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Getting around the Games without going crazy

If you’re planning to attend the upcoming festivities in Vancouver or Whistler, you should probably be prepared for travel challenges of Olympian proportions.
Image: Bombardier
People board a Bombardier Olympic Line train near the Olympic Village Canada Line Station in Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 21. Two streetcars, on loan from the Brussels Transport Company in Belgium, will provide free rides from the Olympic Village Canada Line Station to Granville Island between 6:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. from Jan. 21 to March 21. Darryl Dyck / AP

In a few days, Vancouver, B.C., will welcome the world to the XXI Winter Olympics.

The world’s cars? Not so much.

In fact, if you’re planning to attend the upcoming festivities in Vancouver or Whistler, you should probably be prepared for travel challenges of Olympian proportions.

More traffic, fewer roads
Officially speaking, there are nine Olympic venues in the Vancouver metropolitan area, plus another six in and around Whistler. Add in a slew of unofficial venues — celebration sites, sponsor sites and other attractions — and the potential for Games-induced gridlock is high.

According to Dale Bracewell, Vancouver’s (aptly named) director of Olympic transportation, the city is preparing for an extra 150,000 daily trips into downtown during the Games. That’s 30 percent above average — at the same time that access restrictions will cut road capacity by 20 percent.

“We’re expecting it to be like rush hour,” says Bracewell, “but for 12 hours a day.” To minimize hassles, keep the following in mind and bookmark TravelSmart2010 for updates.

Road closures/restrictions: Leave the car in the hotel garage. There is no parking at any Olympic venue and precious little in the downtown core. Several major streets will also be reconfigured to provide priority access to buses and Olympics-accredited vehicles.

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Pedestrian corridors: Bad news for drivers, but good news for pedestrians, portions of four major arterials — Granville, Robson, Beatty and Hamilton — will operate as pedestrian-only walkways daily from noon to midnight.

Olympic Line streetcar: Vancouver’s first streetcar in 50 years will provide a convenient link between the Canada Line — the city’s new rapid-transit service between the airport, Richmond and downtown — and Granville Island. It’s free through March 21.

Public transit: TransLink, Vancouver’s transportation agency, will offer expanded service on its buses, SeaBus water taxis and the SkyTrain rapid-transit system. All are free for event ticket holders on the day of their event.

Beyond the city limits
Getting to the mountain venues at Cypress (snowboarding and freestyle skiing) and Whistler (alpine, cross-country and sliding events) will also require advance planning.

Cypress Mountain: The road to Cypress is now closed to private car travel and will remain so until March 9. During the Games, public access will be limited to event ticket-holders, all of whom will be required to ride Olympic Bus Network motorcoaches to and from the venue. Roundtrip tickets are $25, available on a first-come, first-served basis and can be reserved here.

Getting to Whistler: Whistler-bound travelers will face a one-two punch of transportation restrictions: Access to the Sea to Sky Highway will be strictly limited and there will be essentially no public parking at the resort itself.

Starting on February 11, permits will be required to travel north of Squamish during the hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Travelers with accommodations should have received their permits with their reservation confirmation. Those that haven’t can pick one up at a Permit Office in Squamish; proof of accommodation with confirmed parking will be required.

Visitors with event tickets but no accommodations will need to ride Olympic Bus Network coaches from Vancouver to the competition venues. Trips are linked to specific venues (e.g., Whistler Creekside or the Sliding Center); ski/snowboard gear is not permitted, and the last return trip departs two hours after the competition ends. Roundtrip tickets are $50.

Visitors without event tickets or accommodations, e.g., day-skiers and other visitors, can choose from several companies that will provide bus service between Vancouver and Whistler. Roundtrip tickets start at $70; is currently offering transportation/lift ticket packages for $134.

Finally, note that the Sea to Sky Highway is open to all car travel outside the permit hours. However, given the road’s cliff-lined route and its spectacular scenery, it really should be seen in the daylight.

Fast, light and car-free
It sounds daunting, and in some instances, may prove to be so. On the other hand, Vancouver is blessed with an excellent public-transit system and the city and event organizers have worked hard to set up systems to manage the flow of residents, visitors, athletes and officials. In fact, depending on the event, some visitors may be able to rely on public transit entirely, forgoing the need to worry about driving, parking and traffic jams altogether.

That’s what Jeremy Brahm of Portland is doing. Originally, he and his friends had hoped to see three or four events over the course of four or five days. Unfortunately, they only got tickets to one event and minimum-stay requirements made lodging outrageously expensive.

Instead, he says, they’ve decided to do it as a one-day trip — flying into Vancouver Airport in the morning, taking the new Canada Line SkyTrain into downtown, seeing the sights and a hockey game and reversing their steps to catch an evening flight home. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible,” says Brahm. “We’re bringing our tickets, our wallets and our passports, and that’s about it.”

Rob Lovitt is a frequent contributor to If you'd like to respond to one of his columns or suggest a story idea, .