Why Boston Isn’t Right For The Olympics

Olympics_001I’m one of the skeptics. I’m one of the downers. And if the Olympics show up in this great city, I plan to be way out of town.

I am not a city planner or civil engineer or transportation official. But I am a commuter, and someone who is already terrified of his chances of survival in the urban Mad Max battlefield of Boston traffic. Perhaps my objections are spawned from fragile driver emotions, but then again, I spent 90 minutes in Downtown gridlock last night.

The City of Boston is certainly a city of champions, but it took years for professional sports to develop around shifting demographics, transportation, and industry. Besides, not everyone shows up at Fenway or the Garden. People are tussled enough when the Boston Marathon and Red Sox operate in the same 48-hour window. The 2024 Olympics would be everywhere and involve everyone in a great wave of excitement and activity. In my humble opinion, getting this to work would need an extraordinary level of citizen cooperation, bureaucratic function, and gobs and gobs of cash.

Bostonians come together for big championships. They come together after tragedies. They don’t come together for contracting. The Central Artery/Tunnel Project, better known as the Big Dig, rivaled the pyramids in scope and cost. The Big Dig is a fantastic example of transportation engineering but a colossal investment that isn’t paid off. It took more than a decade to complete the system, and it still leaks. If Boston won the bid for the 2024 Olympics, the city would have just seven years to get everything up and running. That means new stadiums. New bathrooms. New dedicated transit routes. New signage. New security equipment. New housing. Get the picture? American contracting is never an exact science. Contracting takes more time and money than expected. And even after witnessing the amazing constructions of the Big Dig, citizens still complain about the cost and the trouble.

Some cities have asked citizens and employees to take holidays to make them more open for Olympians and spectators. I wonder if Boston employers would cooperate with such a request. In recent years, leaders and developers have rushed to put Boston on the map for innovative industry. We have biotech. We have higher education. We have a financial district. We have summer tourism. These are businesses that simply cannot close or operate with skeleton crews. Will the city empty as expected?

The budget-strained MBTA would also be hard pressed to accommodate Bostonian riders and Olympian riders. Extra buses and extra trains also mean more fuel and more labor costs. Will a week’s worth of festivities leave this weathered transit authority permanently in the red?

Dedicated transit lanes on highways and city roads are also expected to ferry shuttles of Olympians and spectators between locations. On the highway, high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes permit vehicles with two-plus passengers to get moving a little faster, and free up the congestion of multi-lane routes. What happens when the city and state start moving concrete barriers, erect signs, and close off more lanes for the Olympics? Traffic can be horrid enough in certain times of the day on the Tobin, on Storrow Drive, at the Allston tolls of the MassPike, in the tunnels, and every ramp in sight. Putting aside transit lanes for thousands of new people could create enormous problems.

These are just a few ideas of how a major initiative to bring business to Boston can fall back on itself. City and state planners need to have realistic views of short- and long-term ramifications, including budget expenses, labor, security arrangements, and pedestrian/commuter management. If we win the bid, can any of this come together without a generous heaping of chaos?

 

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