London 2012 travel: Avoid the chaos with technology
If you’re not already sick of the London 2012 Olympics, then you will be when you find yourself stuck in Games traffic. With all the hysteria it’s hard to tell whether the capital’s transport network will bend and buckle under the weight of all the extra bodies expected in the system or whether it’ll just be, you know, a bit busy.
Either way, if and when it does hit the fan, you’ll need to know who to call and with a smartphone at your side and a laptop on your, er, desk(?), you’ve got your own virtual A-Team at your fingertips. So, listen to Pocket-lint as your Hannibal and we’ll keep you safe from those bad guys with assault rifles threatening your livelihood while we steer clear of Colonel Decker. In other words, here’s how to avoid the London 2012 Olympic Games traffic using technology.
The much publicised Olympic Lanes are going to squash what’s an already inflated number of cars into a smaller space on London’s streets, so it might be an idea to avoid those particular areas for starters. As it goes, there are not too many of them; none outside of London and the main stretches in the city are along the A40 and A4 inner roads with other routes such as the Embankment also affected.
As is set to become a theme in this article, take a look at TfL's highly comprehensive Get Ahead of the Games website for an interactive map that shows exactly where they are. It’ll also allow you to add layers, including road closures and road events, which will result in parts of the carriageway being blocked off for cycling and running and other Olympic sports. You also get to use a slider tool at the top to select the date you’re looking for over the two weeks. If you really want the heavy detail, then you can always download one of the 67 area maps in PDF form for a super granular look at individual sections of the Olympic Route Network - but we wouldn’t bother, if we were you.
If you really want to scare the bejesus out of yourself, then TfL also supplies a predicted traffic map. Areas bruised in peach or dark orange are where it’s thought to be best avoided as far as driving goes. Looking at the thing, essentially anywhere within the North and South Circulars of London have been burnt off the map.
As much as TfL is doing its best to be helpful there, it’s not worth getting your undergarments knotted about what might be. Instead, head to a real-life traffic solution if you are planning on hitting the roads.
Much of the traffic side of satnavs and maps sites is powered by a company called Inrix and it just so happens that Inrix offers iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone apps which bring direct access to all that information laid over a Google Map. The apps allow you to look at the present as well as estimations of the coming hours and represents traffic hotspots by a colour coding system. Well worth having on your phone. Likewise you can get the same look at things by clicking on the Traffic option on Google Maps on your desktop. If you’d prefer, Bing Maps will bring you the same as powered by Traffic.com.
Once behind the wheel, you can keep right up to date by listening to Inrix radio by the radio app or by tuning in online.
Essential sites: Get ahead of the games
Essential apps: Inrix, Google Maps, Bing Maps
Of course, one way to avoid some of the road rage is by letting someone else do the driving. Do bear in mind, though, that not all taxis you get into will have the same privileges. Mini cabs - and that includes Addison Lee - are neither allowed to drive in the Olympic Lanes nor the bus lanes, leaving them at the same mercy as you or us. All the same, if that’s the way you want to play it, then try the Addison Lee app or Ubicabs, the latter of which will search a huge number of London’s firms to find you the best ride and the best price.
The sensible, if possibly more expensive, option is to go with a Black Cab instead. While London’s cabbies have been scandalously banned from the Olympic Lanes, they can at least go where the buses do. Expect on-the-street hails to be something of a rarity, so save yourself a lot of huffing and puffing and try either the GetTaxi or Hailo which are like the Ubicabs of the black taxi world. Do watch your step if you get stuck in a jam though. Those London taxis make you pay even when you’re going nowhere. Keep your mapping application to hand and be prepared to leap out to find the nearest Tube if the situation doesn’t look to be getting any better.
Essential apps: Ubicabs, Addison Lee, GetTaxi, Hailo
Bus will probably be a surprisingly reasonable way to get around during the Olympic Games. TfL is laying on more of them to cope, but don’t expect them to take the same route as they always do. Again, use of Bus Lanes while the rest of the rabble sits in a jam is a good thing. Just a shame that there's not a Bus Lane on every London road.
Obviously, the major downside is that buses are a touch unpredictable, so use technology to cut out some of that uncertainty. Your best friend is going to be the thoroughly excellent UK Bus Checker or London Bus Checker applications, available for iOS and Android. The mobile software will tell you all about routes but, most importantly, will also give you live information about when the next one is going to arrive - perfect for planning even before you’ve left your desk/door.
Essential apps: UK Bus Checker
Tube, Train & DLR
Apart from the roads, it’s the rail-based sections of the transport network that are most predicted to suffer. While it’s pleasing to see the back of the rainy weather, the sudden heatwave could make it awfully uncomfortable on packed platforms and tiny Tube trains.
There are very few apps that help you out here other than a trusty, offline Tube map, just in case you need to re-route, mid-route. Your best bet is some good pre-planning. The Get Ahead of the Games site provides a terrifying look at which stations on the network it expects to be busiest on which days, which you can have a play with if you’d like to give yourself a heart attack.
Your choices are either to ignore the warnings, get your elbows at the ready and just plough through, or take a look at the TfL site to plan a quieter, if more circuitous, path from A to B. Rather than using the normal route finder site, try the Games one instead but expect some pretty funky results.
The final thing to remember is to keep your eyes peeled to live transport alerts. You might want to know before you find out the hard way that a certain station or a certain line has been shut down. Follow @GAOTG on Twitter for up to the minute reports and get daily bulletins by email - both worth a quick browse before you leave home.
Essential sites: Get ahead of the games, Games router planner
Essential apps: TubeMap, Live UK Train Departures
Don’t forget the river! It’s the reason that London’s here at all. Now, the river has never been the easiest way to get about the city. The services are not included in your travelcard and it’s all rather disjointed with different companies running different services to different piers. That said, the river might just be the transport saviour of the games. Why? Because you can book in advance and guarantee your seat for a specific time. So, no queuing and no cramming. You also happen to get a nice river breeze and the best views of London as well.
The best way to work out what you need to do is by heading over to the River section of the TfL site, work out which piers you need to get between and then go and book on the relevant company websites. The big two are Thames Clippers and City Cruises.
Essential sites: TfL River, Thames Clippers, City Cruises
Cycling is going to come into its own during the London 2012 Olympics. We’re not saying it’s going to be a dream - there’ll be more traffic in your way than normal - but while everyone else is at a standstill, you’ll be cruising by with pedal power.
Taking a Boris Bike is going to be a bit of an unknown quantity. Everyone might go cycle crazy and you won’t find any or it’ll be a great idea. Hard to tell. Either way, do remember to check that there’s a drop off station where you’re planning on going. Remember, the bike hire scheme does not stretch as far as the Olympic Park but you can get within spitting distance if you aim for Bow. Take a look at the Bike Hire site for all the details.
Of course, if you have a bike of your own, then that’s good too. You might find some roads closed because of road events in the Games, so do take a look at the GAOTG site just to make sure. You’re other buddy here is, again, the TfL cycling site which includes maps and route planners. You can always try a cycle GPS app to help guide your way but software like MapMyRide does require a decent GPS signal in order to work properly.
Essential sites: Bike Hire Scheme, TfL Cycling, GAOTG
Essential apps: MapMyRide, Bike Hire
The only real way of absolutely guaranteeing none of the Olympic chaos whatsoever is to walk. Getting about Central London is surprisingly easy on foot and will beat a shortish and stinking hot Tube journey any day of the week. Heading out to the Olympic Park in Stratford under your own steam is going to be a bit of a mission but TfL will be encouraging walks between Tube stops by handing out maps at some of the stations.
Rather than wait for that though, head over to Tubewalker and download the apps for your smartphone. They’ll help you work out which way to get between any stations on the network. Finally, while you’re at it, you might want to download yourself the Re:Route app so that you can actually get some rewards for choosing to stick to shoe leather.
Essential sites: Tubewalker, Google Map, Bing Maps
Essential apps: Re:Route, Tubewalker
Don’t go anywhere
Of course, the final option is to try not to travel at all. It’s a modern world we live in. You can communicate as much as you need from your very own home, so why bother going into work? Either negotiate yourself a couple of weeks' working from your front room or just take a holiday and enjoy the games and a few BBQs too.
Essential apps: Skype, any weather app