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Long-awaited transportation plan provides some answers

Know before you go.

Know before you go.

After waiting - and waiting - for VANOC to release a transportation plan (it was originally scheduled to be out in 2007) so that we, as individuals and businesses, could plan strategies for the Olympic period, the summary phrase of the whole exercise puts the onus back on us. Know before we have to go.

Know what?

Know the restrictions and limitations on getting there, and the restrictions and limitations once there. Know that within Whistler at least, it's not going to be travel as usual in February 2010.

Despite the irony that the much-anticipated transportation plan puts the onus back on us, it appears at first glance to be a reasonable plan. Of course, there isn't any snow and ice or fog or lost bus drivers included in the documents that make up the plan, but it seems highly workable.

The critical piece to the whole plan working is something that VANOC desperately needs to improve on: communication.

It's up to VANOC to make sure that people in the Sea to Sky corridor and the Lower Mainland know and understand the restrictions and limitations on moving around during the Olympics. The first iteration of the plan was released publicly this week. In Whistler, an open house is planned for Monday. Further refinements to the plan, and details not yet resolved, will be unveiled in two future iterations this summer and in the fall.

But the basic tenets of the plan released this week are realistic. And to no one's surprise, they start with getting people out of their cars and into buses. That won't be too hard a sell, because within Whistler there won't be many places to park your car.

And there will be buses. The 39 that currently make up the Whistler and Valley Express fleet will grow to 135 during February 2010. There will be more routes and there will be more frequent service, 24 hours a day. There will also be commuter buses between Whistler and Pemberton and Whistler and Squamish 24 hours a day. The long-term belief is that the convenience of buses during the Olympic period will persuade more people to use them following the Games.

Of course there won't be 135 buses available after the Olympics, but it's a hopeful thought.

Just as important is the news that commercial vehicles will not be restricted, or slowed substantially, between Horseshoe Bay and Whistler. There will be one checkpoint on Highway 99, north of Squamish, that is intended to stop "spectating spectators." Those are people VANOC fears will drive their cars to Whistler to see what's going on. They won't have a place to stay and they won't have a place to park, so they will be turned around.

But there are no security checks planned for the highway. If a commercial vehicle or a private individual has reason to drive to Whistler they won't be unduly delayed on the highway.

VANOC says its modelling shows that the expanded Highway 99, including the third lane that has to be built this summer between Function Junction and the village, has the capacity to handle all the traffic anticipated during the Olympic period. That includes about 350 buses a day carrying people from the Lower Mainland to Whistler and back again.

What VANOC is asking is that commercial vehicles and individuals travel outside the "peak periods." For the highway, the peak period generally means between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Once in Whistler, however, things become a little more complicated.

There will be vehicle restrictions around Creekside, around the conference centre and the sliding centre. The day-skier parking lots will also be off limits as they will be occupied by hundreds of buses. The restrictions will be more onerous during "peak periods." That means from three hours before an event until about two hours after the event. That means people should know the schedule of Olympic events; should know that alpine ski events at Creekside are scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., while sliding events generally start in the afternoon.

Just as important as the transportation plan is the number of people expected in Whistler during the Games. VANOC and RMOW officials confirmed this week that they expect about 10-20 per cent more people staying in Whistler each night than during the Christmas period. That is, up to 55,000 staying in Whistler each night between Feb. 12 and 28. And more than half the spectators going to events at the sliding centre, Creekside and Whistler Olympic Park are expected to be staying in Whistler.

There are still details to work out, particularly with village businesses receiving deliveries, but the Whistler portion of the long-awaited transportation plan appears workable.