Car-Free Travel: London Olympic Organizers Hope to Reform Britain

Organizers of the 2012 London Olympics want to leave Great Britain with a legacy of greener, car-free travel habits -- by banning all cars from the games. But can the Tube handle it?

Where's the synchronized swimming?
REUTERS

Where's the synchronized swimming?

The London Olympics in 2012 will be an experiment in shifting British travel habits from cars to public transportation, according to the London Times, which calls a new plan to regulate traffic during the games "the most aggressive anticar policy ever applied to a major event."

The Olympic Delivery Authority, in charge of organizing the games, wants to ban automobiles from certain zones in London, but also in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow and Cardiff where events will likewise be held.

The idea will be to send every ticket holder a detailed itinerary explaining how to get from their home to a given event, along with a free travel card. On the day of the event they'll be sent a text message with live travel updates. And afterwards, the hope is, thousands of Brits will keep using public transportation even after the athletes go home.

"We want to accelerate the shift to public transport and cycling that we have seen in London in recent years," said Hugh Sumner, the ODA transportation director, according to the Times. "We have a very aggressive program to make it the greenest games in modern times," he added. "We want to leave both a hard legacy in terms of infrastructure and a living legacy in the way people think about transport and about how they travel to sports and cultural events."

At the same time, planners will set aside one lane on certain roads in London for the so-called "Olympic family" -- 80,000 privileged athletes, journalists and officials -- who will flow past proletarian traffic to get to work. These routes have already been nicknamed "Zil lanes," according to the Times, a reference to lanes in Moscow reserved in the Soviet era for government convoys.

Ordinary Brits will be well informed in advance that no Olympic venue will have public parking. But critics wonder if a complete car ban might discourage, say, families with kids -- or how the London Tube, which is already overburdened during rush hour, might handle an onslaught of thousands of new visitors in 2012. The Games' peak days are expected to draw 800,000 people to events nationwide.

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