Not so long ago, children skipped rope and played hopscotch on the
Adults, who were not necessarily in a hurry to go anywhere,
could walk along at a leisurely pace and daydream.
Today, a daydream is a
luxury that could prove fatal. Sidewalks (or footpaths, if you come from
Australia or any other country that uses that expression for sidewalk), are by
definition intended for pedestrians. But here in Israel, pedestrian rights are
constantly being abused and eroded.
There seems to be no correlation
between urban planning and pedestrian needs. Urban planners or traffic
departments in city halls across the country are gradually putting bike trails
along the pavements. This would be acceptable if the pavements were wide and
cyclists stuck to the trails – but they don't.
Instead, they weave all
over the pavement,sometimes coming full speed in the direction of an
Simply put, many cyclists are very poor riders. Few
wear crash helmets, and even fewer have lights on their bikes for night
Cyclists also invade pedestrian malls, and there is no
legislation requiring them to ride in the same direction as the flow of traffic,
so they come from both directions, leaving pedestrians with little or no room in
which to maneuver. When they ride in packs, the pedestrian has little option but
to stand still in order to avoid being hit – and that's not always a successful
ON MORE than one occasion when I have been standing with other
people at a bus stop close to the curb, cyclists have plowed through the crowd
as if no human obstacle existed.
There is some form of legislation which
makes it illegal for electric vehicles to be driven on the sidewalk, which is
why a lot of people who are confined to wheel chairs are forced onto the road.
But wheelies, who really shouldn't be on the road because of the limited speed
that they can muster, are not only forbidden to be on the sidewalk, but in too
many case they are unable to skirt the planters, saplings, benches, electric
light poles and garbage cans that seem to be randomly placed all over the
From an aesthetic perspective this may be well and good, but as
far as accessibility goes, it's a nightmare. Yet while wheelchairs are exiled
from the sidewalk, motorbikes and electric scooters are par for the course.
Motor cyclists, who seem to enjoy playing a form of Russian roulette, make life
hazardous for car and truck drivers by zigzagging through traffic.
when traffic congestion is such that even impudent and inconsiderate motor
cyclists can't break through, they think nothing of zooming onto the sidewalk
and rushing at full speed towards their destinations.
And if a poor
pedestrian gets in the way – then let him or her be damned! Anyone who has been
close to a motor cyclist doing a uturn on a sidewalk knows the meaning of real
Even pedestrians with good reflexes find it difficult to leap out
of the way – how much more so an elderly person with limited mobility who has to
depend on a cane or a walker to get around. They are simply incapable of jumping
out of the way. Moreover their paths are now made more difficult by the
introduction of the new higher and wider baby carriages that have become some
form of a status symbol.
Still, there's no arguing the fact that baby
carriages should be allowed on the footpath, along with wheelchairs and shopping
But as noted previously, wheelchair people are like refugees
with nowhere to go The trouble is that most pavements are barely wide enough to
accommodate baby carriages and shopping trolleys at the same level. Even on
wider sidewalks, it's still difficult for people in wheelchairs or those who
depend on walkers, because despite the fact that Israel is on its way to its
64th anniversary of statehood, Jews have remained a nation of
When we're not pushing baby carriages or strollers that are
also used to carry groceries, we're pushing shopping trolleys or suitcase
Many foreign students come to Israel to study in our top
universities and colleges, as well as in our yeshivot and seminaries and they
are forever trundling suitcases trolleys from one destination to another,
filling aisle spaces in buses and later taking up the width of the sidewalk,
making it almost impossible for people behind them to pass.
It's time for
pedestrians to reclaim the sidewalk.
There's not much we can do about the
suitcases, but we certainly can do something about the bicycles, the motorbikes
and the electric scooters by lobbying for legislation and by holding sidewalk
demonstrations that force cyclists and motorbike riders back on to the road
where they belong.
The same goes for cars which park illegally on
sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to risk their lives by stepping out into the road
in order to get past illegally parked vehicles. In Tel Aviv vehicles that are
illegally parked, get towed away. For some reason, Jerusalem hasn’t quite
figured that one out. It costs several hundred shekels to redeem one's towed
vehicle in Tel Aviv.
Every city should have a hotline which pedestrians
can call to report vehicles parked on the sidewalk. If offenders have to pay
substantial sums to redeem their vehicles in addition to hefty fines for illegal
parking, it would eventually prove to be a good deterrent.
Simiarly, if a
law is passed banning two-wheeled modes of transport from the pavement, offenders
can easily be photographed with a cell phone and reported, making it easy to
fine repeat offenders. The possible confiscation of a bicycle or motorbike would
likely be an effective means of restoring the pavement to pedestrians.