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SBJ/November 18 - 24, 2002/Opinion
Be careful what you wish for, New York
Published November 18, 2002
It's an axiom of urban life that cities with bridges have the worst traffic problems. So who did the U.S. Olympic Committee put forward as the two American finalists in the contest to host the 2012 Summer Olympics? Bridge-bristling New York and San Francisco, of course.
New York got the nod, which should make sensible San Franciscans happy. It's bad enough for a motorist to have to battle his way onto the Bay Bridge without also having to ponder how much worse it would be if 500,000 or so Olympic visitors were trying to do the same thing. Mr. or Ms. SF now can let the people fighting their way onto the George Washington Bridge in New York contemplate that.
If you're wondering what bridges have to do with the Olympics, let me assure you that the answer is a lot. With its 30-plus sports, numerous venues, thousands of athletes and officials and throngs of foreign and out-of-town guests, the overblown O Games can be a logistical nightmare, in addition to the costs and other headaches it can bring a host city.
Yes, New York has an extensive (albeit creaky) subway system that would be expected to carry the brunt of the Olympic load, but its trains don't go everywhere in the city and environs, so on-road vehicles would be needed. Imagine what the daily presence of several hundred bulky, Olympics-connected buses could do to the streets of Manhattan, where a double-parked delivery van can paralyze traffic for blocks.
I point this out with no ill will toward the Great Metropolis, because I used to live in the city and still wear its slogan heart over my own. If New York gets the event, the world will feel at home there because the world already is at home there; every day its polyglot population stages an international hustlers' convention. For those with the wherewithal, every taste can be satisfied, every wish fulfilled.
This is not lost on the people who run the Olympics, so New York's bid has a good chance of succeeding. The Games are billed as a youth festival, but the aged and luxury-loving oligarchs of the International Olympic Committee call the shots, and they've repeatedly shown an affinity for these shores. They love our hotels, limo services and phone systems so well that they put the last Winter Games in Salt Lake City, where it's tough to get a decent meal. Add New York's wonderful and varied restaurant scene to the mix and the place looks like a shoo-in.
But while the IOC grandees would have a grand time in Gotham at and around O Time, most of the people who live there wouldn't be so fortunate. Their taxes would go into the new sports palaces the Games would require, and their roadways would be carved up for years while those edifices were being built. Not only would their streets be snarled while the Games were in progress, but their sidewalks would be, too. New York is the only city in the country where pedestrians would do well to signal their turns.
And maybe the security worries that have added stress to New York life since the World Trade Center attacks will have abated by 2012, but maybe they won't. In the latter case, putting the Olympics in the city would be like hanging a big "Kick Me" sign on it.
New Yorkers who are concerned with their quality of life for the next 10 years should organize politically to make sure some other place gets the Games. Paris would make a fine focus for their efforts, I think. The French have given us so much grief of late, we should give of it some back.
Frederick C. Klein (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a columnist for SportsBusiness Journal.