Public Transportation Day in Israel: Stuck in Traffic


A competition for the title of 'fastest mode of transportation' in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. (Photo by Omer Cohen.)

September 23 was "Public Transportation Day" in Israel, the Holy Land's answer to European Mobility Week and World Carfree Day. In honor of the event, local green groups organized a professional conference and a 6km drag race in Tel Aviv between different modes of transportation.

Israel's three major cities - Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa - are all in the process of developing mass transit systems. However, no small amount of acrimony has developed around the process, as Jerusalem's light rail system has bogged down into enormous delays and cost overruns, and Tel Aviv's mythical subway project proceeds at a snail's pace while traffic and air pollution increase exponentially.
"Car or bus?" Ongoing controversy surrounds Israel's mass transit plans.
Transit - Underground or Surface?

Probably the most contentious issue in the debate is Tel Aviv's insistence on building a subway, a decision which can be traced back to the 1970's. Green groups, residents and the central government favor cheaper technologies, like Bus Rapid Transit, which they say will be quicker and easier to construct.

The core of the argument is a disagreement over the issue of private car traffic in the city's streets, with the city hesitant to reduce road space for cars in favor of public transport solutions on the surface, while proponents of surface transit point out that less car traffic in the city center would create better urbanism.

Which is Faster?

On Tuesday, environmental activists organized a "race" between three different modes of transportation: a bus traveling in a designated bus lane, a bicycle and a private car. The three vehicles set out from the edges of the Tel Aviv metropolis for the city's central train station.

The results surprised no one: the first to pass the finish line was the bike, ridden by Rachel Gilad-Volner, a veteran activist and a candidate for the city council in this November's elections. The bus arrived in second place, and the private car, stuck in Tel Aviv's notorious traffic jams, arrived last.

Potential Benefits of a Mass Transit Network in Tel Aviv

Earlier that day, a professional conference was held on the subject of urban planning and mass transit. Several urban transit projects were discussed, and Yishai Dotan, CEO of NTA (the company in charge of planning Tel Aviv’s transit network), offered a convincing account of the benefits that the light rail/subway system is supposed to deliver.

According to Dotan, the mass transit system that NTA is planning in Tel Aviv would benefit the local economy to the tune of millions of shekels, save 48 million hours of lost time a year, prevent the emission of 201,000 tons of carbon dioxide yearly and prevent 6,500 traffic accidents. The system would cover 176 kilometers, carrying 427 million passengers a year by 2030. Almost half of workplaces in the city would be within walking distance of one of the lines.

While no one disputes the importance of a functioning network of mass transit in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and the first line of the system is already under construction, bureaucratic wrangling and political intrigues are holding up the rest of the network. Dotan, aware of the stiff-necked character of those involved in the project, tempered his optimism with a warning:

If we don’t solve our problem-solving culture, we’ll be stuck in this traffic jam forever.

More on transport in Israel:
Israel Invests in Mass Transit
Light Rail or BRT?
Israel Says Shalom to Electric Cars
Taking the Cable Car to Work

Tags: Air Pollution | Driving | Israel | Traffic | Transportation | Urban Planning

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