Athletes, police, tapatios ready for Pan Ams


GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- In this space, we will chat about what happens in and around the 2011 Guadalajara Pan American Games, and how this sports whirlwind that is starting to "invade" the land of tequila and mariachis and how to survive it.

Only five days remain until the start of the continental competition and the tapatios (as people from Guadalajara are called) already feel the atmosphere of America's Fiesta. At least they have already seen how the city looks "dressed" in the colors of the Games. You cannot walk down the streets without being "bombarded" by announcement billboards, painted fa├žades and streets, buses, official vehicles, everything related to the Pan American Games.

At shopping malls, you can already see members of the different delegations, which are slowly arriving to the Pearl of the West, which received a light touch-up to show its best face: paved roads, newly unveiled bridges and pedestrian walkways, and spruced-up gardens.

However, along with the Pan Am Games, 11,000 members of the Federal Preventive Police have also arrived, whose mission is looking after the Games. This in itself provokes a conflict; just imagine, from one day to the next, wherever you look on the street, you see people in uniform with their vans and long weapons, staring with a stern face at anyone who walks in front of them.

The average tapatio is not used to seeing helicopters flying overhead all day long, and even less used to dealing with police cars that park (or double-park) on an avenue at rush hour in an already congested city.

Guadalajara is not exempt from the lack of safety currently experienced in Mexico; however, it is unrelated to the unfortunate events occurring in other parts of the country, like Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Veracruz or Chihuahua. Thus, it is almost strange to see so many police everywhere -- federal, state, municipal and others; but it is the price that must be paid when hosting an event of this magnitude.

Believe me, traffic was held as a priority from the time the bid for the Games was won. Guadalajara, in contrast to other major cities, depends almost entirely on its avenues for transit. Over here, there is no public transportation system, such as the metro, and no decent bike paths. So it was necessary to cancel classes at all elementary and middle schools during the Games in order to help decrease the traffic.

Another relevant topic for the host city was no doubt the Pan American Lane, which is none other than a lane of the main avenues in Guadalajara, which the organizing committee is borrowing in an effort to transport people and avoid traffic jams. It is similar to a carpool or HOV lane, which in this case is reserved for official vehicles or those accredited by the Games. This "carpool lane" idea was first instituted at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Since then, it is a requirement that host cities of Olympic and Pan American Games provide this exclusive lane, though in Guadalajara it proved to be a failure at the beginning of the week.

A test run was done along the avenue that goes to and from Guadalajara International Airport, and the results were disastrous. The avenue got backed up and traffic was brought to a standstill. After the test, it was decided that the Pan American Lane will not be exclusive, but rather preferential; that is, any car can travel in this lane, provided they yield the right of way to official Games vehicles, as one does when an ambulance or fire truck sounds its siren.

For the moment, people must get used to these new dynamics. In any case, it will only be for a few weeks, and then everything will go back to normal.