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Would a Midsize Olympic Host City Mean Fewer Transportation Woes?

Downtown Budapest, Hungary (Zoltan Balogh/MTI via AP)

Those fighting their way along Rio de Janeiro’s crowded highways during the 2016 Summer Olympic Games might be enticed by the image of floating down Budapest’s Danube River in 2024 instead.

Hungary’s capital is one of four finalists for hosting the 2024 Summer Games. With 1.7 million residents — roughly the same size as Philadelphia — it would be by far the smallest Summer Olympic host since Athens in 2004. All of Hungary is only about as big as another host city finalist, Paris. The other 2024 host finalists are Los Angles and Rome.

But, as Sports Business Daily points out, being smaller may have some advantages, particularly in terms of transportation.

“The question, a theoretical question, is bigger necessarily better?” asked Balazs Furjes, who is leading Budapest’s bid effort. “What we can propose is a compact, intimate arrangement, in a midsized global city with exceptionally short travel distances … and the whole city turning into one single Olympic Park. I think it makes sense.”

Rio, with 6.3 million residents, already has overcrowded highways. Athletes, support staff and others in town for the Olympics have struggled to get around. The other 2024 bid cities, especially Los Angeles and Paris, have large suburban developments and sprawl, and are already known for their heavy traffic.

In Budapest, however, all venues would be within 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of Budapest’s city center, according to Furjes, dramatically cutting down on time most attendees would need to spend in a car. (Though according to the bid, some preliminary rounds in soccer, volleyball and a few other sports would be played in other Hungarian cities.)

The bid team says ferries on the Danube River — which they refer to in the bid as their own “Olympic blue lane” in reference to the practice of reserving lanes on host city highways for official Olympic travelers — would move people around much of the city efficiently.

Budapest has experience handling large crowds and events, and much of the infrastructure and venues needed to host the games is already in place. As evidence, Furjes points to the city’s annual Sziget Festival, one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe, and its experience hosting Formula One races and next summer’s FINA World Championships.

If Budapest wins the bid, it would follow four megacities — Beijing, London, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo — and could pave the way for midsize cities to host the games in the future.