VANCOUVER -- Commuters caught in gridlock as they headed into downtown Vancouver on Friday should be prepared for spot closures and bus re-routes around the region next week as the Olympic torch makes its way into Metro Vancouver.
Traffic clogged Main Street and funneled through to Hastings, Pender and Powell streets during the rush hour Friday morning, following the closures of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts to all traffic, pedestrians and cyclists ahead of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
The heavy congestion — mostly on Main between Broadway and Hastings — prompted Coast Mountain Bus Company to add four shuttle buses to routes in and out of downtown to allow transit buses to turn around early and keep close to their schedules.
"This is kind of typical. When you have a lot of road closures people try to find alternative routes," said Coast Mountain Bus spokesman Derek Zabel. "It's new to everybody. We're experiencing a lot of traffic which is kind of forcing the buses to fall behind."
Barbara Collins, who works downtown at Burrard and Georgia streets, said she didn't realize the viaducts were closing in the morning, thinking they would instead be shut down after the evening rush.
Her trip from 33rd and Fraser, which usually only takes 15 to 20 minutes, instead took 45 minutes to an hour. At Main Street and Terminal Avenue, she had to wait up to five lights before she got through the intersection.
"I'm definitely not going on that route again," she said. "It was just awful around Main. I can't believe how long we sat there for. That was probably the worst congestion I've seen there."
Dale Bracewell, the city's director of Olympic operations, said the congestion underscores the need for people to get out of their cars and bike, walk or take transit once the Games begin.
He noted that after the Expo and Pacific Boulevards closed, there was a 20 per cent increase in traffic on Hastings, Pender and the viaducts. It now appears those drivers are looking for alternate routes and will likely head next toward the Granville and Cambie Bridges.
But he notes that while some commuters reported clear sailing over the Cambie Street Bridge on Friday, the bridge will shut down from noon to midnight next Wednesday for a massive dress rehearsal of the Opening Ceremonies as well as on Friday for the ceremonies themselves.
The torch, which will be in White Rock on Monday, arrives in Vancouver on Feb. 11-12.
"Next week is not a normal week," Bracewell said. "We're expecting more people will take up the fact they shouldn't be driving at all ... we expect people will get it."
Powell, who has a monthly parking stall downtown, said she will keep driving next week except during the dress rehearsal and opening ceremonies. She said she will see how it goes before she switches to transit.
TransLink has an extra 160 buses on call for the Olympics, while the third SeaBus will go into effect Monday. Bikes are also banned from SkyTrains starting Monday to ensure trains can accommodate a surge in passengers. Extra SkyTrain and West Coast Express services will be ramped up on Feb. 12.
"It's probably going to take the experience of [Friday] to demonstrate that it's not a matter of finding a different route into downtown, it's a matter of finding a different way into downtown such as taking transit, cycling or walking," TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said.
Elsewhere in the region, commuters told The Vancouver Sun they had easy commutes, including "sailing over" the Cambie Street Bridge, a 30-minute carpool from Ladner and no-more-crowded-than-usual SkyTrain, SeaBus and West Coast Express trips into town.
"This is a busy time. Whether they're pedestrians or drivers ... don't be in a rush," Bracewell said. "Be patient."