During the Covid pandemic, many cities worldwide moved swiftly to convert streets into pedestrian only precincts, so that people could mingle socially outdoors. The pandemic acted as a catalyst for the process of banishing cars from city centers and encouraging pedestrians to take over the streets, which has been underway for decades.
New research from Sweden's Lund University has found that cutting down on parking options and reducing the number of lanes for cars in city centers are the most effective ways of cutting the number of cars in cities after a congestion tax.
One new project introduced in Israel during the Covid pandemic was the closing of the section of Levinsky Street by Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv's Florentin neighborhood. Before cars were banished, shoppers carrying heavy bags had to negotiate narrow one-meter sidewalks. Seats were placed in the middle of the road once jammed with vehicles and parked cars - the crowds before the street was closed justified the change.
When municipalities consider whether to close a street to traffic, forecast demand is an important factor. For example, the southern section of Nahlat Binyamin Street is closed in the evening, with tables and chairs brought out to the street, which becomes packed with people dining out. Business turnover is not the only measure of success, but research shows that businesses are boosted by pedestrians, bike and scooter riders and good public transport connections rather than access for cars. The first sign of success when roads are closed is simply seeing more people walking about and spending time in an area.
Tel Aviv city architect Yoav David says that the Covid pandemic fitted in with the municipality's policy that it planned to implement: transforming streets congested with cars into streets for pedestrians. "Switching from mobility for cars to mobility via other means creates good spaces, because those who have a garden or open natural areas near their home are in a good situation, but in densely populated neighborhoods you have to convert streets with parked cars and congested traffic into spaces for people and that's exactly what Levinsky Street is about from our point of view," he says.
David adds that the municipality will now examine how to add shade to the street. "Levinsky was the first project and from a small stretch in a small street, we are now talking about setting up a complete network of streets."
Over the years, Tel Aviv has closed 15 sections of streets, including Ishtori Haparchi Street by Basel Square in the Old North, and Nahlat Binyamin Street from the junction of Allenby Street. More streets will be closed in Florentin and Neve Shaanan (the Old Central Bus Station).
"We draw inspiration from planners in Barcelona, who see small streets as belonging to everyone - pedestrians and bicycle riders - while vehicles can travel on the main roads around them," David says.
Urban planning company Urband owner Sharon Band says that in building new neighborhoods, preference for pedestrians, bike riders and public transport users is already the mainstream approach, but the gap between awareness and implementation is wide. "Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have created spaces like these but it stops there and all the rest are scared."
Band says that the most successful urban street in Israel is Jerusalem's Jaffa Road, along which the light rail travels, with preference given to pedestrians. There will be more such streets in the city, but as part of a complicated long-term infrastructure project. Tel Aviv is also closing more and more streets to cars, but other cities are not. "I don't see it happening in the coming year," she says, "because of local elections. Nobody wants to rock the boat too much."
While streets may not be fully closed, some cities are taking away parking spaces and allocating larger areas to the public. Band's company has just designed such a project for Ramat Gan's Bialik Street. "This resulted in the opening of more cafes and restaurants in this street. And if it doesn't succeed you can dismantle things and restore the parking spaces, but in this case it of course succeeded."
The Talpiot market in Haifa also converted parking places into seats for pedestrians, which has strengthened the businesses. However, Band stressed that it is important to allow for appropriate nearby areas for loading and unloading for the surrounding businesses.
Similar projects to limit parking and widen pedestrian access are underway in Rishon Lezion and Bat Yam.
But Tel Aviv's David admits that progress on this matter is being hampered by a lack of adequate public transport at present, so in many instances immediate solutions cannot be provided.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 20, 2022.
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