2012 transport planning 'a big mistake'
Transport has always been the biggest challenge of the London Olympics. Getty Images.
I think Olympic organisers have made a big mistake with their transport planning for 2012.
It is announced today that the Olympic Route Network (ORN), with its exclusive lanes for athletes, officials and VIPS, will not be introduced until just two days before the opening ceremony on 27 July.
Beijing had its lanes in place 19 days before the opening ceremony in 2008. Athens gave its residents 11 days to get used to them before the 2004 Games started and last year's Vancouver Winter Games introduced restrictions a week before the Games.
Although the announcement will please Londoners who have been worried about how the lanes will affect their businesses, there is a real danger that, without them, the week before the Games will be dominated by transport stories.
Don't forget that a week before the Games, many of the athletes will already be in town travelling to venues for training. The world's media will also be getting used to their daily commute to the Olympic sites.
Without Olympic lanes in place, there is a danger they are going to be late for their appointments.
Transport has always been the biggest challenge of the London Olympics. Being late matters if you are an athlete with a designated training time and it will also become an issue if international reporters end up in traffic jams.
The 12 Olympic Games I have covered have all had the same theme. The week before the Games is like "silly season" for the media. Often there aren't many stories about so everybody is looking for something to focus on before the Games get under way.
In the past I have seen quite small issues suddenly become big news on TV, radio and newspapers across the world.
Even if there are just small transport problems, there is a good chance they are going to get plenty of coverage.
So, the danger for 2012 is that the build-up to the Games is dominated by transport hiccups before the ORN is even in place.
That won't be good for the image of London and the Games, even if the ORN subsequently solves many of the problems in the 48 hours before the opening ceremony.
The damage to the capital's reputation will have been done.
I understand that the organising committee (LOCOG) wanted the lanes in place between one week and two weeks before the opening ceremony - that would have given London drivers time to get used to them and enabled the world to arrive with all restrictions in place.
Clearly, Olympic officials are keen to keep Londoners happy. Of course, many will understand that because taxpayers have dug deep into their pockets for the Games and 2012 want a happy London to welcome the world.
But leaving the introduction of the ORN so late is a gamble which 2012 may regret.