What would it take to host the Summer Olympic Games here in Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria? This is the first part of a 3-part Vancity Buzz Special Exclusive Series.
Remember that feeling of wanting those epic 17-days in February 2010 to last forever? Knowing that the circus had left the town, waking up that following Monday morning after Sidney’s golden goal was difficult for many. The streets of Downtown Vancouver were eerily quiet for the weeks that followed. Fast forward to Monday, August 13, 2012, that same feeling is also now lingering over London and the British Isles.
These days, with reality having settled in more than two years ago, repeating the experience all over again is certainly not something many Vancouverites and British Columbians are thinking about, not to mention the unprecedented determination, vision, and resources it required. We also live in austere times.
However, hosting the Olympic Summer Games in Vancouver is certainly something staff at Tourism Vancouver are considering behind closed doors for the very distant future – an option for British Columbia’s next big international event.
Altogether though, the Summer Olympics are more than five times larger than the Winter Olympics. Here is a quick breakdown, and bear in mind that both Vancouver and London hosted by far the largest editions of their respective Olympics in every category below:
Summer Olympic Games (London 2012)
Winter Olympic Games (Vancouver 2010)
*Note: “Operating Budget” refers to the costs associated with Games planning and operations by the Local Olympic Organizing Committee, this includes: staff salaries; organizational administrative and legal costs; the cost to operate the sports venues, Olympic Village, IBC, MPC; the cost to stage the Ceremonies, Torch Relay, public celebrations and cultural activities; bus transportation costs; marketing; city decorations; and the cost to outfit and train volunteers. The Operating Budget does not include any construction costs associated with new sport venues and infrastructure.
These are staggering numbers and we know from experience hosting the Winter Games was not a small feat either, having pulled in extensive resources from the private sector and all levels of government on the local, provincial, and federal levels.
We went as far as rescheduling and relocating non-vital surgeries throughout the region’s hospitals and we also canceled local court trials to free up the police force for 2010 security force needs.
For 17-days in February 2010, and during the weeks and months before that, we changed how this region operated and functioned in order to host the Winter Olympics. For the 6-years and 7-months after we brought back the Games from Prague on July 2, 2003, we ventured into one of the largest periods of rampant construction the city has ever seen.
Going in, we were also one of the most prepared cities to host the Winter Olympics, with much transportation infrastructure largely in place and with many suitable venues already in existence.
It also makes sense that we were largely well-prepared, after all with 2.3-million people we were the largest urban region to have ever hosted the Winter Games (second and third largest host regions were Torino, Italy and Salt Lake City, Utah). Now, just imagine what it would take to host the Summer Olympics.
Few would remember that Vancouver briefly considered competing domestically against Toronto for the rights of submitting an Canadian bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Those in charge who retracted our Summer dreams were instead smart enough to focus on the smaller and more realistic/capable Winter edition, and utilized geopolitics (and a stunningly superior technical bid plan) to strategically maneuver Vancouver into the winning position for 2010.
Toronto, of course, lost its 2008 bid to Beijing in 2001: it never had a chance with the Chinese capital, which attained more than twice the number of votes Canada’s largest city could win in the final deciding vote (to its credit, Toronto ranked 2nd in the IOC vote, beating Paris, Istanbul and Osaka).
In the years since, Toronto pondered on hosting an Expo World’s Fair (so did Edmonton) and eventually submitted and won its bid to host the 2015 Pan American Games (overcoming its competitors – Lima, Peru and Bogota, Columbia – was not too much of a challenge).
With 8,000 athletes (from 41 countries) and 362 events in 36 sports, in some ways the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games will certainly be similar to the scope of the Summer Games, but without the global interest, prestige, media attention, large venues, spectator size, and sponsorship dollars that both the Winter and Summer Olympics greatly enjoy.
It would not be the first time that Canada has held the Pan American Games (Winnipeg 1967, 1999) nor would it be the first time Canada has held a Summer Olympics counterpart. We have hosted the Commonwealth Games several times before, most recently in 1994 at Victoria.
Vancouver also hosted the 1954 Commonwealth Games, where Roger Bannister completed his famous “Miracle Mile” at Empire Stadium located in Hastings Park. Finally, we cannot forget that we have hosted the Summer Olympics at Montreal in 1976 and our first Winter Olympics at Calgary in 1988.
These events have all built a legacy for our country, and it is something Toronto hopes to expand on with city officials recently announcing they are studying the feasibility of a bid for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games.
Bidding for the Olympics is an expensive venture, with recent bid operations having cost anywhere between $30-million to $80-million (Vancouver’s 2010 bid cost $34-million, and was supported largely by the private sector with contributions from governments; Chicago 2016’s unsuccessful bid cost $78-million).
Toronto is banking on using their 2015 Pan American Games infrastructure and hosting experience to win the IOC over, similar to Rio de Janeiro’s 2007 Pan American Games “warm-up” leading to the 2009 IOC decision on the 2016 Summer Games host city. Hosting the Pan American Games will give the Toronto region some of the much needed sports venues and transportation infrastructure that the city will also need for a Summer Olympics.
There’s no denying that Toronto will benefit greatly from hosting the Summer Olympics. Its transportation infrastructure is decaying faster than any other major urban centre in Canada, and the Games could certainly expedite much-needed improvements to the city’s growing infrastructure woes.
There’s also a great civic desire to use the largely undeveloped Toronto waterfront for something “great” and “worthy.” The waterfront was central to its plans for the failed 2008 bid, but a small portion of it will play a large role for the upcoming 2015 Pan American Games, such as the site of the Pan American Athletes Village.
Click below for enlarged images: Top image – the Toronto 2008 Olympic Waterfront Plan from the Toronto 2008 Bid Book; Bottom image – the 2012 Pan American Games Village located on the Toronto Waterfront from Planning Alliance.
I will not expand on positive economic and tourism legacies as they are largely debatable, particularly with the latter. There is also the community and sporting legacy: communities benefit greatly from the new venues built (assuming venues are built with a post-Games legacy in mind, like Vancouver); an immense sporting legacy is obtained from our athletes’ ready access to venues for training; and then there’s all those who will be inspired to join a sport after seeing our own athletes’ and the world perform right here in our own home.
All of these are also legacies of every major international sporting event our country has held. One of many instances, although largely forgotten from the public eye, the same aquatic centre built for the Victoria 1994 Commonwealth Games is now used heavily as training grounds for Canada’s elite swimmers.
When it comes to leaving a legacy, there’s little doubt about the post-Games sporting legacy of Vancouver 2010. British Columbia is a winter sport training hub, although its world-class ski mountains naturally make it a hub for our nation’s athletes. However, it’s also a training hub for our summer athletes too.
At London 2012, 40% of the athletes sent by the Canadian Olympic Committee were either born in B.C. or they trained here. It is also only natural considering our province’s year-round mild climate, it is impossible to train in the outdoors in Ontario and Quebec (or anywhere in Canada east of the B.C. Lower Mainland) in the midst of winter’s frigid and snowy conditions (to the point that Toronto’s Lake Ontario freezes over).
Summer athletes have also benefitted from venues built for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Venues such as the Richmond Olympic Oval were converted into indoor summer sport configurations following the Games.
Olympic Summer Games Capability for Vancouver
This Vancity Buzz special’s main goal is to identify what it would take for Vancouver to host the Summer Olympics, expanding on the idea that we are only capable of hosting these Games through sacrificing the well-being of the province in the long-term.
For all we already know, it will take “a lot” to organize the event and it will be “very expensive.” But we can be much more precise than that.
Put aside technical and logistical capability, Vancouver has no chance with hosting the Summer Olympics in the near-future, given that we have recently hosted the Winter Olympics and there are many cities on the rise and desiring to bid for the quadrennial, but that’s not the point: instead, we are focusing on mere technical capability.
There is no telling how much larger the Summer Games will become or what kind of city and world we will live in during the decades to come, we can only base our details on the Games as we know them today and the Metro Vancouver and Greater Victoria region that currently exists.
The IOC requires the Summer Games host city to possess at least 40,000 rooms between the 3 to 5 star range or provide other types of accommodation of an equivalent level for Olympic officials and spectators. These rooms must be located within a 50-km radius from the “Games centre” or Downtown Vancouver.
Host cities must also allocate space for accommodating more than 20,000 accredited media personnel. For cities like Tokyo, which submitted an unsuccessful bid for the 2016 Olympics, it possesses 110,000 rooms which largely exceeds the 40,000 room minimum. This allows for media to also be accommodated using hotel rooms.
On the contrary, Rio de Janeiro possesses only 23,000 rooms and largely lacks inventory in 3 to 5 star accommodations. Organizers of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro are building condominium apartments and particularly expanded cruise ship terminals to make up for the severe shortage.
Currently, according to Tourism Vancouver, there are approximately 25,000 rooms in existence within the Metro Vancouver region. For the 2010 Winter Games, the IOC deemed that Vancouver had sufficient hotel capacity and did not require any specific media accommodations to be built, although there were some initial challenges with accommodating the media at Whistler.
For a Summer Games, it can be expected that Vancouver would make up for its shortage and meet at least the bare minimum by building additional hotels (market/private developers, similar to all the new hotels built in time for the 2010 Games), new condo developments and especially cruise ship terminals. Accommodations for media would also have to be provided by new condominiums or renting cruise ships.
The IOC considers several factors for the 18,000 beds that are required to house athletes and team officials, this includes: location/close proximity/travel distance to venues and sites, number of villages, type of accommodation, area of land available, surrounding environment, temporary versus permanent, and post-Games legacy.
For sports such as football, sailing, and equestrian, they are often held in different cities far away from the main host city (athletes participating in these sports stay in secured city hotels designated as an “Olympic Village”).
When it comes to location/travel distance to venues, there is no question that Vancouver 2010 and London 2012’s Villages were some of the best yet for the Olympic movement. Vancouver’s was centrally and beautifully located on the False Creek waterfront, built with the highest construction standards and amenities, with quick access to city venues and only a short walk away from the 2010 Olympic Stadium (BC Place).
With London, the Olympic Village was built at the Olympic Park where multiple sport venues, including the Olympic Stadium and Aquatic Centre, and media centre are located.
Finding a large patch of land (in a central location) for development is becoming increasingly scarce in the city, if not impossible. It is more likely that 2 to 3 Olympic Villages will be built within the City of Vancouver, Burnaby, Victoria, and/or Richmond rather than one large one.
Although, one large Village is ideal and greatly desired by the IOC to maintain unity and the “Olympic Spirit” among athletes and team officials. If one large Village were pursued, which is unlikely given that major venues will be located as far away as Victoria (an Olympic Village in Victoria will most certainly be needed), the False Creek Flats (308 acres of industrial zoned land east of Science World) would be the most likely location for such a large development (6 times larger than the 2010 Olympic Village). Several sport venues and the IBC/MPC could also be located at the False Creek Flats
Left image: an aerial photo of Vancouver’s False Creek Flats, from Pacific Metropolis; Right image: A Summer Games Olympic Park at Vancouver’s False Creek Flats could look similar to London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (click to enlarge for detailed map), from Visual.ly.
International Broadcast Centre (IBC) and Main Press Centre (MPC)
The IBC is where television broadcasters from around the world build their studio spaces and sets, whereas the MPC is office workspace for the world’s journalists and photographers.
Approximately 900,000 square feet of space is required for a combined IBC and MPC facility. The IBC and MPC is typically a convention centre, although in London’s case it will be converted into an office complex following the Games. 20,000+ media personnel will work in the IBC/MPC.
The recently completed expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre allowed VANOC to locate both the IBC and MPC for the 2010 Winter Games in the facility.
During the 2010 bid, plans had located the IBC at a temporary facility in Richmond (or at Richmond’s very own new convention centre, however, plans fell through due to First Nations land disputes).
The original plan was not ideal, given the distance between the MPC in Downtown, at the East Building of the Vancouver Convention Centre, and the IBC in Richmond. Altogether, the expansion of the Vancouver Convention Centre gave the facility a combined useable space of 466,500 square feet (IBC at the new West Building; MPC at the older East Building). A Summer Games IBC/MPC would require twice the amount of useable space that is currently offered by the Vancouver Convention Centre.
A Summer Games in Vancouver could utilize temporary structures to fulfill the IBC/MPC needs or it could be a permanent building that will be converted into post-Games office/retail/commercial or convention use.
Possible suitable and close proximity sites for the IBC and MPC include the False Creek Flats (located east of Science World, mentioned above), where the Olympic Village and several sport venues could also be located, or Duck Island (a 73-acre site located west of the Canada Line’s Bridgeport Station/River Rock Casino in Richmond, near YVR) where Vancouver International Plaza is being proposed. A total of 4-million square feet is proposed for the Vancouver International Plaza development, including 1.58-million square feet of retail/entertainment, 1.1-million square feet of office, 870,000 square feet of hotel, 450,000 square feet of convention centre space, and a marina with 300 slips.
The buildings could be first used for the IBC/MPC before being converted into its post-Games commercial usage. Duck Island was formally the site of a concrete plant and it currently sits vacant and is used by the Richmond Night Market.
It might surprise you that Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has a much larger passenger and cargo terminal capacity than Rio de Janeiro’s airport for the Olympics.
Improvements are planned and undergoing for Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão–Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympics, however, improvements will not bring it any higher than YVR’s capacity and current passenger count of 17-million annually. YVR currently possesses both the terminal, runway, taxiway and gate capacity required of a Summer Games gateway airport.
It is important to note that YVR has been a continuing construction project for the last two decades, improvements and expansions are made to its facilities every year. Never-ending improvements have led to YVR being ranked as one of the world’s top 10 and North America’s best.
YVR has yet to complete phase 2 of its “West Chevron” international gate expansion, which will add five new gates to the tip of the first phase completed in 2007 (which added 4 new gates including 2 gates capable of handling the Airbus A380). Several major expansions to the domestic terminal have also been made in recent years, and more are planned.
Other major future long-term improvements include an expanded passenger terminal to the east of the Transborder terminal, it will increase the footprint of the passenger airport terminal by 50% and will also include the construction of a fourth runway and taxiway improvements.
YVR is currently capable of handling 25-million passengers annually (maximum capacity) which is sufficient for Summer Games needs (although it only attracts 17-million passengers). Today, far outscaling Rio de Janeiro’s airport, YVR handles 294,000 aircraft movements and 228,000 metric tonnes of cargo each year. The terminal and runway expansions mentioned above and illustrated below would give the airport the capacity to handle up to 600,000 aircraft movements each year.
Top image – the future passenger terminal expansion plans at YVR Airport; Bottom image – fourth runway built offshore (Source: YVR)
“The Olympic Summer Games are the largest sports event in the world and the most complex in terms of infrastructure, logistics and operations, involving approximately 300 individual competitions, four to eight million spectators, over 30 competition sport venues and numerous training venues. In addition, there are between 150,000 and 200,000 accredited persons, including the workforce, travelling to and from competition and non-competition venues.
With regards to transportation, there is an additional traffic flow of between 1.5-million and 2-million journeys per day. A high capacity road and public transit system is required for the city to be able to cope with the specific demands of the Games, as traffic loads and public transit needs place additional pressure on everyday metropolitan demands.” – International Olympic Committee.
Vancouver’s road and public transit infrastructure is largely inadequate for the needs of the Summer Games. The city lacks freeways and high-capacity roads that allow cars and buses to quickly bypass neighbourhoods to reach the final destination, instead traffic must come to a crawl through the city’s low-capacity artery roads.
An accident on any road artery will also bring traffic to a stop, particularly at any of the bridge crossings. Public transit is particularly inadequate, given the likelihood of the close proximity of venues and sites to SkyTrain and other modes of public transit, and the required dependency of the public, spectators, visitors and volunteers to use public transit to get around.
Like the 2010 Winter Games, it can be expected that many “Olympic Lanes” will again be designated throughout the region’s major road network for a Summer Games. In addition, like during 2010 and also at London 2012, non-vital driving and commuting will be greatly discouraged in order to reduce road volumes to a sufficient level to allow for acceptable Olympic vehicle traffic times.
Additional road capacity (new bridges and tunnels) across the Fraser River and Burrard Inlet (to compensate for the low-capacity Lions Gate Bridge) would need to be strongly considered.
During the 2010 Games, “transit trips jumped from 38 percent to 51 percent of the overall trips in the city, and walking and biking trips doubled. In all, over 60 percent of all trips made during the Olympics were made by walk/bike/cycle, up from 40 percent.” Traffic planners were highly successful with reducing road traffic in the city by 30% during the Games.
Vancouver’s SkyTrain network would require a significant expansion. SkyTrain’s Canada Line would receive a major overhaul to increase station platform lengths from the existing 40-metres to the maximum technical allowability of 50-metres.
Additional vehicle units will be purchased for the Canada Line to boost the system from the current 20 trains to 40 trains, and this does not include the purchase of a third “middle” C-car for each train (55-metre length articulated 3-car long trains with the train ends sticking out of the 50-metre length platforms). This will give the Canada Line the same capacity the Expo Line holds and operates with today, a capacity of 15,000 passengers per hour per direction (pphpd).
The Canada Line currently operates 16 of its 20 trains during peak and mid-day hours, giving the system a maximum operational capacity of approximately 6,000 pphpd (which is less than half of its ultimate design capacity of 40 operating trains, and with extended trains and platforms).
Canada Line stations would also need to be reconfigured and expanded to allow for higher passenger circulation volumes, including additional fare gates and wider corridors.
During the 2010 Olympics, the Canada Line handled 228,000 passengers per day with all 20 trains in operation: with lengthened platforms and trains, as well as double the number of the existing train rolling stock (40 trains), the Canada Line could theoretically handle more than 500,000 passengers per day during a theoretical Summer Olympics.
Similar expansions will also be required for SkyTrain’s Expo, Millennium and Evergreen Lines. Improvements will be required for many stations (especially those near multiple venue clusters) and the train fleet will need to be expanded (which would also require the construction of new train maintenance and storage yards).
With its 80-metre length platforms and the purchase of additional trains and cars for higher service frequencies and longer trains (to fill the 80-metre platform length), the main SkyTrain network is fully capable of reaching a capacity in excess of of 30,000 passengers per hour. This would bring the main SkyTrain network to the same service capacity levels as the Toronto subway.
During the 2010 Winter Games, the Expo and Millennium Line ridership averaged 394,000 per day and reached a single-day record of 567,000 on February 20. Currently, with short train lengths and its current train numbers/service frequencies, the Expo Line is running at half of its design capacity while the Millennium Line is running at just one-quarter of its design capacity.
Additional SkyTrain routes would also need to be built. This would include a $3.2-billion extension of the SkyTrain Millennium/Evergreen Line to UBC via the Broadway corridor and a theoretical $4-5 billion extension of the SkyTrain Expo Line to the North Shore (traveling east under Hastings Street with a station in Gastown, before turning north towards Lonsdale, servicing the North Shore and finally terminating in West Vancouver at Park Royal). Other SkyTrain extensions could also be made in Surrey.
Broadway-UBC SkyTrain Extension Route Options (Source: Translink)
LRT and streetcar lines would also be introduced to the region. This includes: the City-proposed Downtown Vancouver Streetcar/LRT network that will service Vanier Park, Granville Island, Science World, Pacific Boulevard, Chinatown, Gastown and Stanley Park; a LRT line from Stanley Park to Hastings Park traveling via West Georgia and Hastings Street; a LRT line along the Arbutus Corridor from Science World to Granville Island to the Canada Line’s Marine Drive Station; a LRT line along 41st Avenue from Brentwood Town Centre to UBC; streetcar/LRT from the Canada Line’s Brighouse-Richmond City Centre Station to Steveston; and a streetcar/LRT network in Surrey.
Proposed Downtown Vancouver Streetcar Network (Source: City of Vancouver)
The region’s bus network will be strengthened to increase frequency and service routes; hundreds of new buses will be introduced into service, and aging bus models will be replaced.
The West Coast Express commuter rail will be expanded and become a bidirectional day-long service with trains arriving every 20-60 minutes. The West Coast Express currently runs on Canadian Pacific Railway tracks and “rents time” to run its trains on the company’s tracks (thus, it is currently unable to provide bi-directional and frequent train service).
The City of Vancouver’s Waterfront Station Transit Hub project will also be completed to accommodate the high and additional passenger circulation volumes from new and existing SkyTrain services, the introduction of LRT/streetcar, improved West Coast Express and transit bus services. The new Waterfront Station Transit Hub would turn Waterfront Station into a world-class transit hub.
In order to finance the high operational costs of these transit improvements after the Games, region-wide road tolling and distance-based insurance will be introduced to encourage and maintain high transit use. Visitors also rely on taxis to get around the city. To meet demand, additional taxi licenses will also be introduced.
Proposed Waterfront Station Transit Hub and Redevelopment Project (Source: City of Vancouver)
As some competition sport venues will be located at Victoria on Vancouver Island, and perhaps in the Okanagan Valley/Interior as well (Kelowna, Kamloops), improvements will also be made to their transportation systems including the long-proposed $1-billion LRT line in Victoria, improvements to the cross-Strait ferries, and BRT in Kelowna.
Direct, high-capacity and frequent public transit connections to BC Ferries terminals will be required, this could be achieved by running buses to the ferry terminals. Some venues will also be located atop Burnaby Mountain and Simon Fraser University, construction of the $114-million public transit gondola system from SkyTrain’s Production-Way Station to SFU is ideal and would greatly benefit students.
Labour, Human Resources, Volunteers and Security Forces
An unprecedented level of construction workers will be required to construct all the infrastructure and venues required to host the event. This could very well number to 100,000 construction workers working on Olympic projects, and many more will be required in other sectors as a result of the construction boom and the boom in the service industry (e.g. new hotels), spurred by private developers.
In the lead-up to the Winter Olympics, construction costs for both public and private projects (construction industry) due to a shortage in construction labour (and increased materials costs from the boom).
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Summer Games would also require 6,000 full-time and part-time paid staff (which will work in a very large office building or complex), as well as 100,000 contractors employed by third-party organizations. Unable to find suitable space closer to Downtown Vancouver, VANOC’s headquarters for the 2010 Games were located in a City of Vancouver-owned office building in the Vancouver Eastside, and it has since becoming the new headquarters of the Vancouver Police Department.
Approximately 50,000 volunteers will also be required in the lead-up and during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In comparison, for 2010, VANOC had 2,500 full-time and part-time paid staff and 25,000 Games-time volunteers.
Depending on the scale and content of the show, a Summer Games Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies production typically requires between 7,000 to 18,000 cast and support members, composed entirely of volunteers (separately counted from the above 50,000 general volunteer quota). For the 2010 Winter Games, VANOC and David Atkins Enterprises required 4,500 volunteers to fill cast and support member positions of both Ceremony productions.
During the 2010 Winter Olympics, $900-million was spent on securing the Games and organizing a security workforce of 16,000 police, military and private security personnel. This included: 4,000 RCMP personnel from across Canada; 1,700 members of 120 police and law enforcement agencies across Canada (including the VPD); 5,000 members of the Canadian Forces; and 5,000 private security screeners.
It is certainly expected that additional numbers will be required for a Summer Games, given its size, much larger scope, number of venues, and higher international profile, although it likely won’t necessarily reach London’s security personnel size of 40,000 given that the security risks of Canada and the United Kingdom are immensely different.
However, as with 2010, one issue will be with the housing of security forces when accommodations for media, spectators, and Olympic officials are already stretched (security forces were housed in both hotels and cruise ships during the 2010 Winter Games).
Another area of difficulty Vancouver organizers could come into would be with finding the number of personnel required to fulfill the security positions, especially with contracted private security required for screening positions (see London’s issues).
Part 2 of this special series will look at what competition sports venues are needed to host the Summer Olympics. We will also look at what existing facilities we could use and what new venues would need to be built, including possible locations. Click here to read Part 2.
Featured image: IBI Group