There are good reasons that Tel Aviv is called the city that never stops. With 12% of Israel's businesses, compared with 7% in Jerusalem, and a growing population, Tel Aviv is the beating heart of the country's economy.
When spending time in Tel Aviv, it is difficult not to miss the vast amount of infrastructure work taking place. Digging is underway for three light rail lines, and the municipality is building public transport lanes and cycle paths. Blue and white curbside parking is being reduced and streets are being closed to cars. In total at the moment, there are 900 infrastructure construction sites in Tel Aviv, and 400 infrastructure works, amid preparations for three light rail lines. All this disruption is not popular and it has intensified in recent years but it is designed to maintain Tel Aviv's status as Israel's leading city, while promoting sustainable transport.
Such work is being carried out in all of the world's most advanced cities, which understand that a densely populated city cannot succeed in functioning and continue to rely on the motor car, without alternative transport options. One of the biggest challenges in coping with all this, is for cities to keep access for pedestrians during all this work, and protect successful street stores and businesses.
Infrastructure works are being strongly felt along the Ayalon Highway, where a lane is being added in each direction for public transport and ridesharing. On practically all the central streets of Tel Aviv, work is underway on light rail lines, including work for separate public transport and cycle lanes.
In addition, the municipality is enhancing spaces for pedestrians including a pedestrian mall in Neve Sha'anan and Opera Square, where Allenby Street meets the sea. Later in the year more streets will be closed to vehicles in Neve Sha'anan and Florentin, as the city prioritizes pedestrians.
The municipality is striving to demonstrate how intensively it is working. But with local elections coming up next year, and many of the disruptions unpopular, the municipality has taken its foot off the gas on works related to cycle lanes. Many residents have also put the municipality under pressure not to take away parking spaces because there are no alternatives although it is a vicious circle because in order to develop alternatives including public transport lanes, cycle lanes and wider sidewalks, parking spaces have to be sacrificed.
Other residents are demanding the work is conducted in stages in order to ease the disruption to daily life and this is a known dilemma in developing infrastructures, whether to work quickly with greater disruption or more gradually but take much longer.
Transport expert Prof. Ariel Avinery of Afeka Tel Aviv Academic College of Engineering says, "Works of this type should be done as quickly as possible even if they are undertaken at the same time, so that they will be finished as quickly as possible, for the welfare of everyone. It is particularly important to create a transport network and not just a light rail line."
He stresses that this is the right way to go about things not just from the transport point of view but also psychologically. "As long as we don't provide a full image of the solution of what we are getting, then the disappointment will be bigger."
"An intolerable reality for pedestrians"
Tel Aviv's choice to undertake such a huge amount of works at the same time, and pay a price in terms of the temporary inconvenience for residents, does not have to look like the way it appears today. In other places around the world, works are carried out according to a pyramid of priorities. Top priority is passage for pedestrians and the second priority is public transport followed by bicycles and lastly cars. In addition, signposts must be provided that enable pedestrians to find their way during the works with instructions that define the types of obstacles that are permitted to be set up around the city and incentives for transparent or interactive fences, with many invested to shorten the time that works take to the minimum and streamline coordination systems for the infrastructures.
Urban planner Gali Freund is harshly critical of the way the municipality relates to pedestrians. "Works are an opportunity to upgrade and improve," she says. "The municipality knows how important pedestrian traffic is but there are other companies working out there like NTA that don't have any expertise in creating a user experience and the temporary and permanent arrangements have not always been done with the proper expertise.
At the same time the municipality is slowing down the works following pressures and an outcry from car owners. This combination creates an impossible reality for pedestrians. Next to the Millennium Tower in Ibn Gbriol Street, which is a medical center with thousands of elderly patients, the sidewalk has been taken away. Every morning I see confused people there who need to walk hundreds of meters but the roads for the cars are still there."
The municipality says, "This is a complexity that does not need to be told to people coming to the city. We are aware of the challenge and are focusing our thinking on how the municipality can upgrade this matter and we hope that in the coming months we can bring good news on this aspect of things."
Another municipal issue that needs handling are the street stores close to the light rail infrastructure works and keeping sufficient foot traffic in the area to keep the businesses going. The Tel Aviv Municpality will pave a bicycle land along Allenby Street when it is closed to buses but this is not intensive enough custom that the buses generate. Compensation has been paid from a government fund to stores near to underground stations on the Red and Green lines of the light rail but the sums paid out, of a maximum of NIS 250,000 per business, is negligible compared with the amount of custom lost.
The Tel Aviv Municipality blames the Ministry of Finance for opposing compensation and stresses that a change in by-laws will assist businesses along the lines of the light rail while work is underway.
Tel Aviv deputy mayor for transportation Meital Lehavi said that the closure of Allenby Street has been postponed from the first quarter of 2021 to the second quarter of 2022, and the closure contingent on the start of operations of the light rail Red Line. "The 'city at work' issue has become so explosive that it could jeopardize my status in the next election. But following our strategic work in the city we will be the first to get out of the traffic jam."
Tel Aviv council member Assaf Harel, who until recently held the infrastructures portfolio, adds, "The Tel Aviv municipality has not done everything necessary to minimize the damage, but on the other hand, it has jumped at the opportunity to renovate and reshape the public space, in a way that suits a large city in the modern age. When it's over, we will have a public space to grace the hundreds of thousands of people who are going to move to the city."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 2, 2022.
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