The new Haifa central bus station was inaugurated at the Check Post junction earlier this month. The Lev Hamifratz transportation terminal is located on the west side of Histadrut Boulevard, the historic artery leading from Highway 80 and the Check Point junction in the direction of the Krayot (Haifa Bay) region north of Haifa leading to Akko, and Nahariya. The terminal contains stops on the Metronit lines, city and interurban buses, and a railway station. In the future, it will also have a cable car leading to the University of Haifa and the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology.
The total area of 12,000 square meters was built at a cost of NIS 300 million. Planning was by Gordon Architects and Urban Planners, headed by Uzi Gordon, who is responsible for many outline plans (Daliyat El Karmel, Atlit, Givat Ada-Binyamina, and Jisr az-Zarqa) and planning neighborhoods, urban renewal ventures, and buildings.
The construction work has not yet been completed, but this did not prevent politicians from lauding and praising the project. At the launching event, Minister of Transport and Intelligence Yisrael Katz spoke about unifying all the existing means of transportation in the Haifa metropolitan area. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav spoke about "a day of celebration for residents of Haifa and the north" and the consolidation of Haifa's position as a metropolis and capital of northern Israel.
Gordon was almost apologetic when he made it clear that the central bus station at the Check Point junction was designed merely as a place to switch from one means of transportation to another. He said, "We are designing central bus stations in Dimona and Hadera in the heart of residential areas where you can walk on foot or ride bicycles, as in Japan. This area is completely different. It is actually a transit station. The number of people who will walk on foot is almost negligible. What is involved is switching from one means of transportation to another. It will be a transfer stop.
"This is not a beautiful area. I would not recommend that people build houses there and I would not push residents into this area. On the other hand, it has several advantages, because it is in the gravitational center of the metropolis and is equidistant from all of the surrounding towns: Yokneam, Nesher, Tivon, and Kfar Hasidim."
"Globes": What importance does the bus station have as a generator of urban renewal?
Gordon: "It has none in the conventional sense. The urban scene cannot be created in every place. We wanted to give someone arriving a good time, but they won't put kiosks and small businesses here because this is a barren and hostile area of factories and oil refineries. I regard it as a place that just gives people a good opportunity to move from place to place from all over the metropolis. We have built a very nice station that will give people arriving a rest from the unpleasant surrounding environment."
But what kind of good time are you giving? This is actually just a transportation terminal with no store, café, or restaurant.
"The problem is a legal one. The procedures are sometimes stronger than anything. The land was obtained by expropriation and is defined as land for public use. Once you bring businesses making profits there, it gets really complicated because the landowners will want part of it. That's the story. I would be very glad if it were different.
"The lot we planned on has the most constraints possible. There is groundwater; in other words, it's a swamp. You can't build high buildings because there are roads. We had a margin of 10 meters to play with. The form of the lot was also very unconventional. The design overcame the constraints. We tried to get good quality raw materials and air-conditioning. The wavy form? The mayor was involved in it. I would have settled for something simpler."
Are you saying that this is the mayor's version?
"This is part of the burden of my profession. The station is a type of gateway to Haifa, so making something that sticks in the memory was justified. What's important at are the passageways. There is complete safety for pedestrians."
Haifa municipality architecture department director Ariel Vaterman is optimistic about the station's importance for the development of all of Haifa Bay.
Vaterman: "The Check Post is located at the exit from the Carmel Tunnels at the Lev Hamifratz center. Lines from all over Israel, the Metronit, and the cable car to the Carmel go there. This place has become the most important transportation center - the hub of the north. Because of the special location, there will be a special plan for high tech here between the Check Post and the Lev Hamifratz center. We haven't finished the Lev Hamifratz station yet and I already have three permits for buildings that will be constructed here. It's faster than we thought."
What is your relative advantage?
"Access, access, access."
Avishai Cohen, CEO of Yefe Nof, the Haifa municipality's transportation construction company, admits that the Check Point area has problems, but he predicts wondrous things. "The Check Post area isn't developed enough from both a visual standpoint and an engineering-infrastructure standpoint. It's an old area, difficult, and requires attention.
"It's going to be, however, one of busiest areas in the coming years. 40,000 currently pass through the old central bus station at the Check Post. They're going to build hundreds of thousands of housing units in this area and it will all be channeled to the Check Post. We're building the port and expanding the airport. The work plans for the University of Haifa and Technion involve tens of thousands more students in the next five years."
How is the area being handled?
Cohen: "We've renewed the central bus station and we're building Matam 2 (the industrial zone that is also called 1704, which is designed to resemble the Matam business park at the southern approaches to Haifa). The main point is to facilitate traffic under great constraints - to enable people to move without conflicts. There are bridges that make it possible to pass very comfortably."
What is the timetable?
"Matam will be built by 2025. The Metronit from Paz Bridge to Yagur will be done by 2022. The central bus station area, including all the streets feeding into it, which are in an unpleasant state right now, will be finished within a year."
"Closed like the Tel Aviv central bus station"
Czamanski Ben Shahar CEO Tamir Ben Shahar, an economist and urban planner, is a little less optimistic. "Haifa has two main business centers. The Carmel area has lost power, the Hadar area has slowed down, and the lower city is developing. A business center (Matam) has been created in southern Haifa with a lot of unconnected activities. I think this should have been Haifa's main business center.
"You have to take into account that the new northern port that the Chinese are developing will cause a change. The back of the port will be strengthened. The Check Post is at the most important junction, where nothing is happening right now. They built a closed transportation center without even a single meter of commercial space. A lot of momentum has been created that will bring traffic, but it isn't connected to the surroundings. It's closed like the Tel Aviv Central bus station."
A large high-tech center is planned.
Ben Shahar: "This won't happen there. High tech wants to be in a clean place that creates value for it, like the streets near the Weizmann Institute, the fancy areas of Tel Aviv, and in southern Haifa near the sea. So I think that Matam will be Haifa's main business center. You can't make a Matam 2 north of Haifa on the Kishon River opposite the oil refineries."
What do you think will happen around the new transportation terminal? At the moment, it looks fairly neglected.
"This area has lost force in recent years. It was once a center of home decorating stores, but the opening of IKEA in Kiryat Ata and the Redesign Center finished it. The opening of the blue monster destroyed the Check Post. In my opinion, if they don't manage this area, it will lose force over time; people won't buy furniture there just because a bus goes there. The decline will accelerate."
So what will happen there?
"All of the activities there should be derived from the back of the port. I'm really not sure that it's necessary to get rid of all the chemical industries. Keep in mind that this is the northern part of Haifa. There should be buildings for small-scale logistics and maybe offices. There won't be any high tech there."
Haifa architect Dror Gershon from the Merhav organization thinks that the terminal initiative is a positive one but recognizes that there is a problem from an urban perspective: "It's nice that there's a central bus station. People live in villages in the Galilee, in Nesher, and the Krayot area north of Haifa, so they can go there by bus and get on the train. It's a positive connection. On the other hand, I think it's stupid that they put in the outline plan that this is Haifa's new business center. Because it's geographically located between places. As soon as they develop something between all the towns, what they're doing is emptying the towns. They should at least let one of the towns benefit. A metropolitan center happens within a city; it isn't something stuck outside the city. That's how it is in New York and that's how it is in Tel Aviv. It's a pity to take everything out of Haifa. The center should be in the lower city."
"No one is taking responsibility for Histadrut Boulevard"
Someone passing the Check Post and getting to Histadrut Boulevard on public transportation or by car who wants to wander a little between the stores, food stands, kiosks, and clubs on the side of the road and the shopping mall and the new transportation center will encounter a tough and scary area.
This is a huge high-speed superhighway - the farthest thing imaginable from an urban street. It features polluted air, noise, old buildings, narrow sidewalks, and general neglect. There are no trees or bushes. On other hand, it undoubtedly has something to do with the fact that I visited it in the middle of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday, when both the shopping mall and the central bus station are bustling.
"Histadrut Boulevard is a street mall created over years on a main road," Gershon says. "At the time, the mayor didn't want commerce in Haifa, so the commerce moved there. It's not within the city. It's on the way.
Cohen says that Histadrut Boulevard is not included in the planned renewal of the area. "It's not a street. It's not at the urban level; it's in the nationwide hierarchy." In other words, nobody cares.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on June 28, 2018
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