Security tight as Games approach

Olympic torch arrives in Beijing; Daley rides subway in China
August 6, 2008 9:09:44 PM PDT
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley toured the Olympic Joint Operations Center at the U.S. Embassy. It's where the safety of the estimated 50,000 Americans visiting China is monitored.On Wenfujing Street, a popular shopping district where Beijing residents were out watching pre-Olympic competition Wednesday night on large-screen TVs, there were also new signs that the Chinese government is increasing security less that 48 hours before the Games begin.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of a Beijing night, Big Brother was definitely watching.

"It really hasn't been much of a concern. Life goes on, and you don't tend to notice what the West is talking about regarding security," said American tourist Sara Thair.

Journalists who want to see Chairman Mao are now requested to make an appointment. The government is now requiring advance notice of press trips to Tiananmen Square. It comes after a handful of protestors unfurled a banner near the Olympic stadium.

The Olympic torch is also now in Beijing. The flame was passed on in a ceremony Tuesday night at the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City. Crowds cheered as China's biggest basketball star, Yao Ming, ran the torch through China's symbolic Tiananmen Gate and out onto the streets. It will arrive at Olympic Stadium Friday for the opening ceremony.

Meanwhile, Daley checked out Beijing's new subway system.

A couple of weeks ago an International Olympic Committee report said Chicago's mass transit system may not be up to the task of hosting the Olympic Games. Daley got a glimpse Wednesday of what the IOC thinks is a perfect system.

The floors were so clean Daley can see his own reflection.

Chicago's mayor admits it's a stark contrast between some CTA Stations, but that's part of the reason he's there.

"This is the future, I believe, of America. You have to move people by public transportation," Daley said.

Three million people ride Beijing's subways every day. That's the entire population of the city of Chicago.

The Chinese government has spent more than $7 billion building three new subway lines with a total of 50 stations, all for the Olympic Games.

One Beijing transit official says the goal is for trains to arrive every three minutes. Mayor Daley rode one train where riders enjoyed clean and quiet cars and will even be able to watch live coverage of Olympic competition.

"I really like it, I'm really impressed," Daley said.

New rail and bus lines are the only option for the one-and-a-half million residents forced to leave their cars at home on alternating days to cut down on traffic and pollution during the Games.

"It's basic to be good citizen," said resident Ying Rui. She said she's fine with the sacrifice; it's part of being a good citizen.

For his part, Mayor Daley admits the CTA must be improved, regardless of whether Chicago gets the Games.

"It helps because you have the foundation. You look at the foundation and get modern cars that can be built on the old L structure. I think we can; I think we can. We can put a man on the moon, we can really fix this out," Daley said.

The head of the Intentional Olympic Committee said Wednesday that China has set a new standard for hosting the Olympic Games. Mayor Daley agreed but said no 2016 candidate city will be able to rival the $40 billion spent by the Chinese government.

"I've been very impressed," Daley said, calling the system safe, clean and friendly.

China's capitol city opened two new subway lines and an airport rail link for the games, and the Olympics are a big test of the already crowded public transportation system. Passengers on the three new routes are expected to top more than 1 million daily during the games.

Along with Chicago, the other 2016 finalists are Madrid, Spain; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Tokyo.

Daley is part of a Chicago contingent of more than a dozen people at the Olympics, the only chance for local organizers to see a Games before the International Olympic Committee chooses the 2016 host next year.

But Daley said upgrading an aging public transportation system to be as nice as the one in Beijing isn't cheap and finding the money to do it is difficult.

"No one can spend this much money. I mean, no one can spend it. I don't care. What country can spend this much money?" he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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