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RAC Editorial

Driving in London during the Olympics

18 Jul 2012 at 13:45

The London Olympic Route Network is now live, with restrictions on the first stretch of reserved carriageway between Heathrow Airport and the capital coming into force.

To explain what the Olympic Route Network actually is and looking to avoid traffic jams during the 2012 Games, we at the RAC have put together some tips on how to keep delays to a minimum.

What is the London Olympic Route Network?

The London Olympic Route Network is a 109-mile series of road routes that will be subject to a number of temporary traffic changes. These come into force on the 25th July, two days before the opening of the 2012 Olympic Games.

The routes link Games event sites as well as other locations, such as Heathrow Airport, to provide easy transit to and from sporting venues for athletes, officials and the media.

There’ll be temporary road closures diverting traffic around certain areas – such as road cycling routes – and a 30-mile stretch of dedicated ‘Olympic lanes’. These are similar to London’s bus lanes and are marked by the five interlocking Olympic rings.

According to the Olympic Games organising committee, “they’re an integral part of the Host City contract, and are essential to enable athletes and officials to get to their events on time and to ensure that the Games is a success.”

But what impact will the Olympic lanes have on the average motorists, either living in London or travelling to the capital as a spectator of the summer festival of sport?

Will the Olympic Route Network increase my journey time?

Unfortunately, the temporary road closures, redirection of traffic and reduction in capacity on the roads due to the Olympic lanes may see your journey times increase.

The Olympic Route Network – ORN – might only account for 1% of London’s road network, but the concentration of the changes in the busiest areas may mean even more congestion.

Transport for London claims 70% of road journeys in the capital will be unaffected by the alterations, but the reality is reducing any given roadway from three to two lanes (as many of the Olympic lanes will do) cuts capacity by one third, given the same traffic flow.

Which areas of London will be affected?

The ORN will affect a widespread area of the capital, but will be centred on the Olympic Park area in Stratford and locations around the ExCel arena and Greenwich Park.

Plans for Olympic routes extend into the centre of the capital too, with Victoria Embankment, Millbank and roads between the areas of the Mall, Hyde Park and Lord’s Cricket Ground all affected.

Olympic lanes also feature on roads surrounding central London, including the North Circular (A406), and stretches of the M4 – between Heathrow Airport and central London – A4 and A40 all subject to changes.

For a detailed overview of the ORN take a look at TfL’s 2012 Games map

Only authorised vehicles can use the designated Olympic lanes. Anyone caught doing so without permission risks a £130 fine. This is enforced by traffic cameras.

Even emergency services vehicles are not allowed to stray into the Olympic-only carriageways, unless on a 999 call.

When will the ORN come into force and how long will it last for?

The ORN is already active, with a short stretch of carriageway on the M4 (replicating the now defunct M4 bus lane) coming online on the 16th July. The rest of the ORN will become active on the 25th July – a few days before the opening ceremony on the 27th July – with the restrictions in operation between 6.00am and midnight.

The ORN will end on the 14th August, two days after the Games’ closing ceremony. However, the Paralympic Route Network will then come into force on the 27th August – meaning the ORN will be decommissioned “as soon as possible following the end of the Games on the 9th September,” according to TfL.

The affects of the ORN will, in theory, be reduced due to the smaller scale of the secondary network of road alterations. However, at peak times and in ‘traffic hotspots’, you’d be wise to still expect congestion.

Is there any way to avoid these roads?

Some roads can be avoided and there will be clearly marked diversions for road closures in force either on that day or over the entire event. There will also be other information about the ORN displayed on electronic roadside signage.

Local knowledge might help you in cutting a corner here and there, but it will probably still be quickest to stay on the routes created by TfL.

There’s a sure-fire way to avoid the queues though: leave your car at home. Regardless of whether you’re a London resident or a visiting spectator staying elsewhere in the country, utilising public transport – including buses, over ground and tube trains – will be the quickest way to get around the capital during the Olympics.

The key is to plan ahead, especially for essential journeys that require car travel. Otherwise, go online, buy a map, ask a friend’s advice or a TfL employee to help you – but leave your car at home. It could be a recipe for disaster and much simpler, quicker and cheaper to use trains and buses where you can. Plus, parking at your destination will be hard to come by.

Will public transport be affected?

Congestion on the roads will force many drivers out of their vehicles and onto public transport – not to mention the influx of people pouring into the Greater London area to watch the plethora of events on show.

This means greater load will be placed on the capital’s transport network. Buses, tube carriages and trains will all be busier.

To combat this, London buses will run more frequently on many routes to compensate for additional passengers. Some services will need to be temporarily diverted to conform to changes under the ORN, while bus stops in areas off limits may also need to be moved or temporarily suspended.

Tube trains won’t be immune from congestion either. Underground services will mostly start between 5.00 and 5.30am as usual, although on Sundays some trains will begin running 30-45 minutes earlier than normal – around 6.30am.

The last trains from central London will also run later into the night by roughly an hour – until around 1.30am. There’ll be more trains put on across “Olympic-heavy” routes, with extra evening services on the Jubilee, Central, and District lines.

Procedures at busy stations will be modified to cope with the increased capacity, too – this could include entry or exit only at some stops during busy times, as well as one-way movement around station concourses to alleviate congestion. Some stations may be closed if the throughput of people is deemed great enough to warrant a safety risk.

Whether travelling by bus, overground or underground rail services, its best to plan your journey well in advance and leave plenty of time to reach your destination. After balloting for those Olympic tickets, you wouldn’t want to miss the spectacle, would you?

For more detailed information and day-to-day updates on public transport services during the Olympic Games visit and check out the special public transport checker tool:

Anything else I should know?

There will be plenty of temporary parking restrictions during the Olympics and especially around key venues, so if you see an empty street, don’t try your luck – it’s probably empty for a reason.

Keep an eye out for control signs on lampposts for more information – illegally parked vehicles will be removed without prior notice and impounded. You’ll have to pay a release fee of up to £200 to get your car back, not to mention the added hassle of tracking it down.

One positive is that you shouldn’t need to worry about roadworks affecting your journey. Implementation of the Olympic lanes has brought a ban on any repairs or other alterations, so torn tarmac and maintenance to utility services shouldn’t disrupt your journey, for a few weeks at least.

The important thing is to plan your journey and keep up to date with all the official sources of information. Visit the website for all information ahead of time and get real time updates via TfL and’s official Twitter feeds:,


The key to driving in London during the Olympic Games is only do so if you really have to. If the journey is essential, then:

  • Find the traffic hotspots on your route
  • Plan ahead
  • Avoid driving at the busiest times
  • Avoid driving into affected areas
  • Keep abreast of traffic conditions with updates from official sources

Following these key steps will help reduce delays to your journey and keep any congestion you encounter to a minimum. But there’s only one way to fully avoid jams during the Olympics – leave your car at home.

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