion spending spree on transportation improvements over the last seven years. It has increased capacity on some train and subway lines, spruced up others and built new services like the javelin train, which travels between St. Pancras and Olympic Park in a cool seven minutes (when it works), a trip that would normally take about half an hour.

But not all the city’s Olympic measures are designed to help its own residents.

During the Games, there will be 30 or so miles of special road lanes reserved for the exclusive use of 80,000 dignitaries, athletes, officials, sponsors and members of the news media. A larger, 109-mile London “Olympic Route Network,” in which normal procedures like parking, getting on a bus, unloading goods and crossing the street will be curtailed or even banned, is meant to ensure speedy traveling between Olympic venues.

At some junctions, traffic lights will be turned off, and, in some areas, traffic lights will be altered to give priority to Olympic cars, forcing other cars to wait longer. And when the Games begin, 300 workers in bright-pink vests will be posted at particularly overstretched subway stations to suggest that commuters might want to try other ways of getting to the office.

In a city that never moves easily in the best of times, there are a lot of looming ifs. What if a subway line breaks down or is closed by a bomb scare? What if it rains and no one wants to bike to work? What if people discover that Olympic Park is way out in East London and refuse to walk that far?

What if residents are repelled by the spectacle of Olympic dignitaries barreling down the specially designated traffic lanes while the little people creep along congested lanes?

“A lot of time and effort and thought have gone into putting the measures in place, but there’s no real way of guaranteeing that it will be effective,” said Karen Anderton, a researcher in the transport studies unit at the Oxford University Center for the Environment.

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics, said all the planning in the world could not remove the two biggest obstacles to a happy traveling experience in London: the city’s twisty, snarly, ancient road network and its temperamental subway system.

“The underground is risky and prone to breakdown,” he said. “Trains fail, signals fail, and every now and then, people have to be let out along the tracks. It’s an extremely safe system, but whether it works is just a matter of luck.”

To read the entire story by Sarah Lyall, go to MSNBC

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