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London 2012 Olympics: capital braced for travel chaos as Games Lanes open on Heathrow’s busiest day

Published: July 16, 2012 | 9:49 am
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The capital faces its first major transport challenge of the London 2012 Olympics as athletes begin to arrive and the first Games Lane comes into operation.

Londoners were given a hint of what to expect for the next seven weeks on Monday as the first of the Olympic Games Lanes came into force on the M4, causing traffic mayhem, and Heathrow Airport experienced a record number of visitors, as international competitors touched down.
The opening of the first of the Games Lane on the M4 – which has only just reopened following repairs but is part of the Olympic Route Network (ORN) – sparked frustration for motorists travelling in to the capital.
Operational from 5am and 10pm the special lane has been being introduced ahead of time to cope with the beginning of the big rush of Olympic arrivals coming in from nearby Heathrow – some 80 per cent of Games Family arrivals are expected to use this route.

According to the AA, motorists faced delays as they approached the lane at Heathrow, with traffic moving slowly eastwards.
At one point the queue started as far back as the A34, 32 miles away, as traffic had to funnel from three lanes into two.
However traffic moved more smoothly to the east of Heathrow especially as the early morning peak traffic evaporated.
The London 2012 athletes’ village, in Stratford, east London, also opened on Monday with GB athletes competing in diving, equestrian, football, shooting and swimming expected to be the first to enter.
Within the ORN are 30 miles of Games Lanes which will become fully operational on July 25 – two days before the Olympic opening ceremony.
The Games Lanes will be clearly marked and will operate alongside existing traffic. All road users will be able to go into the lanes when they are not in use overnight.
Those who stray into operational Games Lanes face a penalty charge of £130, while illegally parked vehicles will be removed to a pound and may incur a release fee of £200.
Even the slightest problem on London’s roads during the Olympics could create “the perfect storm”, former head of traffic at the Metropolitan Police Kevin Delaney warned.
Mr Delaney, now head of road safety at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: “The problem with the Games lanes is that London’s road network runs at, or very close to, capacity almost all day, almost every day of the year.
“Wherever the Games lanes are, they have reduced the amount of lanes for ordinary traffic. You are actually reducing the amount of road space for ordinary traffic.
“Unless everybody heeds the advice to not drive, there are problems. Imagine if there is a situation where we have a breakdown or a crash. The road network just would not cope with that.
“It would be like a perfect storm – the level of congestion that you would normally get would be magnified.
“It is because London’s road network actually operates so efficiently that if anything goes wrong it goes badly wrong.
“The best analogy I can make is the blood system in your body – it works fine until you get a clot but when you do get one it has a disproportionate effect.”
Mayor of London Boris Johnson remained bullish, however, and told Sky News: “I don’t think anyone, with the best will in the world, could say that the Olympic lanes were a surprise, unless you have been living on Mars for the past couple of years. We knew that we had to put in an Olympic network.
“We could not have had a situation, like the one in Atlanta (in 1996), where athletes train for four years to get to their competitions and could not make it because of traffic problems. We have a pretty minimal Olympic network by comparison with Beijing. I think it is absolutely right to do it, and there are all sorts of mitigating measures we have put in to help taxi drivers and normal motorists.”
Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport was expecting to handle a record number of passengers on Monday – some 236,955 passengers – breaking the previous record of 233,562 set on July 31 last year.
Heathrow operator BAA said immigration waiting times have been within the targets set by the Home Office since new resources were put in place on Sunday.
BAA added that additional staff are on duty in the baggage hall to quickly reunite Olympic teams with their baggage and equipment.
Athletes travel with around twice the number of bags as regular passengers – an average of nearly three items per athlete.
The busiest day for arriving athletes is expected to be July 24, when 1,262 athletes and coaches and 3,008 other Olympics-related arrivals are predicted.
More than 500 Heathrow and London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Locog) volunteers, speaking more than 20 languages between them, welcomed groups of Olympic athletes and officials from their planes today.
London 2012 accreditation desks were operational in each terminal, allowing Games family members to collect their accreditation for the Olympic Village as soon as they arrive.
London 2012 coaches operated from airport forecourts for the first time today to transport athletes to the Olympic Village.
Nick Cole, head of Olympic and Paralympic planning at BAA, said: “Today heralds the start of Britain’s biggest peacetime transport challenge and Heathrow’s busiest ever period.
“The Olympic and Paralympic Games are a marathon, not a sprint, for Heathrow.
“The airport has some major challenges ahead, including unprecedented numbers of departing Olympics passengers and bags on August 13 and Paralympic arrivals and departures in August and September.”


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