The countdown is on - in less than a decade, Brisbane will host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The Games are a massive cause for celebration for host cities but there is a high degree of complexity involved in pulling them off successfully.
Our people have delivered Olympics planning projects, designed temporary and permanent infrastructure, undertaken roles in operations centres and have been on-the-ground during these mega-events. Their contributions to the Sydney 2000 and London 2012 Games helped set a new benchmark for how a Games should be planned and delivered.
Here, our transport planning and infrastructure experts who have practical, hands on experience, discuss the challenges and lessons from past Games and how we can achieve the right balance between providing effective transport for the Games and establishing a positive transport legacy for South East Queensland in the years that follow.
The lessons from past Games
Hosting an Olympics has always been an expensive exercise with every Olympics since 1960 running over Budget. Tokyo 2020, for example, spent an estimated $28 billion, considerably more than the $7.3 billon it originally envisioned. The drive to build new infrastructure at great cost hasn’t always resulted in a favourable legacy either with some competition venues abandoned not long after the Games, such as Athens’ Olympic Park and Rio’s $50 million Olympic Aquatic Centre.
Atlanta in 1996 was a notable example of what can – and could – go wrong. The subway was ill-equipped to handle the population influx and key thoroughfares had to be rapidly converted into pedestrian zones after there were unexpected volumes of tourists. Days in, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) publicly criticised the city after transportation failures led to athletes experiencing delays reaching venues, in some cases too late for their event.
The ‘New Norm’ – a Games changer moving forward
In 2018, the IOC introduced a ‘New Norm’ framework to drive a more sustainable Games and encourage more cities to bid. The framework encourages candidate cities to put forward bids that emphasise flexibility, leverage ongoing partnerships, seek efficiencies and promote sustainability. At the same time, they look to drive down costs by reducing complexity, risk and waste. Candidate cities are encouraged to emphasise the ways in which Games proposals will align with the city’s long-term local, regional and national development goals. In other words, how the Games will integrate within the city’s urban fabric and community, rather the restructuring of the city just for two events - albeit the world’s largest events!
Paris 2024 is adopting this model by leveraging their world class public transport network, expanding cycle paths and providing less dedicated cars and buses for Games operations. LA 2028 is embracing the New Norm by not building any new competition venues and using the University of California’s Los Angeles campus and its existing residence, dining, medical and training facilities for the Athlete’s Village.
How will the New Norm drive the approach to transport and what does it mean for South East Queensland?
South East Queensland is experiencing high population growth, driven partly by unexpectedly high internal migration in response to COVID measures in southern states – the state achieved a net gain of 30,000 people in 2020. Meeting the long-term needs of this growing population must be balanced with the short-term needs of the Olympics and Paralympics.
Under the New Norm, the IOC is urging host cities to combine the use of Olympic and Paralympic Games-dedicated resources and public transport, while maintaining an integrated and effective end-to-end transport service. This could mean that media or officials who may be used to their own dedicated bus services may be utilising an improved public transport network instead. In South East Queensland, this increased reliance on public transport means improving the capacity and efficiency of the existing rail, bus, light rail, ferry and Metro network.
This approach enables hosts to minimise usage of a dedicated fleet, buses and drivers thus reducing costs and maximising valuable resources. Graeme Steverson, Technical Director, Planning and Mobility, says, “This presents an opportunity for targeted improvements to the South East Queensland public transport network over the next 10 years which will demonstrate to Queenslanders what the next generation of public transport can be - zero emission, clean, safe and quiet.”
WSP recently provided transport industry technical advice to RACQ for their member survey which seeks to find the transport preferences of South East Queensland residents and their feelings towards the 2032 Brisbane Olympics. The results show that residents in the sunshine state are looking for basic transport infrastructure and services to be provided and used to their full potential, through use of smart technology, before any new expensive roads, rail lines, bridges and tunnels are built. Active transport provision and connections are desirable, as is increased uptake of electric vehicles. Ultimately, most respondents want existing barriers to using public transport removed to improve access and usability.
So, how can we align the operational needs of the Olympic and Paralympic Games with the long-term vested interests of South East Queensland communities? Here are three considerations to achieving the right transport infrastructure balance.
‘Create safe and healthy communities and accessible neighbourhoods for all’
Good access to walking, cycling and public transport during the Games will be important for supporting travel to venues by visitors and residents and to provide an alternative to private cars during busier periods when the transport network is constrained.
Accessing venues on foot along a ’last mile’ between a transport node and venue can be a celebratory event experience on its own, as has been demonstrated at several Football and Rugby World Cups as well as the London 2012 Olympics which WSP supported the Organising Committee (LOCOG) to plan and operate. Luke Southam, Associate Project Manager, was the Transport Manager for the Fan Walk in Cape Town during the South Africa 2010 World Cup. He describes the impact that increasing the attractiveness of the last mile route through entertainment, markets and food trucks had – “Cape Town’s Fan Walk didn’t just reduce the number of buses needed, it become a destination in its own right. Planning for 20,000 spectators to arrive on foot actually resulted in over 100,000 people enjoying the experience on the biggest match day – well over the entire stadium capacity. The Fan Walk also provided opportunities for cultural and arts programs and directly benefitted local business owners.”
With the Brisbane City Centre and the surrounding venues being South East Queensland’s de facto Olympic Park, there is an opportunity to link the city’s riverside commercial heart with the adjacent open spaces and world class venues through appropriately scaled and landscaped walking routes which can relieve the strain on the public transport network. The upgrading of these corridors will provide users with long-term social value, well after the Games have ended.
Just as important as delivering exceptional ‘last mile’ connections, is the need to address the immediate barriers to sustainable transport that Queenslanders encounter as soon as they leave their front door. Consultation by the Queensland Government found that residents desire safer, more secure and more accessible connections within their communities and neighbourhoods which encourage sustainable travel. This can be achieved through smaller, targeted improvements that enhance the safety and liveability of our neighbourhoods and, in turn, improve our access to public transport. Simon Latham, Regional Executive; Planning and Mobility, QLD, describes this as the ‘first mile’ of our journeys. “Barriers (perceived or real) in our local communities can sometimes be the impediment to more people making use the public transport closest to their homes. Something as easy to address as low hanging foliage, insufficient street lighting or uneven footways can be a real barrier to public transport use, particularly for more vulnerable users,” he explains.
“Improving the first mile can encourage the uptake of public transport, reducing the congestion on our roads. We can do this by redesigning streets in neighbourhoods, cities and town centres to prioritise pedestrians, cyclists, e-scooters and public transport. This can be as simple as adding pathways and cycle/scooter paths to improve our ability to move from A to B.”
‘Use smarter technologies to create seamless, safe and reliable travel for everyone’
Creating a memorable spectator experience is central to delivering a successful Olympic Games. Ensuring seamless, safe and reliable travel to and between venues will be critical in achieving this. This objective aligns strongly with Translink’s 10-year goals for Queensland public transport users.
Personalised transport, new mobility options and more integrated technologies have the potential to deliver an exceptional and inclusive user experience for all public transport users.
MaaS – Mobility as a Service – focuses on the adoption of intelligent transport to provide transport users with a seamless transport journey that encompasses journey planning, booking and payment. In the US, a collaboration between city governments to improve transport options resulted in a platform that enables users to plan their journey down to cost, time and carbon efficiency. The platform includes real time data and users can personalise it, add calendars, and book and pay for parking and events – all from their phone. The Queensland Government’s emerging role as a ‘broker’ for transport will be essential for ensuring the incubation and successful implementation of future mobility options such as smart ticketing, MaaS, micromobility and Demand Response Transport (DRT).
Beyond the user experience, the success of the Games, from a network operations perspective, is dependent on various factors. These factors include the resilience and reliability of the supporting transport networks and its ability to adapt and respond to incidents, changing event overlays, and varying traffic conditions in a proactive and flexible manner. Emerging technologies and Artificial Intelligence (AI) provide scope for delivering an integrated, dynamic and responsive transport system. In this system, multiple modes are efficiently connected and vehicles communicate effortlessly with transport assets, operators and users to deliver a safe, seamless and adaptive transport network.
The Games historically is a proven mechanism for helping to accelerate new technology, such as the expansion and upgrade of dynamic signal control systems, the establishment of fully multimodal transport coordination centres and AI crowd management.
Queensland and the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) is leading the way in Australia with the integration of new technologies such as the Cooperative and Automated Vehicle Initiative (CAVI), Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) and smart traffic signals. These new technologies have the scope to improve safety and deliver an optimised network solution for all users. Shivaani Polley, Principal Systems Engineer, says that “CAVI has demonstrated safety benefits to drivers and is a world class implementation of C-ITS. In addition, the back-end Central System development supports the ability for direct communications between infrastructure and vehicles. This strengthens the ability of TMR to provide an optimised transport network with minimal infrastructure deployment.”
The Games Route Network (GRN), a central component of a Games transport operation, connects venues by road, providing a level of priority for Games family fleet vehicles to ensure that they can get to venues reliably and safely. Physical temporary traffic management measures, sometimes changing on a daily or hourly basis to support different operational arrangements and priorities, represent a complex logistical challenge and have the potential to be hugely disruptive. Queensland’s road technology development can potentially deliver the first ‘smart GRN’ using advanced intelligent transport systems to flexibly manage priorities, events and incidents across the road network, and to provide an enduring legacy beyond 2032.
‘Create a sustainable future…Now’
Buses have and always will be front and centre of the Olympic transport operation. They provide a flexible solution to the massive transport task that the Olympics creates. This was true at Sydney 2000, London 2012, and even at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. However, even with the new Cross River Rail, Brisbane will have a relatively limited rail network capacity when compared to recent Olympic cities. In fact, it’s the smallest rail network since Atlanta 1996. This reinforces the importance of buses in the 2032 transport strategy which is being enhanced through the Brisbane Metro network and the expansion of its busways.
Around Australia, states and territories are making progress in their transition to zero emission buses. In Canberra, for example, WSP was engaged by Transport Canberra to deliver a Zero-Emission Transition Plan to assist it in the move to a zero-emission bus fleet. The end result of this transition will be buses that are quieter, smoother and have no tail pipe emissions compared to traditional diesel buses. Queensland will be competing with other states to transition their fleets and depots to meet net zero targets and deliver by 2032.
In Brisbane, in order to maximise positive outcomes, a zero-emissions bus transition strategy should target the areas set to experience the highest volume of transport users during the Games. Not only does this make sense from a sustainability and economic perspective, it will provide an opportunity for the greatest number of users to experience zero emission buses – particularly users who generally don’t use public transport but can be persuaded to keep doing so by a positive Games travel experience. It will also provide increased reliability for the Games by focusing the newer local bus fleets and drivers on key routes.
Transport is a key component of achieving a seamless Games experience. For athletes, media, marketing partners, spectators, staff and volunteers, connectivity is key. The Olympic and Paralympic Games present an amazing opportunity to leave Queensland with a positive transport legacy if the correct balance is struck.
Meet our transport infrastructure experts
Our team is bringing a blend of transport industry knowledge and Olympics planning and operations experience to reflect the ‘New Norm’ while balancing the legacy needs of South East Queensland and 2032.
Our experts in this article have proven experience in delivery transport solutions here and overseas.
Graeme Steverson is one of the world’s leading event transport planning professionals. Having planned and delivered transport and event operations at five Olympics - Sydney 2000, Salt Lake City 2002, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012. The transport advisor for the Sydney Olympic Park Authority for the past 30 years, Graeme’s role has included developing transport strategies for five of the precinct’s Master Plans since 1996. Now, his sights are set on Brisbane 2032.
Luke Southam is an Associate Project Manager. Luke’s Olympic project experience commenced in Sydney 2000, followed by London 2012 as a Cluster Venue Transport Manager. Luke was a Transport Manager at the 2014 G20 Leader’s Summit in Brisbane and delivered a range of transport projects for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games with WSP. His event transport experience spans organising committee, state government, host city and consulting.
Simon Latham, Regional Executive for Planning and Mobility in Queensland is an experienced transport planner with a history of planning, delivering and operating Games Route Networks to support Olympic and Commonwealth Games. Simon enjoys working closely with planners, traffic engineers and road operators to develop and implement collaborative solutions to complex and diverse strategic transport challenges.
Shivaani Polley, Principal Systems Engineer, is an in-demand consultant who has been involved in the delivery of hallmark Intelligent Transport Systems projects in Australia. She consistently works for the benefit of her clients to deliver innovative transport projects and to provide strategic advice and direction on field trials and deployment of emerging technologies.