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Olympic Game Plan ‘turned a corner’

Most transportation, security questions answered at Whistler meeting

For months Whistler has struggled with Olympic anxiety and angst.

But it looks like the latest Olympic update, hosted last week by the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Committee (VANOC), the municipality, the Whistler Chamber of Commerce, and the Integrated Security Unit, may have helped change the mood for the better.

"I think as a result of Wednesday's Game Plan meeting I sensed that we turned a corner," said chamber president Fiona Famulak.

"We are moving into the next phase, which I think is a positive phase."

Famulak believes that businesses are now getting the information they need to plan for Games time. And, she said, it is available in variety of ways through a variety of different organizations making it more accessible.

The change was evident with the increase and change in tone in the calls received by the chamber the day after the meeting, which drew over 300 people.

"...It is quite noticeable that since Thursday morning, the day after, we have received very positive feedback from our membership and the tone of the calls that we are receiving now is more upbeat and more positive and the type of questions are more specific, which is good," said Famulak.

She isn't alone in her perceptions.

Ben Thomas of VIP Mountain Holidays observed the same sea-change.

"I think we have turned the corner," he said this week.

"I really got the feeling that this meeting helped people get over that hurdle (of not feeling good about the Games).

"I think absolutely the meeting was a very crucial one and it could have gone the other way if they had not given the information needed. We would have had another pay parking situation on our hands."

(Recently Whistler citizens voiced outrage over council's decision to introduce pay parking. Many felt there was not enough information and public consultation on the issue.)

While accepting that there was not much new information at the meeting, Thomas said presenting it in a clear way at one forum has helped dispel many myths, including that the highway will be closed, that residents will not be able to get around, that businesses will be unable to operate, that visitors and residents will not be able to walk around town without going through security, or that Whistler Blackcomb will not be open for skiing and boarding.

"Most of this information has been out there but people don't go into the right websites to look for it themselves and so this time it was given to them in plain English and that makes all the difference," said Thomas.

It was also announced at the meeting that residents in neighbourhoods close to Olympic venues would have to get a permit for their car at Games time.

And residents will also have to get a permit to drive the Sea to Sky Highway.

The Game Plan meetings are designed to bring Olympic communities up to date with plans and preparations as the Games draw nearer.

"We wanted to make sure that the transportation worked around the venues," Bill Barratt, the Resort Municipality of Whistler's Chief Administrative Officer told the audience.

"We want to make sure that our residents and guests have easy access to their hotels and home.

"You will be able to get around. There are only a few areas that will be permitted and on the whole we believe it will decrease transit congestion."

The permits will be mailed out using the tax roll for addresses. There will also be an office at municipal hall to deal with anyone who needs a permit but is not on the tax roll.

Each household will get two fully transferable permits.

While most in the audience left with a better understanding of what it will be like to live with virtually no public parking, 55,000 daily guests, thousands of media looking for a story, thousands of security officials, a restricted highway and road system, some still had questions.

Can bars and restaurants stay open longer, will people be able to protest, will taxis and limousines face long delays in driving from the resort to the Vancouver airport and back, how will Olympic organizers deal with an outbreak of H1N1 swine flu, and how will residents get around with parking all but non-existent?

"We want these questions and we want to answer them," VANOC spokeswoman Maureen Douglas told the crowd.

Said taxi driver Edna Laffey following the 2.5 hour meeting: "I wonder if it is going to be difficult to get our clients to their hotels with all the blocked off streets, and no-go zones."

"It is a little unsettling not knowing how this is going to be."

Resident Leslie Byford, needed to confirm that she would be able to get a family member with a disability around town and to events.

"And I wanted to know about the highway," she said.

"The misconception that we were not going to be able to use the highway, well they officially blew that idea out of the water."

Byford, and family members coming to stay for the Games, plan on going to several events, including ones in Vancouver.

The Sea to Sky Highway will be open to traffic though there will be a checkpoint heading north from Feb. 11 to 28, to make sure travellers have somewhere to park in Whistler.

"It is a traffic management tool, it is not a security checkpoint," explained Douglas.

"It is not about stopping and interviewing and doing that sort of thing, it is about maintaining efficiency."

Both Whistler and Blackcomb will be open for skiing throughout the Olympics.

Residents can travel to Vancouver by car. If traveling to an Olympic event, residents can park and take free transit with their Games ticket once they are in Vancouver.

For Cypress events, Whistler residents must park at the West Vancouver or North Vancouver load points and pay the $12 ticket for the Olympic bus.

Byford, a registered massage therapist, does have some concerns that injured clients will find it tough to get into town for help.

"There is going to be an issue for local people who are on crutches, in the foot cast, in back spasm and that will be interesting to see how that works using buses," she said.

Whistler fleet of buses will increase from 35 to 139 during the Olympics and will operate 24 hours a day.

Cpl. Manon Chouinard of the Integrated Security Unit said talks were still taking place around how protesters will be handled in Whistler.

"We are working with local police here and we are looking at how we can accommodate that," she said.

"I think it is expected by the public that we understand what might be planned for the Olympics."

There will be 16,500 security personnel working at the Games. Of those 7,000 are police officers, 4,500 are Canadian Armed Forces and 5,000 are private security.

Police officers from across the country will be working the Games and each will wear the uniform of their own detachment.

The only times residents or guests will go through security checkpoints will be if they are entering an Olympic venue. Chouinard said the security would be similar to that at an airport.

Venues will be fenced and closed circuit television cameras will be mounted facing into the venues. All the cameras will be removed after the Games.

The audience also learned that the fencing around Celebration Plaza would not be much beyond the footprint of the current fencing.

The tickets for the nightly medal ceremonies will be free but people must still apply for them as part of VANOC's crowd management system.

The programming will begin each night at about 6:30 p.m. with the main show starting at 7:30. The Whistler Live programming at the five town sites will wrap by about 11 p.m. so that guests and residents can get some sleep.

Workers however, will still be coming off shifts well into the night, pointed out Douglas, adding that it might be a good idea for some restaurants to think about staying open to serve late meals.

The RMOW confirmed that hours of opening and closing for restaurants and bars at Games time would not be varied as a group.

Meadow Park sports Centre will remain open as usual throughout the Games period as will the Lost Lake Cross country ski loops. The Nordic centre in the Callaghan will be closed to recreational skiers during the Olympics, as it is a host venue, but will have some runs open during the Paralympics.

The post office and the health care centre will be open as usual, though the municipal hall will only be open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Games time.

Vancouver Coastal Health is working with the health care centre on service provision plans and is the lead agency on how the resort handles H1N1.

The Game Plan presentation is on the RMOW's web site at www.whistler.ca




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