Olympic Games: London Transportation Investments

London Olympic Park. Source: Flickr @onehourleft

Following up on the series of posts on transportation investments in Olympic host cities, I thought it appropriate  to explain what the transportation investments are for the 2012 Olympic Games. First, it’s important to note that transportation investments are legacy investments, most of these are long-term investments and will benefit Londoners for generations. The legacy investments in transportation cost a staggering £6.5 billion ($10.1 billion USD). These investments include the following:

Stratford Regional Station

Aerial view of Stratford Regional Station. Taken on 3/24/11 by Anthony Charlton via flickr.

Stratford Regional Station is a major connection point that links the London Underground’s Central and Jubilee Lines, the Docklands Light Railway, the London Overground North London Line and several National Rail Services. This station will be a gateway for the Olympic Games and to the Stratford area of East London. £125 million ($194 million USD) has been invested into the station in preparation for the Games. During the Games this station will serve 10 different rail routes, making it one of the most connected stations in all of London.

The high level platforms serve the London Overground North London line, London Underground Central Line, the DLR via Poplar and the National Rail services on the top-level platforms (see photo, left). The lower level platforms serve the Jubilee Line and DLR via Canning Town.  In the future, Stratford Regional will also connect with Crossrail services.

London Overground

The East London line opened in May 2010 and has been incorporated into the London Overground system. The service   links 21 stations from Dalston Junction in east London to West Croydon and Crystal Palace in the south. Four brand new  step-free stations have been built and the existing stations have been fully refurbished.

Capacity and service frequency have also been increased on the London Overground’s North London line, which connects Richmond and Clapham Junction in south-west London to Stratford Regional via North London. The upgrade includes new signals, track and rolling stock, and longer platforms so the line can operate four car trains. The video below provides a pretty good idea of the investments made on the London Overground.

Stratford International Station

Descending the escalator from the ticket hall. Via diamond geezer @ flickr

Stratford International Station is a mainline railway and DLR station located in the center of Olympic Park. It’s located on High Speed 1 between St. Pancras and Ebbsfleet International in the Stratford region. The DLR was extended from Canning Town north to provide a connection from Stratford International to the rest of the London public transport network.

During the Olympic Games this line will be used by the Javelin service, which will be able to transport thousands of passengers an hour. Service frequencies of eight trains per hour is planned between St Pancras and Ebbsfleet during the Olympic Games. Travel time to St. Pancras is 7 minutes.



Docklands Light Railway (DLR)

Extension of the DLR north to Stratford International. Source: TheTrams.co.uk

An extension of the DLR is from Canning Town to the new Stratford International station. It will stop at Stratford and West Ham stations as well as new DLR stations at Stratford International, Star Lane, Abbey Road, and Stratford High Street.

Another extension of the DLR is under the River Thames from King George V near London City Airport to Woolwich Arsenal station. This extension opened in January 2009. It  provides a north–south link to the Olympic Park and Stratford area and offers better connections to East and South London. 55 new railcars have been ordered for the DLR, enabling it to run three car trains on its network.


London Underground

Capacity on the Jubilee line was increased by 17% following the addition of seven car trains in 2006. A new signaling system will increase capacity by a further 33% through faster more frequent services.

A new northern ticket hall opened at King’s Cross St. Pancras station in November 2009, providing a vital new link for passengers arriving on Eurostar services and National Rail services. Combined with the western ticket hall – which opened in 2006 – it has quadrupled the capacity of the station, cutting congestion and significantly improving accessibility.

Emirates Air Line

A cable car over the River Thames will be built with the sponsorship of Emirates air carrier. The £60 million ($93 million USD) project will link Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks. The cable car could provide a crossing every 15 seconds carrying up to 2,500 passengers per hour in each direction, equivalent to the capacity of 50 buses.

Orient Way

To open land up for the Olympic Park, a large train storage yard depot used to store trains serving Liverpool Street Station during peak hours was relocated from the heart of the Olympic Park to a new 12-track facility at Orient Way to the northeast of Olympic Park.


Note how I have really only mentioned rail investments. That’s the beauty of the London Games is that there are virtually no permanent capital investments in the road network. Sure, there will be temporary park-and-ride facilities outside the M25, and there are miles of pedestrian and bike trails within and around Olympic Park, but virtually every major permanent capital investment is in rail. These transportation investments have been regenerating Stratford and the East London with new development, including one of the largest commercial developments in Europe, Stratford City.

This is, I believe, a positive legacy of hosting the Olympic Games. Increasing access and mobility to some of the poorest in the UK while providing jobs and a richer environment is a legacy worth having.

My Seven Questions for the Transportation Bill Conference

D.C. Streetsblog had a list of seven questions to ask as the Transportation Bill conference was underway on Tuesday. I think the problem with their questions are that they are too focused on the sausage making rather than the content. It’s disappointing, I suppose, that such an insightful organization such as Streetsblog can fall victim to the back and forth ball game of politics when so much in transportation is on the line. Perhaps I am naive, but if I had the opportunity, these are the seven questions I would like to ask of the Transportation Committees:

  1. How will public transportation fare in the bill after being practically decapitated in the last round of talks?
  2. How do we handle the overwhelming state of good repair issues impacting all transportation infrastructure?
  3. How does the bill recognize the long (and short) term societal trends towards transportation that does not include the automobile.
  4. Does high-speed rail have a future?
  5. How will the bill address critical operational funding shortfalls (not to mention capital) that transit agencies are facing?
  6. How will the bill address the structural financial problems facing the Highway Trust Fund?
  7. Will there be a push towards alternative user fees to fund transportation infrastructure?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Congestion Pricing and Transit

In London, street markings and a sign (inset) ...

In London, street markings and a sign (inset) with the white-on-red C alert drivers to the charge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Streetsblog has an interesting article on whether the secret to world-class transit systems is congestion pricing. London, Singapore and Stockholm all have variations of congestion pricing and all are investing heavily in their public transportation systems. The gist of the article is that the incredibly robust transit ridership in these cities is the result of pricing of road space, something no U.S. city has done so far.

If congestion pricing effectively raises the cost of driving to a point where drivers look for other modes of travel, are public transport systems the main beneficiary?

Before we get into this, let’s take a step back to understand what congestion pricing is and is not. What congestion pricing is: a system to charge users of a transportation network during periods of peak demand. In it’s most robust form, congestion pricing uses variable pricing, that is, pricing that varies by time of day or by levels of peak demand. Thus, congestion pricing can regulate demand without needing to add capacity to the transportation network. The main objectives of congestion pricing is congestion management and transportation system financing.

Four types of congestion pricing systems are currently in use: a cordon area around a city center, with charges for passing the cordon line; area wide congestion pricing, which charges for being inside an area; a city center toll ring, with toll collection surrounding the city; and corridor or single facility congestion pricing, where access to a lane or a facility is priced.

London, Singapore and Stockholm all employ a variant of the cordon method of congestion pricing.

The Victoria Transportation Policy Institute (VTPI) has found that pricing roads that would otherwise be free can shift vehicle travel to free routes, alternative modes and closer destinations, and reduce vehicle trip frequency. Thus, depending on how congestion pricing is designed, it may push vehicle travel to other times and routes. But it also may reduce trip frequency. Also, if pricing is used to fund roadway capacity expansion that would not otherwise occur, it may increase total vehicle travel.  In Stockholm, it appears that congestion pricing is used to fund roadway improvements.

However, VTPI has also found that the better the travel alternatives (transit, ridesharing and cycling), the more that congestion pricing will cause mode shifts. In London, much of the congestion pricing revenues were poured into its bus system,with notable ridership impacts, as noted in Streetsblog.

And yet, there is something else that supports increased public transportation use. That’s land uses supportive of transit (TOD) and higher fuel prices. Both of these are also present in all three cities. So while I believe congestion pricing is important, it is one of many tools to lower congestion and increase public transportation use.



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Olympic Games and Transport Infrastructure: An Analysis

Olympic Games construction site A birds eye vi...

This is the last in a four-part series on the Olympic Games as a catalyst for urban, and specifically transportation, development. In Part I, we explored  the background of how the Games are administered at the local level. Part II examines the growth of the Olympic Games and how it became a catalyst for general urban development. And Part III examined transport infrastructure in relation to the Games, with a closer look at London’s preparation for the upcoming 2012 Summer Olympics. In this last post on the Olympic Games, we’ll analyze what this all means for the Olympic Games and for the host cities themselves.


A London Underground train decorated to promot...

A London Underground train decorated to promote London's Olympic bid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Transportation infrastructure has become essential component of successfully hosting a mega event such as the Olympic Games. Due to the large volume of spectators and athletes, logistics problems become complex as organizers seek to make the Games as efficient as possible in an urban transport network that is often inefficient. Because of each city’s unique history and urban form, the impacts of the Games on transport development differ.

Additionally, it becomes clear that when examining previous Olympic Games over the last few decades, many of the host cities have tried to choose sites which were underutilized or brownfield sites. Often these sites are the only large sites within the central city that is suitable for Olympic venues. Additional incentives for this seem to be a regeneration of central city areas like we have seen at Homebush Bay in Sydney, Helliniko Airport in Athens, and Stratford in London. In all cases, some transportation infrastructure may have been in place, yet it was underutilized or inefficiently serving the site.

In Sydney, host of the 2000 Summer Olympics, the Games were a significant catalyst for urban infrastructure development around the region. Beside the direct investments made for the Games, the indirect investments prior to or after the Olympic Games were expedited. These improvements included better transport connectivity and a major capacity expansion scheme to its airport, Kingsford Smith International, as well as capacity improvements at its main rail hub, Central Station. All together, direct investment in transport infrastructure as a result of the Olympic Games was A$370 million ($384 million), while indirect investment was approximately A$3 billion ($3.1 billion).

Athens, host of the 2004 Summer Olympics,  had transport issues that were significantly different from Sydney’s. Athens is an ancient city with a dense urban form. It also did not have much of the tertiary structure that is necessary to handle the increased demands of an Olympic Games. Due to the city’s urban form and a lack of large parcels of available public land, Athens had to spread out its Olympic venues across the Attica Plain. This was problematic due to the notorious traffic congestion facing Athens and the little public transport infrastructure within the city. Thus, by agreeing to host the Olympic Games, Athens embarked on a scale of transport investment that had not been seen since Tokyo in 1964. The direct and indirect investments in transport infrastructure included a new international airport, two metro lines, a tram system, and a suburban railway. All of these infrastructure improvements were built with the goal of making transport more efficient during the Olympic Games. In total, direct investment as a result of the Olympic Games in transport infrastructure was over 2.86 billion euro ($4.5 billion).

London’s model for urban development was similar to Sydney. It has an area ripe for regeneration at Stratford. London also has transport connections near the site of the Olympic Park but needed significant investment in public transportation infrastructure to make the site accessible. The Olympic Village is also adjacent to the Olympic Park like in Sydney. However, the similarities between the two cities end here.

London has a much more complex set of existing transport infrastructure in place. The key for London is to arrange and maximize the efficiencies of the transport infrastructure to serve the Games and the regeneration afterward. For London is unique in the case studies to be simultaneously regenerating the area around the Olympic Park in Stratford.

It is difficult to estimate how much the London Olympic Games will eventually cost. Cost overruns have already plagued the Games and are further anticipated. Given what is now reported, however, direct investment by the Her Majesty’s Government in transport is anticipated to be approximately £900m ($1.8 billion). Indirect investments in transport, particularly at Stratford International and other public transport services, both public and private, are estimated at £1bn ($2 billion) annually from 2007 through 2012.


A legacy of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. The Olympic Bridge over the River Han.Source: yarra 64 @ Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past several decades, almost all Olympic host cities have used the Games as a catalyst for massive urban regeneration. The legacy of hosting the Games includes physical and economic effects that are left following the Games that would otherwise not have occurred without the Games.

Structural change to the host city’s urban infrastructure can provide the host city with a once in a lifetime opportunity for massive urban development. The improvement in transport infrastructure and efficiency makes the city more efficient and competitive, drawing industry, income, and jobs to the Olympic host city. It can spur regeneration like it has in London (5,000 homes and a town center). Or it can open up new areas for development (new international airport in Athens). Either way, the trend is toward larger and more significant investment in infrastructure, using the Olympic Games as a catalyst toward infrastructure investment and regeneration.

New York vs. L.A.

Wiltshire Blvd., LA. Source: Wikimedia Commons

About 10 days ago the New York Times ran a fascinating Room for Debate topic asking: Should Los Angeles New Yorkify? I think this is a fascinating debate and it is very prescient considering that the American Planning Association is hosting their annual conference in LA this week.

Unfortunately for me, I am unable to attend this year’s APA conference. This won’t stop me from weighing in on the matter even though I have only visited these two cities exactly once.

As an urban planner, I have had a lot of preconceived notions about what exactly LA is and is not. I thought I knew it to be a sprawling, low density, suburban template with no real sense of place and no urbanity. The reality is much more nuanced than this. Yes, LA has sprawl, but did you know it is actually the most population dense metropolitan area in the country? Now, of course, this is in terms of metro areas and not a direct comparison of Manhattan vs. the San Fernando Valley. LA has urban, really urban pockets. Hollywood is really urban. So too are many of the suburbs like Pasadena and Santa Monica.

Third St., Santa Monica, CA. Source: Wikimedia Commons

So it’s established that LA is its own kind of city, albeit in an urban form that is nothing like New York. New York is built the way it is exactly because of its dense mass transit system, among the largest in the world, and the constraints of geography. LA is building a mass transit network worthy of its size only because it has finally reached the limits of its geography (hemmed in by mountains on all sides). And I think LA has realized the limitations to the car and the auto-centric urban form that is ingrained in its fabric and has realized that the LA of the future can be many things to many people. It won’t be New York, but who cares? New York is New York.