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An Olympic-Sized Disruption

The Olympics, like so many other sporting events, are often portrayed as a panacea to all that ails us economically.  But the reality is quite a bit different.  Why is it that such a public event that brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to a city does not register much, if any, positive blip on the economic radar?  One reason is because of the disruption of everyday economic activity (emphasis mine).  From Der Spiegel (via Craig Newmark):

Starting this week, the world's biggest financial center will be gripped by a special condition usually only seen in wartime. Its 7.8 million inhabitants are about to be joined by an average of 1 million additional visitors per day. The already overloaded public-transportation system will be burdened with an additional 3 million fares per day. A total of 175 kilometers (109 miles) of the city's streets will be closed off to normal traffic. Almost twice as many soldiers as Britain has in Afghanistan, a helicopter carrier and special forces units armed to the teeth will make the city look like it's under siege.

Transport for London (TfL), the city's bus and rail authority, is nervous -- so nervous, in fact, that it has issued an earnest appeal to Londoners to avoid using the Underground if at all possible during the games.

TfL is urging residents to stay at home, walk, bike, rollerblade or simply go on vacation during the Summer Games. It is also begging banks to set up home workstations for their traders, hoping to dissuade them from using their usual mode of transportation, the Tube. TfL knows that the success of the Olympics will be decided in the Tube's tunnels and stations, some built in the Victorian era, especially those on the Northern, Central and Jubilee lines.

After conducting traffic simulations for years, TfL officials believe they know what's in store for them. But they also know that there is little tolerance in their ancient system for everything that can and will go wrong. There isn't much wiggle room between having things go as planned and total chaos. All it takes to disrupt this delicate balance is a broken-down train, a foolish tourist, a suicide, a panic or a bomber.

Those who have to remain mobile in London during the Olympics are well-advised to rethink their strategy. The German package delivery service DHL, for example, plans to shut down part of its London delivery fleet, knowing that traffic will be moving even slower in the downtown area than at the typical snail's pace of 11 kilometers per hour (7 miles per hour). Instead, DHL plans to have extremely fit jogging couriers making package deliveries during the games.

The increased tourism is great news for those in the hospitality and restaurant industries in London, but it's a headache for many others.  Keep this stuff in mind the next time you read about how great having the Olympics in city X will be.

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