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Originally published February 18, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Page modified February 18, 2010 at 10:01 AM

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Light border traffic, free fun — and tickets — for last-minute Olympics trip

U.S.-Canada border traffic during the Winter Olympics is lighter than expected, and last-minute visitors can find free fun, some event tickets and even hotel rooms in Whistler.

Seattle Times travel staff

Getting to and around Vancouver during the Olympics is turning out to be easier than expected.

Vehicle traffic at U.S.-Canada border crossings has been much lighter than forecast. And in downtown Vancouver, visitors and locals have heeded the call to avoid using cars, cutting normal traffic by 30 percent, the target of city officials to avoid Olympic gridlock. People are walking, biking but mostly piling onto public transit to get around the city.

At U.S.-Canada border crossings in Western Washington, "wait times have been minimal" during the first four-five days of the Olympics, said Thomas Schreiber, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman based in Blaine. (Get border information, including wait times, at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic/border/).

Extra lanes were opened at U.S.-Canada border crossings and hours extended to cope with Olympics traffic that was expected to exceed that of a busy summer day. Instead, the number of vehicles at Western Washington border crossings, including at Blaine's Peace Arch, is down 1.5 to 3.5 percent from last February, said Schreiber — and February already is one of the slowest months of the year.

As usual during the Olympics, other leisure and business travel to the host city drops off. And more people are going on Amtrak, which has added a second daily Seattle-Vancouver, B.C., round-trip train.

In Vancouver, rapid-transit use has soared, especially of the SkyTrain light rail. On Sunday, one of the busiest days so far, 1.5 million people took rapid transit, double a normal weekday load, said TransLink spokesman John Beaudoin. That's meant long waits at some SkyTrain stations.

If you're going to the Olympics here are some ways to beat the crowds, plus tips on getting last-minute tickets or hotels.

Getting around Vancouver

SkyTrain links downtown Vancouver with the airport, Richmond and other suburban areas and is the most convenient way to go. But it's been jammed during the Olympics with visitors and commuters. Consider city buses. Or, if you can, just walk a lot in downtown Vancouver. Get transit details, both the city's and special Olympic bus network for ticketholders, at www.vancouver2010.com/transportation If you're going to Granville Island — where special Olympic pavilions and an outdoor stage celebrate Francophone culture without the crowds of other free celebration sites — try the free Olympic Line streetcar. It travels about 1.2 miles from the Olympic Village station of the SkyTrain's Canada Line to Granville Island. Or take the AquaBus (www.theaquabus.com), passenger-only mini-ferries across False Creek. (Ask ferry staff about taking the boats to and from the Hornby Street dock to beat the long lineups for other False Creek destinations.)

Your best bet for getting around downtown Vancouver is walking, and some streets have become pedestrian-only during the Olympics. A paved walking path edges all of False Creek (an inlet on the south edge of downtown) and it's a handy way to get to the LiveCity Yaletown outdoor celebration site, with its free concerts and big screens showing Olympic competitions, and B.C. Place, where nighttime victory celebrations/and the closing ceremony are held. (The path detours around the waterfront Olympic athletes village on the south side of False Creek for security.)

Last-minute tickets

There still are tickets for some events. CoSport, the official seller of tickets to U.S. residents, sells tickets online at https://vancouver.jetsetsports.net/tickets/. Purchasers pick up tickets at a will-call office in downtown Vancouver. Tickets were still available to some hockey games and Nordic events, among others as of Thursday. CoSport tickets have a markup; I paid about 30 percent extra for a women's hockey game ticket with a face value of Cdn. $75.

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Tickets also are available for in-person purchase (at face value) at the main VANOC Olympics ticket office in downtown Vancouver at Robson Square, and VANOC also operates an online fan-to-fan ticket resale site and ticket auction — the only officially sanctioned ticket reselling. Tickets also are sold at venues before events, if any remain. See www.vancouver2010.com/olympic-tickets.

Free fun

If you don't have event tickets, there's lot of free fun in Vancouver. You'll find walkers and partying crowds in downtown Vancouver, especially along Hamilton and Mainland streets in Yaletown, a trendy former warehouse district; on Granville Street, with its many nightclubs/pubs; and Robson Street near the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Two big city-run celebrations sites, called LiveCity Downtown and LiveCity Yaletown, have free concerts and big-screen showing of Olympics events (http://livecityvancouver.ca/). There often are long lines to get in. You'll find smaller crowds at Granville Island, which celebrates Francophone culture, and offers an outdoor concert site, cafes, street entertainment, and screenings of Olympic events in French.

Scattered throughout the city are corporate, Canadian and international pavilions that showcase their stuff; most are free. For Web links to them, see www.tourismvancouver.com

Last-minute hotels

Few rooms remain in downtown Vancouver for the Olympics. But a search on the official Tourism Whistler Web site, www.tourismwhistler.com, for rooms available on Feb. 22 for two nights showed more than a half-dozen hotels and condos with vacancies, although prices start at more than $400 a night. For Vancouver, see the city's tourist site www.tourismvancouver.com or check the official Olympics site, www.2010destinationplanner.com And phone hotels directly to ask about last-minute rooms.

Kristin Jackson: kjackson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-2271

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