Tel Aviv's sidewalks war: Scooters, bikes, pedestrians battle it out

Will the new laws in Tel Aviv make a difference?

August 9, 2019 07:05
Tel Aviv's sidewalks war: Scooters, bikes, pedestrians battle it out

SCOOTERS LINE Menachem Begin street in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: SYDNEY DENNEN)

Tel Aviv is experiencing a struggle over the sidewalk. There are shared scooters parked all over the sidewalks; people running, walking, pushing strollers, roller blading, skateboarding, biking and scootering.

Realizing that scooters and bikes are taking over the sidewalks, the Transport and Road Safety Ministry has instituted new laws to help keep pedestrians safe as they stroll through the city. But what about the safety of those on bikes and scooters? Is their concern for their safety the real reason they ride on the sidewalks instead of in the streets?

Scooters and bikes can be a nuisance along Tel Aviv streets. Pedestrians have to navigate around piles of scooters or bikes that are just left in the middle of the sidewalk or even on the street. Sometimes cars have to maneuver around a “Bird” or “Lime” left on the street.

New signs on the sidewalks say, “No bikes, no scooters, NIS 250 fine.” But are these new laws being enforced? And if they are being enforced, where are the bikers and people on their scooters supposed to go when there is no bike path?

An abundance of accidents

A few months ago, I was scootering down Dizengoff and stopped at a red light. I stopped behind the crosswalk and waited as the cars turned onto the street. One driver turned the corner so tightly that his car hit the wheel of my scooter. He didn’t stop to ask if I was okay. Thankfully, I was fine. A man walking on the sidewalk saw the entire debacle unfold and came running up to me to see if I was hurt. After assessing my scooter and leg, I realized I was fine and continued home.

This type of occurrence isn’t uncommon. When I got home and told my roommate what happened, she reminded me that she was hit by a car while scootering on Allenby St. She was on the side of the road and someone cut her off. She slammed into the curb and ended up in the hospital with a sprained arm, cuts and bruises.

I posted on Secret Tel Aviv asking people to share their stories. Several people described accidents that occurred all over Tel Aviv and the surrounding area.

Audrey Apatow, an olah chadasha from Ramat Gan, was driving down the street and going around a roundabout. She had the right of way, but someone else didn’t stop and ran into her.

“The driver stopped and told me that I was crazy and he ‘did not see me.’ This happened in November and I haven’t been on the scooter since because I’m very scared,” she said. She said she was fine overall, just shaken up and bruised.

Another person, who asked to remain anonymous, was on her electric bike and got hit by a motorcycle on Ben Yehuda. She was hit early June and said that she broke her hand so severely that she needed surgery.

She told me that she was turning left but didn’t signal and the motorcycle was continuing straight and slammed into her. She said she ended up breaking two fingers and the entire left side of her body has road rash. Her bike was broken in the accident, along with her phone.

People need to be alert and aware of their surroundings when walking around Tel Aviv. A few weeks ago, one person was speeding along on a Bird and a young girl walked into the bike path. There wasn’t enough time to move and the person on the scooter slammed into the girl on foot.

What is Tel Aviv doing to prevent accidents?

If bikers and people on scooters are being run off the road, where can they go? Public transportation in Israel is not always sufficient; cabs are expensive, buses are often late and trains don’t go everywhere so biking and scootering are attractive cost- and time-effective options that can get people from Point A to Point B.

New regulations went into effect in August 1 for shared scooter and bicycle companies. There will be a maximum of 2,500 shared scooters or bicycles on the streets at any given time.

The  Jerusalem Post contacted the Tel Aviv Municipality, which said that only two scooter companies and one bike company have permission to operate in Tel Aviv. These are the only companies that tourists and Israelis will be able to use.

These companies will have to implement plans to hopefully help with the traffic accidents. They will require riders to wear helmets, avoid sidewalks and not have passengers. There will also be a minimum age requirement.

Bird sent out a message to all users with an updated terms of use agreement and asked for a photo of the rider’s ID to make sure the person on the scooter is 18 years or older.

The municipality has begun to organize new parking arrangements in hopes of helping with crowd control on the streets and sidewalks. They are also asking the different companies to establish customer service centers to assist users and for communication with the Tel Aviv Municipality.

The Tel Aviv police have been ramping up enforcement efforts to keep pedestrians and riders safe. There have been 9,000 fines to scooter and bicycle users since January for violating traffic laws.

When asked about making more bike lanes, Meital Lehavi from the Tel Aviv Municipality said, “I hope one day people will greet us with cheers, instead of yelling when we talk to them about putting in more bike lanes. But more room for bikes means less room for cars.”

She notes, “It’s easier to implement these new regulations on shared vehicles than on private bikes.”

Is the rest of Israel catching on?

So far it seems the shared scooter and bike craze is concentrated in Tel Aviv. When walking down the streets of Jerusalem, one may see a random person on a private scooter and a few people on bikes but to a lesser degree. There are very few bike paths in the capital and they are often so poorly marked that people frequently walk and even park their cars on them.
When electric shareable scooters came to the US, they spread like wildfire throughout the country. They were seen in every major city and on every college campus in what seemed like a few months.

It seems to be different here. People that live outside the city center don’t seem to have much interest in personal scooters and don’t rely on them as much for transportation.

IT WILL be interesting to see what will happen in Tel Aviv now that the new laws have gone into effect. Will they be successful in keeping people safe or will the accident rate continue to rise?

Tel Avivian Cameron Tyler thinks we should be adding more bike lanes and designated areas for the people to ride on instead of just limiting the number of scooters and bikes in the area. There are a lot of places where there is no bike lane and the only option is to ride on the road.

“We make people in cars get a driver’s license; people on scooters and bikes should know the rules of the road, too – especially if we make them ride on the road and not on the sidewalk,” she said.

 The Tel Aviv Municipality is hoping to reduce congestion and pollution by implementing these new regulations. Lehavi told the Post, “2,500 people die every year in Israel from air pollution. Tel Aviv has the worst air quality after Bnei Brak… this is all from transportation.”

She concludes with the hope that these new forms of shared transportation will have a positive influence and help make a safer, less congested and more environmentally friendly country.

Eytan Halon contributed to this article.

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