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Parking an Olympic concern

Councillors stress to public need to take buses as ‘part of the Games experience’

If you live in Alpine and want to drive to Marketplace during the Olympics, you are probably not going to be able to do that.

That was the way Councillor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden put it Saturday during the Olympic town hall meeting.

You can take your car, she said, but parking will be the issue.

Indeed, parking and restricted transportation shaped up to be one of the top issues of community concern for the Olympics, accounting for about half of the questions at the event.

Questions ranged from “Will I be able to buy wine from the local liquor store?” to “Will commuting between Vancouver and Whistler be possible during Games time?”

“I think there is a real thirst for information about transit and about transportation in the valley because everybody wants to be certain that they are going to be able to go to work, and that they are going to be able to take their kids to school,” said Wilhelm-Morden on Tuesday.

“And certainly everybody will be able to get to work and everybody will be able to get their kids to school,” she said.

Wilhelm-Morden went on to say that people are going to have to realize that it is going to be very busy in Whistler during the Games.

“As I said at the meeting, if people think that there is going to be unrestricted access, that is not going to be the case. It will be tough to park and people are going to be encouraged to leave their cars at home and get on transit,” she said.

Public parking will be almost nonexistent in the Village during 2010 while the Olympics are in place.

Whistler-Blackcomb’s day skier lots have all been contracted out to VANOC for use during the games, including Lots 6,7, and 8 on Blackcomb and Franz’s Trial at Creekside.

Doug Forseth, senior vice president of operations for Whistler Blackcomb, said that Whistler-Blackcomb is not worried that transportation will affect their skier and snowboarder numbers during the games.

“I think it will affect locals…coming from Vancouver and our regional market, since they don’t have a place to park,” said Forseth.

“One thing that VANOC is preparing to do is provide bus transportation for up to 5,000 people a day from Vancouver,” he said.

Diana Waltmann, spokesperson for the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), added that the municipal parking lot under the TELUS Conference Centre will likley not be public during the Games.

“I don’t know that they will be available because the Conference Centre is being used,” said Waltmann,

“The ones under the rest of the Village are not controlled by the municipality, so it would depend on the operators, what they are planning to do,” she added.

Owners of one of the largest parking lots in town – the parking space at Marketplace – have not yet decided what to do with the area during Games time.

“We actually haven’t confirmed what the policy will be during the Olympics period,” said Tom Johnston from Trilogy Properties, owner Whistler Marketplace Shopping Centre.

“That really is a discussion we would hold with our tenants, because the tenants and their customers are as much stakeholders in the parking lot as we are as landlords of the centre.”

To alleviate the tight parking situation, the municipality is bringing in 120 additional buses during the Winter Olympics to supplement Whistler’s WAVE transit system.

According to Mayor Ken Melamed, the buses will service every “nook and cranny” in Whistler, including places that currently do not have regular bus service.

A transportation plan is also being worked on by the Transit Management Committee, chaired by Wilhelm-Morden, and should be made public in the spring.

The plan will cover details such as whether it is necessary to have the highway closed or restricted at certain periods of time during the Games and who will be able to access Highway 99 to travel between Vancouver and Whistler.

The councillors stressed at Saturday’s Olympic town hall meeting that using transit during the Games is a suggestion, not an absolute. However, if everyone uses a car it is not going to work.

“VANOC, the RMOW and others are creating lots of opportunities for alternatives. We are encouraging everybody over towards buses,” said Councillor Tim Wake.

Melamed added: “Rather than thinking of public transit as the worst thing possible, think of it as part of the Games’ experience.”

The councillors made reference to successful public transport systems used during the Winter Olympic Games in other host cities, including Torino and Calgary.