Monday, July 27, 2009

Should California bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics?

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

by Rafael

Earlier today, Southeastern Rail in the UK conducted the first trial run of its "Olympic Javelin" service based on its new Japanese-built electric class 395 trains. The service will shuttle passengers from St. Pancras station in downtown London to the sports arenas being constructed for the 2012 summer Olympics near Stratford station on HS1, the UK portion of the high speed line to France. Each of the the 28 trainsets consists of 6 cars and is capable of a top speed of 140mph. Together, the fleet will transport up to 24,000 passengers per hour (!) during the games.

Of course, the games are just the catalyst for a permanent high speed commuter service (cp. NS HiSpeed in Holland) between densely populated Kent and central London - albeit at the expense of reductions in slower, less profitable services.

This news led me to the following question: Should California bid for the 2020 summer Olympics?

By tradition, the event is nominally awarded to a single city. In practice, the number of events is so large venues can easily be spread out over a much wider area, especially if fast, high-capacity public transportation is available. It just so happens that California is on track to have just that for much of the state by 2020: bullet trains between San Francisco and Anaheim plus upgraded Amtrak California services to Sacramento and San Diego. Metrolink service in the San Gabriel Valley could also be beefed up for the occasion.

The last time the summer Olympics were held in the US California was in Los Angeles in 1984. Those were also the first games to turn a profit and, many of the venues could presumably be refurbished and re-used. What if the Golden State as a whole entered a bid to host the 2020 games? Winning would surely do wonders for both the construction and the tourism industry. If by then DesertXpress to Las Vegas is operational and connected to the California network - a big IF - I imagine many visitors would want to head over to Sin City as well, regardless of whether any Olympic events were hosted there.

Of course, there would be quite a few obstacles to overcome:
  • First, the IOC has never awarded the Olympics to an entire state or country. However, there's no fundamental reason it could not break with tradition if presented with an attractive, innovative bid.

  • Second, the state of California is effectively broke, so virtually all of the up-front investments in sports venues etc. would have to come from individual counties, cities and private investors. The feds would chip in via their contribution to the HSR network. For the next governor of California, that would create an opportunity to take an active marketing role on behalf of a no doubt popular bid without having to actually fund anything over and above the $9.95 billion in prop 1A(2008) bonds that voters have already approved for HSR.

  • Third, the HSR starter line and its feeders would have to be fully operational in time for the games. IMHO, this is actually a great argument for submitting a bid, since delays invariably come with cost overruns and carry opportunity costs.
However, perhaps the most important consideration is that there's a very good chance Chicago will get to host the 2016 games. I fully expect President Obama may yet lend his considerable powers of persuasion to help clinch the deal. If successful, three cheers for the Windy City and Midwest HSR, which would surely be a beneficiary.

The IOC will render its final decision on the host city for the 2016 games on October 2, 2009. Californians would have to decide soon after that whether or not to reach for the brass rings four years later.


Unknown said...

The last time the summer Olympics were held in the US was in Los Angeles in 1984

Apparently, Atlanta isn't in the US anymore.

Rafael said...

@ James -

oops, sorry about that. I meant to say "in California". Corrected.

Robert Cruickshank said...

LA isn't likely to bid for the games again anytime soon. SF had a bid together for 2016 that was being looked upon quite favorably until the 49ers pulled out of the Candlestick reconstruction project, leaving SF without an Olympic Stadium. The bid collapsed soon thereafter, and left Chicago as the USOC's entry in the 2016 sweepstakes.

The premise of this post is quite sensible - the Olympics have fueled mass transit projects, including in the Pacific Northwest. The Canada Line (connecting Vancouver's airport to the Vancouver city centre), the Sea-Tac Airport extension of the recently-opened Sound Transit Link Light Rail line in Seattle, and the second daily Amtrak Cascades train from Seattle to Vancouver are all spurred by the 2010 Winter Olympics.

However, the costs of the 2010 Olympics are souring many BC residents on the experience, and are getting noticed around the West Coast. LA has fond memories of 1984, which Peter Ueberroth helped ensure generated a profit, but that was 25 years ago in a totally different economic environment, when the state and city governments had some money to spend on infrastructure. (And even then Ueberroth had been brought on to rescue the games - the original 1978 bid anticipated more public expenditure than was ultimately possible.)

So I am not at all confident that even if there was interest in a CA 2020 bid that there would be the political or public support to leverage the Games for major transportation investments.

Rafael said...

@ Robert -

precisely, that's why I suggested a bid spread over multiple cities linked by HSR.

No one city would need to shoulder the burden of creating a slew of new venues in a single locations. Indeed, many existing ones, e.g. stadiums, could be used as they are. Athlete housing would also be distributed, so there wouldn't be a local glut after the games are over.

As for public transport, all of the requisite projects have already been approved anyhow. The only question would be how to make multiple trips between participating cities affordable for visitors from all over the world. Simply offering free rides, as London will do to avoid gridlock on the roads, would not be a viable option for a statewide concept.

Bottom line: staging different sporting events in different cities linked by HSR would allow games to be staged inexpensively and make it easier to repurpose Olympic venues after the event.

Btw, the winter Olympics have never turned a profit. Also, Los Angeles did in fact bid for the 2016 games as well, but lost out to Chicago in the USOC decision in 2007.

IFF the IOC does not pick Chicago in October, a putative California bid would be competing against Birmingham (AL), Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh for the US slot. I suspect the USOC will decide in early 2011 which bid will be forwarded to the IOC.

Rafael said...

To clarify:

"[...] Birmingham (AL), Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Pittsburgh for the US slot" for the 2020 summer Olympics bids

Anonymous said...

It is about a million times more likely that HSR's "athletic" debut will be at the World Cup. The US is expected to land either the 2018 or 2022 Cup (which it is currently jointly bidding for). A number of California venues are currently on the list of potential locations. With HSR, I wouldn't be surprised to see SF, LA, and SD all host games.

Anonymous said...

I think the idea is a good one - spreading the events out, among various appropriate locations. Something for each region of the state to get some benefit for the costs. Something for Fresno, the Bay, SoCal, Tahoe, and Even up north in the Shasta-Trinity. People could choose the venues and locations they want to attend, no one location would have to manange the masses of people all at once, the revenue would be spread around. More benefit, less impact. You'll never convince anyone to make it happen though. In case you haven't noticed, American's ability to think outside the box has atrophied and left only the ability to say "we can't do that"

Alon Levy said...

Shasta and Tahoe are out of the way. Even if California could ram through this bid (and why would it? Japan never hosted the Olympics in multiple Shinkansen cities), it would only be able to use cities served by the initial HSR trunk line.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:06am -

unfortunately, soccer hasn't really caught on in the US. Until and unless the US national team has a real chance of winning, Americans simply won't care. And even then, they'll only care a little bit.

@ jim -

Redding and Tahoe would be a bit out of the way, but I don't share your pessimism about the willingness of Californians to get something done, even if it takes a while.

@ Alon Levy -

you're probably right, Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego would be harder to reach and therefore only suitable for secondary disciplines. C'est la vie. There are a number of large cities along the starter line, each of which could host part of the festivities.

Anonymous said...

Although it is an interesting concept from the perspective of HSR, it fundamentally misreads the IOC. They have never looked fondly on multiple city or country bids. The main reason for this is bureaucracy, with multiple cities complicating the arrangements.

That said, using HSR to spread the events out is a decent idea. There would likely be events in San Diego in an LA bid (although they have hosted twice). There would probably be events in San Jose at least in a San Francisco bid.

I like the idea of a California bid (and it would spread the cost), but the IOC isn't likely to go for it (and since the USOC knows that, they wouldn't either).

Anonymous said...

@ Rafael:

Re: "unfortunately, soccer hasn't really caught on in the US. Until and unless the US national team has a real chance of winning, Americans simply won't care. And even then, they'll only care a little bit."

Not sure what you're suggesting. This has nothing to do with the earlier point that multiple California venues might be used for the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Just a reminder that the US has ALREADY hosted the World Cup, in 1994, and games were held at both the Rose Bowl and Stanford Stadium. And that World Cup STILL holds the all time attendance record, despite the expansion of the tournament field and more games in subsequent tournaments.

James said...

Off Topic, for reference.
I just created a wordle of the CHSR blog. Wordle is not a precise analysis tool but still offers insight into a database.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Los Angeles deserves to host the Olympics.
First, We have virtually no mass transit (sorry, those 4 pathetic rail lines, "from nowhere to nowhere" just don't cut it. And I don't even wanna mention the pitiful bus service).
So, people have no reliable way of getting around except driving and jamming our streets!
Second, LA has no architecture or walkable conditions like normal cities do.
So, all in all, it would be an embarrassment to hold the Olympics in LA.
"City of Angels"? I would call it "City of Retards".

Morris Brown said...

IN the NY Times, there is started a multi-part article titled:

Is High-Speed Rail a Good Public Investment?

This should be interesting to watch.


YESONHRS said...

And right next to the article is a report on the 700BILLION dollar relief fund for the Banks/AGI ect!
You could supply the entire funds requested by every project proposed in the USA and still have 680 billion left..Now where is the value our tax dollars for private business mistakes or something that will last for 100 years?

A Lynch said...

Perhaps another way to look at this situation is that one city winning the bid will help a whole region/state. Case in point with the Chicago 2016 plan. The rail line between Chicago and St. Louis would be upgraded enough that you could fly into the STL airport and then take a train to Chicago. After stopping off at the AB brewery, the Cards game, and the Arch.

If San Fran would win a future bid then LA would serve the same purpose. If you fly halfway around the world to see the Olympics and Hollywood is only 2.5 hours can you say no?

The Olympics can be used as a wake up call to surrounding states/communities. If you make it easy for the tourism dollars to find you, they will come.

Anonymous said...

so says YESONHSR:

"Now where is the value our tax dollars for private business mistakes or something that will last for 100 years?"

Or something that for 100 years will drain tax dollars for future generations, while providing little public benefit, yet induce upbar sprawl up and down the central valley and elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Oh and before I forget YESONNHSR:

It will make billions and billions for PB, land speculators, foreign hardware manufacturers, --- all the groups you seem to really want to support.

Anonymous said...

If you get Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison et al to pay for it.

James Fujita said...

High-speed rail and the Olympics have worked well together in the past.

The most obvious example would be the 1964 Olympics. The Shinkansen between Tokyo and Osaka had just opened when Tokyo hosted the Summer Games. It was the perfect way for Japan to show off and to prove that they had rebuilt themselves for the post-war era.

(Later, when Nagano hosted the Winter Games in 1998, Japan built a new Shinkansen line to get people to the mountains... but by then, it wasn't so big of a deal.)

As for a California 2020 Olympics.... I'm not sure I'm so crazy on the idea. Yes, it would be a marvellous way to show off CalHSR, but as others have pointed out, I don't think the IOC would go for it.

Honestly, I'm rooting for either Rio or Tokyo in 2016. North America and Europe have already had their fair share of the games.

A better idea would be the World Cup. Maybe (non-Latino) Americans don't care, bur the rest of the world can come to California and ride our trains.

Matt said...

Rafael: unfortunately, soccer hasn't really caught on in the US. Until and unless the US national team has a real chance of winning, Americans simply won't care. And even then, they'll only care a little bit.

But how would you know if you do not care about soccer. Many people I know follow soccer at some level MLS, mexico, and especially Europe. ESPN's midday live broadcasts of the Champions League are very popular, and the last world cup on ESPN was huge. Also look at the new Seattle MLS team, it draws better than the baseball team. (per game, which isnt fair since MLB has way more games, but the MLS team is in its first season.) Soccer keeps growing and most Americans (in my experiance) follow the National Team in the World Cup and keep an eye on qualifying.

Anonymous said...

what bout all those soccer moms?

Anonymous said...

San Francisco isn't likely to host to the olympics. The cost is too high. San Francisco isn't even hell bent on keeping the 49ers. We don't want to spend public money on such things. It's just really unlikely.

Alon Levy said...

IN the NY Times, there is started a multi-part article... a Bostonian who looks down on anyone who lives west of the Hudson. To argue that investment should be concentrated in the Northeast, he makes up metrics that make Boston look good and Chicago look bad. He says Boston is more centralized than Chicago by referring to the statistic that a greater percent of its employment is located 10 miles from its center; in reality, Chicago is acknowledged as a far more centralized metro area than Boston (link), and Boston's higher 10 mile figure comes from the fact that it's small enough that its 10 mile radius includes parts of its edge city developments.

YESONHSR said...

AND that computer that your neocon/naysayer/nimby eyes are looking at is 100percent made in the USA..and WHATS in your gas tank? about 62percent is NOT AMERICAN..get real its the 21 century.

Observer said...

Ok. Will try this again. Why would you post something like this? So far out and off point? Its an obvious smoke screen - looks like you're trying to throw us? someone? of the scent of what just happened in REAL LIFE TODAY with the budget bill. Will you be discussing the wording and implications of CHSRA requirements in the newly signed budget.

Of interest - looks like at least half of California's funding this year will be REPLACED BY federal funding if federal funds come through. So that sounds like a net loss of about $65M this year, assuming feds come through with some $$$.

Also looks like CHSRA is required to do a full accounting not only for their future plans, but show a full history of expenditures - like since the beginning of existence... By December of this year. That will be an interesting document.

Also look like someone read the LAO report, and is requiring a new and improved business plan, which among other things requires to show how the thing will be funded - besides the mice nuts from bond funds.. Also by December.

What are the consequences of failure to provide the items dilineated in this budget bill?

I suspect these requirements are throwing the CHSRA into a tailspin. Robert - what's your role here? Are you going to lead everyone off into the weeds (ie" Olympics 2020?) or discuss current events and issues.

Kevin said...

San Francisco's best chance was for the 2016 bid which was centered around a new 49ers stadium. It was a perfect situation because it would have helped jumpstart the redevelopment of Hunter's Point/Bayview which would first serve as athlete housing and etc and then turned into residential housing after the Games. That is the type of legacy the IOC wants to see the games leave behind. It also meant that the Olympic Stadium was within city limits. When SF bid for 2012, one of the criticisms raised was that the proposed stadium at Stanford was too far from the city center. Some argue that the proposed 49ers stadium in Santa Clara could still host the Opening Ceremonies and etc, but that's even farther from SF, so what's the point of calling the bid a "San Francisco" bid when the central stadium is nowhere near the city limits? With the 49ers intent on fleeing to Santa Clara, I personally think SF's chance is gone since there is no point to building a stadium that no one will use after the Games (ahem - Bird's Nest).

Another thing is the geopolitical game when the IOC votes for the host city. The IOC denies that it tries to rotate the games around each continent, but that is essentially what has happened. Very rarely has the same continent, let alone the same country, hosted two consecutive Summer games (for the Winter games, there are fewer locales that can host them, so it's much more likely for one continent to host them consecutively, like Europe). So should Chicago win 2016, the USOC won't be looking at another bid, Summer or Winter, for quite a while. There's speculation that if Chicago wins 2016, then 2020 is reserved for a city in the southern hemisphere (Rio or Cape Town) and Paris would be the sentimental favorite in 2024 since it would have been 100 years since it last hosted the Olympics. Again, it's all a crap shoot, but who knew the Olympic bidding process could be so compelling?

Kevin said...

With regards to the role of HSR linking together cities to host an Olympics, it's an interesting idea but I doubt the IOC would entertain a spread-out Olympics. An occasional venue here and there where long-distance travel is required is acceptable, but to have everything spread out could be a logistical nightmare. There have been some bi-national bids in the past that never got off the ground (I think there's some wacky suggestion of a dual Montreal-upstate NY bid for the Winter Games), and if you look at the bids for the 2016 race, a lot of the emphasis has been on the "compactness" of venues such as in Tokyo and Madrid. Of course, these cities have fantastic public transit systems, so moving between venues shouldn't be an issue. Stratford's relation to central London seems to be more like between the various parts of the Bay Area, so the equivalent situation to what is being done in Stratford would be to improve the various rail lines serving the Bay Area. HSR connecting SF, Silicon Valley, Fresno, LA, and San Diego would be too much of a logistical headache for the hosting Olympic committee. Again, an occasional event away from the central area would be ok, but dispersion is not well-liked by the IOC.

By the way, as a buddying structural engineer, I've come to read your blog nearly every day to stay informed about CAHSR which I personally, and professionally, want to see completed in my lifetime. Thanks for your work.

NONIMBYS said...

There are more things than PaloAlto

Anonymous said...

Move..remember you moved next to a 140yearold railroad...duh

Robert Cruickshank said...

Observer - 2 points:

1. I didn't write this post. Rafael did. However, I stand by his decision to write about this. It's an interesting topic and a worthwhile discussion. There was no intent to distract.

2. I don't have all that much free time to keep this blog updated. Once a day is about all either Rafael or I can manage. There's lots to talk about today, and today's post won't focus on the state budget either. A future post this week will. The requirements on the CHSRA aren't going away in two days' time, so you can be patient and wait for that post.

neroden@gmail said...

Chicago won't get the 2016 games. The problem is quite simply that Chicago's local transit is in perpetual meltdown and nobody, including the Olympic bidding committee, has made a serious proposal to provide enough money even to get it into a State of Good Repair, let alone improve service. Despite this they are actually advertising Chicago's transit as a selling point to the International Olympic Committee?!?

I wouldn't have, given that the European and Asian competitors really do have good public transit.

Unknown said...

I do not know if the whole state of California should host the Olympics instead I think it should be a city. San Diego IMO would be a great city to host the Olympics.