The Knesset Science and Technology Committee yesterday discussed road congestion, following an OECD report published six months ago quantifying the state of Israel's roads. Based on 2014 figures, the report found that Israel had 2,700 vehicles per road kilometer, compared with an average of 773 vehicles per road kilometer in the OECD countries. Committee chairman MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) and MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beitenu) initiated the discussion.
Maklev opened the discussion by saying, "Everyone here, and especially those who were late, has encountered the traffic jams. The report is no surprise to us, but we came here to hear the reasons for it. On the one hand, we see that roads are being widened and developed, with light and heavy railways being added. On the other hand, there is no progress, and we only know that according to all the forecasts, the situation will get even worse."
Dr. Robert Ishaq of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology Transportation Research Institute gave the figures: "We provide 467 parking places per 1,000 work places in the main business center in Tel Aviv, more than in the other cities examined in the OECD report. A rigorous parking standard went into effect here only last year, 15 years too late, and it will take the same length of time before it has an effect. The effective speed in public transportation is very low in comparison with these countries, and this keeps people away from public transportation - 25% use it in Israel, compared with a worldwide average of 60% and 80% in New York. We have no nationwide railway network. There are 15 suburban railway lines, 10 subway lines, and nine light railway lines in Berlin."
Ishaq predicted that in 20 years, every user would spend one more hour on the road. "We're losing NIS 20 billion a year," he said. "We need a nationwide railway system and more diversified public transportation. It will cost NIS 200-250 billion to make up the gap between us and Western infrastructure. It will be worthwhile in the long run. In addition, travel sharing should be encouraged, and occupancy of passenger vehicles should be increased. Bicycle riders and pedestrians all over Israel should be encouraged."
Dr. Moshe Becker from the Israel Association for Intelligent Transportation Systems said that Israel's long and thin geographic shape posed an objective problem. "Were Israel circular or rectangular, there would have been twice as many roads. In addition, Israel did not plan in advance where the level of motorization would increase, and did not properly plan its population distribution. Not enough use is made of knowledge in order to develop plans wisely. The Tel Aviv light rail should have been operating 30 years ago. Only a complete plan including integration of light railways in metropolitan areas and convenient moving from one form of transportation to another will make a change."
Dr. Jonathan Aikhenbaum from Greenpeace said, "2,500 people die each year from air pollution, half of them as a result of transportation. We're talking about silent deaths, but this is based on empirical research, and should be addressed. You can't build more and more roads without thinking about it."
MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union) said, "The fault is in the state's explicit policy, which in transportation has favored reliance on private vehicles over public transportation… We reached equality in the last budget, but we are very far in the framework of the amounts under discussion from starting to close the gap."
Maklev commented, "The government is also blocking shared transportation, which is part of the solution, for what appears to be unprofessional reasons of pressure from various groups. This will open new vistas. The prevailing idea is to do nothing in order to avoid making waves."
In response to these arguments, Harel Shlissel from the Ministry of Finance and Jacob Blitshtein from the Ministry of Transport said that many investments were being made. "There is no NIS 200 billion for immediate investment, but there is NIS 11 billion a year in the five-year plan," Blitshtein said. "We're going to expand public transportation at the expense of private transportation… Investments should be made in mass transit systems and public transportation, and we're doing it - we're appropriating lanes for public transportation, developing the light railway lines in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and planning two more lines in each of them. We have a plan for public transportation lanes in 16 cities in the Greater Tel Aviv area. We are also planning high-speed lanes on Highway 2 and Highway 5. The trend is clear, and these are massive investments."
Shlissel added, "The 2016 budget for public transportation development was NIS 5.5 billion, and will be increased by NIS 1 billion next year. The budget for road development was NIS 4.9 billion. Projects totaling NIS 54 billion are being started. We're in favor of shared transportation; this is a question for the Ministry of Transport."
Maklev said in response, "According to the results, the situation on the roads is bad."
Blitshtein: There's no magical solution right now that will end the traffic jams tomorrow. It's an integrated system, in which increasing the railway's speed and capacity and the number of public transportation lanes and enabling more people to switch to public transportation will improve the situation. That's what we're doing. We're also planning to connect all the cities in the entire Greater Tel Aviv region to Tel Aviv with bicycle paths. Traffic lights will give preference to public transportation. There will be a cable car solution in Haifa, and one is under consideration for Jerusalem and other places. There is a planning budget for all these things."
Summing up the discussion, Maklev said, "We all agree that the solution is in public transportation. Rapid implementation is important, including suitable budgeting, rather than a project a minute. Otherwise, nothing we do will be enough. In view of the situation and what is liable to happen in the future, the government and the Ministry of Transport should declare a state of emergency. They should do the same thing in transportation that they did for housing; otherwise, the people in the housing will not be able to leave their homes, and we will find ourselves with a catastrophe."
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on March 9, 2017
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