Israel Invests in Mass Transit
Downtown Jerusalem 2011?
In line with a worldwide trend, Israel's three major cities - Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - are currently in the process of building mass transit systems. Israel's transportation has traditionally been based on buses and private cars. However, space for building roads is running out in this tiny country, and traffic and air pollution have been worsening in urban areas.
Last week, the city of Haifa opened up its first exclusive bus lane, which will become part of the city's "Metronit" (Hebrew link) system within the next couple of years. The name is a play on words — read one way, it means "little metro," read another way the word evokes a little old lady. The Metronit will run through Haifa's downtown to its northern suburbs.Based completely on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) technology, of the kind pioneered by the Brazilian city of Curitiba, Haifa's system is by far the cheapest, quickest and simplest of the three, and is expected to be up and running by 2010. The city's mini-subway, the Carmelit , has been in operation for decades but its planning has become obsolete and ridership is low.
Jerusalem's first line will be a light rail route smack through the middle of the city, major portions of which will become carfree areas. The second line is a BRT route, and several more lines are being planned for the future. Heavy construction has been going on in the city center for several years already, driving residents, commuters and shopkeepers alike half crazy, and is expected to go on until the system begins functioning around 2011. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about the quality of some of the workmanship and the municipality has been blamed for holding up construction due to bureaucratic red tape.
Tel Aviv's system is the most complicated, the most expensive and expected to be completed the last. Meant to serve the Tel Aviv metropolitan region, where about half the country's population lives, the system is a combination of light rail, BRT and subway technologies. Initial construction has already begun and is expected to kick into high gear very soon. However, lingering disagreements and possibly even lawsuits between the various bodies involved guarantee that the system will not be up and running any time soon.
Meanwhile, Israel has been developing its intercity train system over the past decade into a rather convenient and popular alternative to the motorized commute. The train has become a hit with Israelis, and in the future will connect with the urban mass transit systems now being constructed.