Less than one week before the Jerusalem Municipality decides to move forward with the construction of a controversial light-rail extension through the German Colony’s main thoroughfare, a city councilwoman says residents overwhelmingly oppose the project.
After months of intensive meetings between city planners and hundreds of residents to listen to their collective concerns about construction of the Blue Line – a 20 km.-long route traversing Emek Refaim, long a popular hub for cafes, shops and socializing – Mayor Nir Barkat will determine if the project will move forward on Dec. 1.
According to the municipality, the Blue Line, which will not break ground for at least four more years, will pass through Malha, Emek Refaim and Ramot, serving up to 250,000 residents from Gilo in the south, to Ramot in the north.
However, since the project was initially approved by the municipality’s Planning Committee in January, community leaders have contended that the construction will result in damage to historic buildings, bankruptcy for area businesses, and a pronounced drop in their general quality of life.
The conflict came to a head in July, during a meeting at Emek Refaim’s Ginot Ha’ir Community Center between municipal officials and some 500 residents, who aired their grievances and demanded the project be put on hold to allow time for an analysis of how the line may damage the beloved road.
Noting the success of Jaffa Road’s Red Line light-rail extension, the Transportation Ministry and municipality, which agreed to postpone a decision until next week, have long claimed that the community’s concerns are unfounded.
“The city’s residents will be able to enjoy shortened travel times, fewer traffic jams, cleaner air, and exciting urban renewal,” said Barkat of the Blue Line.
In terms of potential damages to the historic district, Transportation Ministry official Shmuel Elgrabi claimed that widespread concerns that construction will compromise area homes, trees and buildings dating back to the Templers in the 1840s, are misguided.
“None of the structures will be damaged, and there will be complete access to all houses at all times,” Elgrabi said, adding that the ministry and municipality plan to plant “many more trees, just as when we planted around 4,000 trees along the Red Line.”
“As residents, we all love Emek Refaim… and we will carefully preserve the character of neighborhood,” he ensured.
Despite months of cooperation between the ministry, municipality and German Colony residents to discuss the plan in greater depth, on Wednesday City Councilwoman Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (Yerushalmim), said between 80-90% of the community still opposes the project.
Meover, Hassan-Nahoum, who also holds the city’s transportation and preservation portfolios, said the local community council, Ginot Hair, will present Barkat on Sunday with a comprehensive 100-page impact study compiled by paid experts in multiple fields, delineating why the line will damage the community.
The analysis, which residents raised NIS 200,000 to finance, proposes an alternate route that would preclude Emek Rafaim from being dug up, she said.
“The community council formed committees and hired experts in preservation, public spaces, the environment, business, city planning, transportation, and traffic because people were very, very scared of what this project meant, and because the mayor promised to listen to any viable alternative that they would propose,” she said.
“One of the conclusions of the report is that a smarter route would be that instead of splitting the Blue Line at the Khan Theater, it might be smarter for that to happen at the corner of Derek Hevron and Rehov Hatnufa.”
Hassan-Nahoum said bypassing Emek Rafaim entirely would be wiser because the proposed alternate route will traverse two major malls and still provide service to tens of thousands of area residents, particularly in Katamon, without causing damage in the German Colony.
“The Green Line, which will be built before the Blue Line, will have an extension which will go down Rehov Hatnufa and Pierre Koenig, so the city would not have to add an additional line [through the German Colony],” she explained.
Citing the strong public support garnered for the alternate plan, which was composed by multiple experts, Hassan-Nahoum said the mayor’s acceptance of their findings would be an exercise in democracy.
“My whole position has always been that the public participation in this process is unprecedented in Jerusalem, which takes longer and is more cumbersome, but is democratic,” she said.
“The bottom line of the report is that the cost to Emek Rafaim does not compensate for the benefit when an alternate route can be created.”