In 2009, we met with the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) as they were planning the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. We were one of the groups responsible for moving traffic through the mainland into Vancouver and up to Whistler via the Sea to Sky Highway.
Vancouver had heavy traffic to begin with. The opening ceremonies, hockey games, and closing ceremonies happening downtown would only make it worse. Parts of the city were completely shut down for events. It was our job to make the city of Vancouver look good while the world watched. At the same time, we had to reduce the inconvenience for residents as much as possible. We had a reputation for knowing the best ways to keep traffic informed about delays, and VANOC trusted us to keep things running smoothly.
We met with VANOC many more times over the course of the project. As with most major projects, they didn’t know what they needed. The committee depended on us for ideas that would help them move traffic more smoothly. Traffic was a logistical nightmare, so we provided ideas that depended on message boards to inform drivers.
We brought in equipment from across Canada. Some of the boards were older models, so we had to install CPUs to support modems. We did a few scouting trips to find visible locations for the boards, then delivered them. This project took place before the Port Mann bridge was completed. A round trip between the site and our office took almost two hours. A single truck could only deliver two message boards a day, and we had 80 to deliver in Vancouver alone. Our small team put in some long hours delivering and setting up the boards.
Each message board had a changing message and a coroplast sign directing people to the VANOC website. We used the boards to tell people about traffic changes and provide different routes. With our JamLogic management system, our command centre could change the message on every sign across the city in just a few seconds. As an added bonus, we could also use the boards to tell people when Canada won a medal.
Even in 2010, message board communication was still in its beginning stages. This project was the first time we used modems on message boards, and a public IP was the best option at the time. The hosting company’s server crashed the day after the Olympics ended and seven days before the Paralympics started. All 126 trailers, including the 80 in Vancouver, stopped communicating with us and wouldn’t accept any new messages.
This was a huge problem, but the timing was lucky because we had a week to fix it. Our team visited every trailer, connect a laptop, and reconfigure the modem — a process that took much longer before the days of laptop WiFi. The server crashed again halfway through the process, forcing us to start over. By the time the Paralympics started, though, the boards were back up and running. We were able to give VANOC exactly what they needed without any visible disruptions.
After the Games ended, we got our message boards off the streets as quickly as possible. Vandalism can be a big problem, and the batteries and solar panels disappear all the time. We put in even more long hours to get the boards off the streets, and they came back to the shop without any damage.
Our Langley branch played a big role in minimizing Vancouver’s traffic problems. Traffic is bad at the best of times, but it could have been even worse during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. With all the message boards, people knew where to go and even which countries were winning medals. Best of all, Canada took gold in the men’s and women’s hockey events, so we weren’t the only ones to call the Games a win.