Ever been to an Olympic Games? City streets can be turned into giant parking lots. Even public transit gets jammed up. Staging the Games is considered the largest peacetime logistical exercise that any country can undertake. It's no different for the UK. Though London knows how to throw a party -- the Queen's Diamond Jubilee for example -- it's bracing for the throngs to arrive for the midsummer Games. The city's public transport system is already overcrowded, so it's peddling alternative ways of getting about this summer, peds and pedals in particular.
On an average day, the city provides 3.5 million journeys on the London Underground. City officials are estimating another 20 million trips will be made by spectators alone within London during the 2012 Games -- including three million on the busiest day. In an effort to divert some riders, the city has been working to upgrade over 100 walking and cycling paths on nine routes across London -- including some that link the Olympic Park, as well as paths linking to outer London venues. One of these routes is The Greenway, a seven-kilometer off-road pathway for spectators -- including those walking from West Ham, one of the three stations that spectators will use to get to the Park. Access points, ramps, signage, nearby vegetation and the path itself have been improved, with resting places provided.
Keen on promoting the walking and cycling options the city has to offer, Transport for London teamed up with Recyclebank to launch re:route, an app that rewards Londoners for walking and cycling with offers and discounts from U.K.-based businesses, including Marks & Spencer, Planet Organic, Champneys, Classic British Hotels, Cineworld, and Jojo Maman Bebe. It's easy to use: Once downloaded to your iPhone, the app prompts you to input the start and end points of a journey, and will then recommend a variety of travel options, including walking, cycling, and public transport. After you arrive at your destination (re:route is equiped with GPS to track your progress), you'll be given five Recyclebank points.
London is one of over 200 cities that offer bike-sharing programs -- its system is called London's Barclays Cycle Hire -- so even tourists can take advantage of the re:route rewards program. New York City, where I live, is introducing a bike share system this summer. It's a lot like London's. Over 10,000 bikes will be available, and a day's rental will cost just under $10, which includes unlimited rides during a 24-hour period, as long as each ride is under 30 minutes. This doesn't seem like enough time, one might worry. But David Byrne, who wrote in the New York Times about his bikesharing experience in London last summer, says: "It's easy to keep bike trips within that time limit because there are loads of stations where you can drop the bike off, and you can get a new bike after having a coffee."
This got me thinking. Of course, the more people walk and bike, the more congestion is reduced on the roads and public transport. In addition, walking and biking are a part of a healthier lifestyle, which is why in addition to providing alternative travel options, and rewarding users for choosing them, the app lets people know how many calories they have burned and the amount of CO2 they have saved for each journey. But what if in addition, users were made aware of the businesses along a particular route, so they could run errands along the way, stop for lunch or tea or meet a colleague? This seems like an additional advantage of taking the more "scenic route." And I doubt the businesses would mind.
I love the idea of biking to the London Games, but alas I'm not attending. I'm going to imagine I'm there by making use of the new bike-sharing program in NYC, though I'll have to wait for the re:route app to cross the Atlantic before I can calculate my calories burned and CO2 saved. It's all so inspiring, like the Games.