The Olympics is about sports, sure. But it's also about people, lots of people from just about everywhere. And as city streets turn into giant parking lots and spectators jam public transit, how a city shuffles these camera-snapping crowds from destination to destination can be one of the Olympics' most important performances. After all, staging the Olympic Games is considered the largest peacetime logistical exercise that any country can undertake.
And it will be no different for the United Kingdom this summer, particularly given London's already overcrowded public transportation system. What's a tourist to do? Take the scenic route. The city is gearing up for the games, which start next week, by upgrading its extensive walking and cycling paths.
On a typical day, the tube provides 3.5 million subway journeys. City officials are estimating spectators will add another 20 million trips alone in the London Underground during the 2012 Games -- this includes 3 million on the busiest day. In an effort to divert some riders and drivers, the city has been getting 100 walking and cycling paths ready on nine routes across London. One of these routes is The Greenway, a 4.3-mile, off-road pathway that brings pedestrians from the West Ham subway station to the Olympic Park. The city has improved the path with more access points, ramps, signage, vegetation, and resting places, making the trip a breeze.
And the walk won’t just be easy. It will be profitable.
Transport for London teamed up with Recyclebank, an American company that rewards people for performing green actions like recycling, or in this case, walking. The recently launched re:route iPhone app offers discounts and special deals to cyclers and walkers from U.K.-based businesses like Marks & Spencer, Planet Organic, Champneys, Classic British Hotels, Cineworld, and Jojo Maman Bebe. After inputting the start and end points of your journey, the app will recommend travel routes taken by foot, bike, or mass transit. When you reach your destination (re:route is equipped with GPS to track your progress), you receive five Recyclebank points, which can be redeemed like coupons.
And because London is one of over 200 cities that offer bike-sharing programs, Barclays Cycle Hire allows tourists to affordably take advantage of the biking option. Of course, coupons and promotions aren’t the only perks to pedaling or hoofing it. It’s part of a healthier lifestyle, which is why the app lets you know how many calories you’ve burned (and the amount of CO2 emissions you've prevented) for each journey. The only thing I found missing is that users aren't told what businesses they’ll find along the way, which could help them run errands, stop for lunch or tea, or meet a colleague.
Perhaps they could add that for when the app crosses the Atlantic to map out New York City, where I live. I'm not biking in or to the London Olympics this summer, but that doesn’t mean the games haven’t already inspired me! I’ll be spending sunny days cycling through NYC once the city’s new huge bicycle-sharing program eventually kicks off. As musician David Byrne recently wrote in the New York Times about Citi Bike: “The possibilities aren’t limitless, but the change will be pretty impressive.” The change will also be exhilarating. After all, we won’t just be frustrated spectators sitting in traffic, we’ll be channeling our own inner athletes and rediscovering our city.
Image: Seth Anderson