Just an hour after sunrise on Friday morning, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai kicked off the Sovev Tel Aviv-Jaffa bike racing day at Rabin Square by signing the Charter of Brussels, an international covenant to broaden the public’s use of cycling as a transportation mode.
Friday’s massive biking event – the biggest yet to occur in Israel – featured three different race paths: a 7.5-kilometer trail, a 22-kilometer trail and a 42-kilometer trail, the last of which involves a double loop around much of the city bounds. Each of the routes began at different times, with the 42-kilometer track starting the earliest, at 7 a.m. The 22- kilometer route departs at 8:15 am and the 7.5-kilometer path at 9:30, coinciding with the start of a spinning class. About 20,000 riders were expected to attend, according to cycling activist organization Israel for Bikes.
A festival to accompany the rides began on Wednesday, with a bicycle fair held at Rabin Square both that day and all day Thursday, continuing on Friday morning from 7 a.m to 12 p.m.
Some of the activities have included an “Art Ofan” opportunity, a bicycle design project with street mural artist Rami Meiri, as well as an extreme cycling course on challenging surfaces like ramps and rafters.
Friday’s opening event for the races also featured the Dutch Ambassador Caspar Veldkamp and Belgian Ambassador Benedicte Frankinet.
“We are aiming to encourage cycling in the city and transform bikes into a legitimate transportation mechanism that is friendly and green, which will be used as an alternative to private vehicles,” Huldai said. “With a tremendous investment and hard work over the course of the past decade, we have developed an infrastructure, the service Tel-O-Fun and a network of bike paths in the city at a scope that stands alone in the country. The Charter of Brussels is an official stamp of our intention to continue to develop Tel Aviv-Yafo as a city that is bike friendly.”
The city’s main goal in signing the charter is to change the transportation lifestyle of Tel Aviv and encourage more people to use bicycles for transportation when traveling around the city, according to the municipality.
The Charter of Brussels was the result of the Belgian capital’s 2009 Velo-city Conference, which has already led to dozens of cities ascribing to the document. Encouraging cycling contributes to developing “livable cities, efficient urban transport, less congestion, less traffic noise, healthy physical activity, road safety, clean air, fighting climate change, saving fossil fuels and sustainable tourism,” the preamble to the charter states.
By signing the charter, cities commit themselves to setting a target of having 15 percent of travelers moving about on bikes by the year 2020, as well as reducing the risks of fatal bike accidents by 50% for the same year. In addition, committed cities must improve their bike parking and implement an “anti bicycle theft policy,” and initiate projects to encourage cycling to school and work.
The cities should also create more sustainable tourism by investing in measures to upgrade their bicycle tourism availability and cooperate closely with bike user and retailer organizations, the police, infrastructure administrators and other stakeholders, according to the charter.
“We of course welcome Tel Aviv-Jaffa’s decision to join the distinguished list of European cities, which lead the world in the promotion of bicycle culture and transportation,” said Yotam Avizohar, CEO of Israel for Bikes. “Data from Tel Aviv already indicates success of bicycle projects at European standards.”
Such data from a recent survey shows that approximately 14% of Tel Aviv-Jaffa residents use bikes as their primary means of transportation to work or school, about 50% more residents have started using bikes as their primary method of transportation in the past two years and about 83% perceive Tel Aviv as a “bicycle city,” Avizohar explained.
Israel for Bikes is now promoting a bill that is slated to undergo a second and third Knesset reading in the coming months, which would call for the regulation of bike paths, bike parking spaces and showers in the work place, economic incentives for cycling to work and campaigns to increase cycling safety.
“This bill will enable, if approved, many Israeli cities to join Tel Aviv,” Avizohar said.