The 2012 games present the Mayor with an immovable deadline. Four years and two days from the date of this article the Olympic park, stadiums, and transport infrastructure which support the London games will have been finished, tested, and will likely already be occupied by practising athletes, visitors and the media. If they are not, something will have gone badly wrong.
Boris Johnson will have faced re-election by the time the Olympics come around. Whilst Ken Livingstone will be remembered for encouraging the Government to back the bid, Mr Johnson will be held responsible, rightly or wrongly, for delivering the vast majority of the project.
The Mayor has been dialling down the rhetoric over the potential benefits of the Games in recent months, speaking in realistic terms of what can be delivered for the community in which the Olympic Village is to be based.
What is less clear, is what can be recouped form the Games in terms of a transport legacy.
The London 2012 Transport Plan details the proposals which the ODA regards as both necessary and achievable. Whilst considerable attention was given to the car-free element of the Games, other elements of the scheme are far more radical. From the BBC:
Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell said 80% of visitors would arrive by train. Many will use the 140mph Javelin train which will whisk spectators from central London in just seven minutes. A further 15% would use park-and-ride sites and 5% walk or cycle.
The Javelin train, which is at the centre of the Transport Plan, will go into passenger service in 2009 and will take passengers to the Olympic site in Stratford. It will also take just 10 minutes to travel from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link station at Ebbsfleet in north Kent to Stratford.
The Javelin train, whilst not ground-breaking technology, would seem - along with the East London Line refit - to be the enduring transport legacy of the Games. John Armitt, Chair of the ODA and former Chief Executive of Network Rail, understands well the importance of rail to the Games, especially given the lack of nearby parking on offer. As high capacity projects go, the 85% target for non-car travel is impressive and a benchmark for future schemes.
In addition, it is not unimportant to the future of capital projects that the Mayor and Government are shown the demonstrable benefits of a high-speed train system in action. Indeed, if successful it is hard to imagine the media not singing the Javelin's praises.
It is important to remember, however, that the Javelin train will have been 5+ years in the planning and building stages, with an immovable deadline spurring construction on. Nothing else in London's near future will encourage such an outpouring of funds or effort. In central London it will continue to be simpler for Government to look at the 'quick' fixes of adding another carriage or putting on another bus.
Perhaps predictably, given the spectre of Olympic overruns, any dynamic schemes for the Games were ruled out almost immediately. A monorail system, similar to the now-shelved scheme suggested for the Millennium Dome, was considered only to be ruled out. The significance of a new transport project operating in a high capacity environment such as the Olympics would have been monumental, and a real opportunity has been lost in not pursuing this line.
At this stage the most important legacy which the transport projects surrounding 2012 can deliver is one of budgetary accountability. For the schemes to come in on time and budget would allow business and Government to have renewed faith in such investments. Similarly, for the Olympic project to not delay the CrossRail build or other network maintenance is essential.
The Olympics offer an opportunity to prove that investment in transport reaps rewards for residents and business. Perhaps that is the most important legacy of all.
On Friday 8th, our fourth article will examine the de-congesting of London and the impact such policies can have. The next article will follow on Monday 11th, three days after that.
Check back here on Friday to see the next step in the Transport Manifesto.