Initial thoughts on Olympic bid documents

By | January 22, 2015

The Boston 2024 committee has released most of the documents which it used for its bid to become the U.S. representative in the competition for hosting the 2024 Olympics. I’ve reviewed most of the documents, and here are my initial thoughts.

There are four things that stand out for me:

1) The polls they did to support their claim that there is public support for the endeavor are outrageously flawed, and obviously rigged for the result they wanted, in at least three major ways:

  • They surveyed only 600 people, out of a state of almost seven million. That’s not nearly enough to draw any statistically significant conclusions. Notably, the pollster who conducted the poll doesn’t make any claims at all of statistical significance in his documentation.
  • They surveyed 600 people statewide. There is no indication of the geographical distribution of the sample, so it appears to be even, which implies that 90% of the people sampled live outside the greater Boston area. To describe that as blatantly unacceptable doesn’t even begin to cover it. It is patently obvious that Bostonians — the people who will have to live through the Olympics if it is held here — should have the most say in whether it should in fact be held here.
  • The questions they asked, and they way they asked them, are clearly and obviously intended to bias responses positively.

2) I find the claim that this will be a “walkable Olympics” to be dubious. As evidence for that claim, they assert that all of the Olympic venues will be within a 10km radius. Now, I find it hard to understand from the bid just what their plans are in terms of creating viable walking and public transportation options before 2024, but you know as well as I do that it is anything but straightforward and direct to walk 6 miles in any direction within the city of Boston. A typical adult can walk a mile in 15 minutes, so even walking in a straight line at full speed with no obstacles between the two most distant venues would take an hour and a half. But it’s impossible to walk in anything approaching “a straight line at full speed with no obstacles” in this city.

I grant that I’ve never gone to an Olympics, so I don’t know how the vision for Boston compares to how things have been in other cities. But my gut impression is that they’re writing a check they can’t cash.

3) Less metaphorically on the subject of “writing a check they can’t cash,” I find their brightly optimistic claims about billions of dollars of spending on transportation improvements having already been “approved” and “authorized” and will be easy to achieve before 2024 to be simply absurd. To say that they are putting a positive spin on the current political climate vis à vis transportation spending doesn’t even begin to do justice to how distorted those claims are.

4) I think their plans for where to house all the tourists (basically, university dorms and short-term rentals of off-campus housing) is questionable. Estimates I’ve seen for how many undergraduate and graduate students there are in the greater Boston area range from 100,000 to 250,000. Many of those students live at home; some of the others will be living on campus during the summer, unless their institutions kick them out to make room for the tourists. London supposedly got 260,000 extra summer visitors (over and above their normal tourist volume for the same period in the prior year) for their Olympics. In short, it is unlikely that we have nearly enough room to house the number of tourists who would be expected to attend.

But then, does any city?

The bid documents make a great case, which I agree with, for why hosting the Olympics is a good cultural fit for the city of Boston. It is the practicalities which concern me.

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2 thoughts on “Initial thoughts on Olympic bid documents

  1. Ted

    The statistical sample of 600 out of seven million is more than adequate for a “statistically significant conclusion,” assuming the sampling was chosen at random. What you wind up with a confidence level of 95%, (a number statisticians usually shoot for) and a +/- of four percent. Whether you agree with the conclusion drawn from their results is one thing. (And, indeed, wording can move the needle a lot.) But the sampling was an appropriate and standard size.

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  2. Ezra Peisach

    This polling reminds me of the time MA got rid of rent control. Although only present in two or three places (Boston, Cambridge), they had a state wide referendum to overturn it… A very NIMBY response.

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