Learning from the past, present and future of transportation investments for an ‘urban’ Olympic Games: Barcelona, Beijing and London - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Learning from the past, present and future of transportation investments for an ‘urban’ Olympic Games: Barcelona, Beijing and London

Beijing outspent Barcelona, host of the 1992 Olympics, by more than $23 billion on infrastructure alone.

In a recent New York Times article, Mayor Richard M. Daley was asked if Chicago would be attempting to match Beijing ’s expensive new infrastructure and costly opening ceremonies if chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games. While Beijing ’s preparation for this summer’s Olympic Games is impressive, according to Daley, it isn’t the example appropriate for Chicago .  Looking for an Olympic best practice, Mayor Daley cited Barcelona instead – a city that revitalized its waterfront and left a successful lasting legacy long after hosting the 1992 Summer Games.


Photo by Colin Mackay


Beijing spent a record $26.4 billion on transportation and other infrastructure to build a much needed airport terminal, light rail line, and bus rapid transit (BRT) network for the Olympics. Barcelona spent comparatively less in 1992; for $3.38 billion, the city mainly focused on upgrading its existing infrastructure – such as subway stations – but did construct significant projects such as a 48-mile ring-road system and a new airport terminal.  To move visitors through the city, Barcelona extensively reconstructed its cable cars to connect with Olympic venues, lengthened trains and increased frequency on the Metro underground transit system, and dedicated 24 miles of lanes for authorized Olympic vehicles.


Photo by James Alaksen


London, like Barcelona, plans to use much of its current infrastructure to accommodate the influx of people during the 2012 Games. London’s bid committed $30 billion to transportation spending.  While upgrades and improvements to its current train, track, bus, and station infrastructure are included as part of that budget, the city is building a high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) and is extending the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) 3.7 miles into the heart of the Olympic Park.


Chicago admires Barcelona’s ability to leave a meaningful legacy, is in awe of Beijing’s lavish display, and eagerly anticipates London’s opportunity to shine in the Olympic spotlight.  While Chicago is no stranger to large-scale events and is accustomed to moving millions of people in and out of the city, hosting the Olympics would require better transportation connections throughout the region, as well as solid investments to upgrade our aging transit system.  Imagine the possibilities for Chicago in 2016: High-speed airport express trains? Dedicated bus lanes? A citywide BRT network? New railcars, stations, and real-time information for passengers?  Winning the Olympic bid presents the opportunity to impact, shape and guide the future development of Chicago as a global city. Our bid needs to be stirring and forward thinking, which means finding real dollars to make actual change to our infrastructure.  The time is now.


This article was featured in Talking Transit, MPC’s bi-weekly e-newsletter. To receive the newsletter, email talkingtransit@metroplanning.org with ‘Subscribe’ in the subject line.

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