Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Lost Opportunities of the 2010 Winter Olympics

It's only a few days into what is going to seem an interminable period of mess and mayhem in Vancouver, but it seems time to open the discussion about the missed opportunities that could have made this event truly world-class, and one to be remembered and appreciated by British Columbians for many years to come.

Missed Opportunity #1 - Green Transport (Olympic Lanes)
It seems that anyone with a white or silver GMC truck or SUV that weighs over a ton can get a door sticker enabling them to sail through traffic in the "Olympic Lanes". Most of us have no problem knowing busses and service trucks can move the various Olympic-related goods and people around. When you look closely though you often see the same thing - large SUVs with one large driver. Sometimes on their non-handsfree cell-phone. Are they late for a pick-up? I especially had to grit my teeth (and slam on my brakes) for the entitled driver who left their privileged lane to cut in front of me to turn left on Cambie street. Perhaps GM could offer an OnStar bumper sticker for 1-800 How's My Driving?
The opportunity to have the early production Chevy Volt electrically cruising along the route along with any bike, board, or electric cycle - that would have been an Olympic lane to capture the world's imagination. Instead we have GM commercials about huge vehicles complaining to each other about being stuck with "airport runs" (instead of using the Canada Line) and airing their huge trunks while apologizing for the smell of hockey equipment, to say nothing of their own gaseous exhausts.

Missed Opportunity #2 - Green Transport (Sea to Sky Train)
After years and billions of dollars Peter Kiewit succeeded in grabbing each end of the Squamish-Whistler highway 99 and pulling it straighter. Better time and fewer fatalities are certainly worth some serious investment. Sadly, most of the benefits have been undone for a month while the IOC cordoned off a lane for exclusive use. Thousands of small orange sticks limit visibility and create narrow lanes that undulate with little or no relation to the white lines of the road or the guardrails. The time we gained from the reconstruction has been more than lost with the poor lane control.
Of course when you consider that the road widening mainly benefits the occasional or tourist driver the decision becomes somewhat baffling. It's painfully clear that our guests should not be driving to Whistler for events. There's nowhere for 20,000 cars to park, a fact we knew would be true even before the decision to widen the highway was made.
The missed opportunity here - affordable, regular passenger railroad service to Whistler. Perhaps the railbed can't accommodate fast trains, but it's still as fast as the bus, and as anyone who was lucky enough to travel the line on the BC Rail train, or has a ticket on the privileged Alberta Train, one of the most beautiful routes in the world. Instead, coming back from Whistler last week, we drove over part of the rail-line south of Brittania that had been PAVED over for cars. What a waste.

Missed Opportunity #3 - Community Signs and Support
A few months ago the City of Vancouver bowed to pressure to pass a bylaw that allowed officials to enter private homes to take down any signs that offended the IOC guidelines. While it probably would not stand up to a court case, Vancouverites are by-and-large not feisty enough to bother getting in an uproar about it. Instead, they display the passive resistance we're known for - there are simply no indications that anyone, anyone at all - school children, families, schools, or businesses, are the least bit enthusiastic about Vancouver 2010, or the Olympics. The occasional "Go Canada Go" banner or Canada flag-as-drapery are all that we can imagine displaying without the fear of hordes of IOC police breaking down the door to tear down the kids' unlawful manilla-and-crayon sketch of 5 circles and a "Welcome to Vancouver 2010" phrase (written with a backwards "r"). Or maybe just a lawsuit from the IOC. Sumi, indeed.

Missed Opportunity #4 - Trust
Hundreds of pedestrians trek from the Waterfront station on a pilgrimage to the Jack Poole Square to see the Olympic cauldron set alight by the Great One on opening night. When they get there, they are jailed, like protesters, locked out by a huge fence. "How could this be?" we ask, to be told it is for the security of the International Press. Security. Its presence is everywhere, a silent, ominous reminder that we are captives in our own city.

Thankfully, bright hope exists. When a guy like Alex Bilodeau can exhibit skill, then top it off with Canadian humility, and the heartfelt love he has for his brother and family, even the harshest critic has to be thankful for those rare moments. It's just sad that so many other amazingly wonderful things that could have been, were not, lost because of overzealous protectionism, and lack of political vision.