diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 31, 2012

We've had the soft launches, the business alerts and undercover detail. Now London 2012 are firing all their PR bullets at the Great British public to encourage them to plan ahead for travel during the Olympics. If you live in York or Edinburgh you probably won't care. But for those who live/work near a Games venue, or are planning to travel to one, this stuff matters.

Sorry, what's that, you're bored already? No, really, this stuff is important, else how stupid are you going to look in the summer when your usual travel plans collapse? Although admittedly whether or not you can vary your working day may depend on the nature of your job and the foresight of your employer, not your willingness to adapt to change. And your travel plans might not yet be firmly enough established for any of this transport information to be of any use... at the moment. So is the new 2012 travel website any use for forward planning, or is it high level bluster? Let's see.

On the Get Ahead of the Games website, each individual geographical area gets its own section. Weymouth, Windsor, Coventry... they're all there... basic message "don't drive" and "maybe you should catch the shuttle bus". I'm travelling to an Olympic event outside London during the second week of the Games, and I've deduced that the GAOTG webpage isn't really aimed at me, it's for the good folk who live nearby and need to be warned about local disruption. There is impressively detailed visitor information on the ordinary London 2012 website, but nobody's thought to link directly to that - the good stuff is at least five clicks away.

But it's in London where the new GAOTG website attempts to shine a bright light on the effects of potential disruption. An interactive map shows how passenger hotspots will vary across the public transport network - a most useful spatial innovation - and a slider helps to see how impacts change from day to day. There's no information yet for the Torch Relay phase, nor the day of the Opening Ceremony, nor any of the Paralympics, so you can't plan ahead for any of that until later. But the big Olympic fortnight is supposedly fully covered.

What the interactive map makes very clear is that the Jubilee line will be best avoided. Big red circles announce "exceptionally busy" stations all the way from Bond Street to North Greenwich (and although Bermondsey and Southwark aren't marked red, I bet you'll never squeeze onto a train at either when one arrives). Other stations have been marked orange because they'll be "busier than usual", although not all stations that'll be busier than usual have been marked orange. For example Stratford International will most definitely be "busier than usual" during the Olympics, because it's pretty much dead usually, but that's not been marked orange. I suspect orange really means "significantly busier than normal, enough to cause delays", but the key doesn't say that. And then there are Wembley Park and Earl's Court, which must surely be "busier than usual" (with passenger delays) because they're adjacent to major Olympic venues, but they've not been marked orange either. This orange category of stations hasn't been appropriately named, or isn't yet complete, or probably both.

There's one last category in the key - some stations have been marked with red crosses because they'll have "restricted operations". Apparently the only station thus affected is Marble Arch, which'll be mostly exit only, although in reality several more stations will have more restrictive restrictions. Pudding Mill Lane will be closed outright, Cutty Sark will be closed sometimes, West Silvertown and Custom House will be exit only, etc etc. Indeed the interactive map so far has very limited information about the DLR, which isn't especially helpful given that it'll be sorely affected during the Games. And it has nothing on National Rail, not unless you look at the text way below the map, where there's no specific information at all. What we have here is an incomplete "hotspot" map based on only one mode of travel, plus some broader stuff underneath that the public may or may not notice.

The map also makes no attempt to reveal how demand will change during the course of each day, at least not in the surface detail. But click on the busy stations and a pop-up box reveals more timely information. Euston and King's Cross will be busiest in the morning peak, apparently, and mostly better later in the day. Bank will be overcrowded most of the time, so stay away. And Tower Gateway may look busy, but that's only between 5pm and 6pm each day, and at other times it's actually a recommended alternative to Bank. Overlook this level of detail and you might accidentally plan a route to avoid somewhere, based on simplistic generalisations, when in fact it was perfectly accessible after all. For more finely-tuned advice you need the specially-designed London 2012 Spectator Journey Planner... but is that linked from the new GAOTG website? No, only the normal TfL Journey Planner, which doesn't yet cover Summer 2012.

So that's Get Ahead of the Games. You'll be sick of its transport-related cajoling over the next six months, because promotional megabucks are lined up to be hurled its way. A whole platformful of politicians and Olympians lined up yesterday to help launch the site, and it should provide a welcome jolt for Londoners who haven't yet engaged with Games-related transport planning. It might even be comprehensive and accurate before July, let's hope.

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