Atlanta Olympics were an ‘unmitigated transport disaster’

London wants to learn from Atlanta’s transportation woes during 1996 games


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Atlanta’s been criticized for over-commercializing the 1996 Summer Olympics. Now we’re being reminded that our transportation network during the games was a mess. The Associated Press reports on the efforts of Olympics organizers and transportation officials in London, where next year’s games will be held:

No one wants another Atlanta. The 1996 Games provided a cautionary tale of Olympic travel woes — with bus drivers getting lost, athletes arriving moments before their events and overloaded trains that couldn’t get residents home. It prompted the International Olympic Committee to lay out demands to make sure it didn’t happen again.

“Atlanta was an unmitigated transport disaster,” rail expert Christian Wolmar said. “All the other Olympics — Beijing and Sydney — have learned their lessons.”

Journalist Ronald DuPont recalled his transportation experiences during the 1996 Olympics (emphasis added to note redheaded staff writer sitting at desk, cackling):

On my first night at the Olympics, the bus driver taking me and about 35 other people back to our cars got lost. Our half-hour trip took 1 1/2 hours, and we joked that we got the “scenic route.”

On my second night, another bus driver prepared to get on the wrong highway until a chorus of Atlanta natives on the bus yelled in unison, directing him to the correct road.

Last night, on my way to the Olympics, our bus took the sideview mirror off a merging Jeep. (We pulled over to the side of the road and sat for a half-hour while police filled out their reports.) Then, when we got on the bus to head back, an Olympics representative got on the bus and publicly asked if there was anyone who could give our driver directions on how to get to the drop-off point. On the same night, a bus driver pulled to the side of the highway and promptly quit, saying the job was too dangerous.

The lines to get on the busses are often thousands of people deep, and I’ve waited as long as an hour in the sun to board a bus.

I was 15 years old when the Olympics were held here and can’t remember any truly excruciating transportation experiences aside from a few lines to board buses and the occasional bottleneck near venues. But then again, I only attended a few events. I’m more bitter about an in-your-face, song-and-dance routine sponsored by Coca-Cola at Centennial Olympic Park.