Back to square one. That's how some Baka residents are describing the municipality's decision to go ahead with a controversial plan for new traffic patterns for Derech Beit Lehem and adjoining streets, which locals claim will turn the narrow, two-lane heart of their neighborhood into a traffic-jammed, noisy thoroughfare for private cars traveling from southeast Jerusalem into the center of town. Last December, after gathering more than 600 signatures of Baka residents and store owners against the plan and mounting a stormy protest that briefly blocked traffic on Derech Beit Lehem, neighborhood residents, led by the ad hoc Save Baka Committee, thought they had reached a compromise agreement with the municipality whereby the plan would be frozen for six months and reevaluated by the city. They also thought that it was agreed upon that the municipality would take no new action without consulting them and the Greater Baka Community Council. "I don't know what happened," says committee organizer Itay Fishhendler. "We had an understanding - at least we thought we did - that the city would reevaluate the plan and not act unilaterally. But there has been no reevaluation. The city did nothing over this period and is now telling us it is too late to reconsider. It is going ahead with implementation of the original plan and is insisting that we agreed to this." The municipality's decision also caught veteran Jerusalem city councilor Pepe Alalu (Meretz) by surprise. Alalu, who joined Baka residents in their protests last year, said: "The city agreed to a compromise and now it just can't do whatever it wants against the will of the residents." The traffic plan will divert northbound private cars heading to the center of town from Derech Hebron, the main north-south traffic artery, to Derech Beit Lehem. Private vehicles will no longer be allowed to turn left at Kikar Navon toward the Khan Theater and downtown. Instead, they will be funneled onto Derech Beit Lehem, in stage one, from Rehov Miriam Hahashmonait, and in stage two, from Rehov Yehuda. In addition, the municipality intends to change the direction of several Baka streets intersecting Derech Beit Lehem. Rehov Yehuda, between Derech Beit Lehem and Derech Hebron, will change from one-way toward Derech Hebron to one-way toward Derech Beit Lehem. Rehov Esther Hamalka will become one-way from Derech Beit Lehem toward Derech Hebron. Rehov Yiftah will also become one-way away from Derech Beit Lehem. Rehov Miriam Hahashmonait will remain two-way. The municipality also plans to install four traffic lights along Derech Beit Lehem between Rehov Yehuda and Rehov Emek Refaim near Liberty Bell Park to expedite traffic flow. Jerusalem municipal spokesman Gideon Schmerling wrote in response that: "The original plan for the Beit Lehem area calls for street direction changes for Yehuda and Esther Hamalka streets, the addition of a traffic light at Rehov Miriam Hahashmonait and the opening of a left turn from Derech Beit Lehem to Rehov Emek Refaim. Following residents' appeals a year ago, it was decided to implement changes, in the first stage, only at the intersections of Rehov Miriam Hahashmonait and Rehov Emek Refaim. Additional changes will be reexamined but only after the first stage changes are in place and the public transport lane is opened on Rehov Remez… Until the public transport lane on Remez is opened, no great change is anticipated in the volume of traffic and therefore it will not be possible to evaluate the need for the rest of the arrangement. The plan will be implemented after receipt of all required approvals from the Ministry of Transportation. The Baka Community Council and the residents were a party to and are aware of the arrangements and the stages of the plan's implementation." Baka residents and community council representatives are scheduled to meet with municipal director-general Yair Ma'ayan on December 19 to discuss the traffic plan. AFTER MORE than a decade of waiting, the interchange linking Talpiot and Arnona with Rehov Harakevet (Eastern Ring Road) is scheduled to open in the next few months. While the interchange is expected to relieve the traffic congestion on Rehov Ein Gedi, residents are apprehensive that it will adversely affect traffic within their neighborhood. "This neighborhood has been the umbilical cord to Sur Bahir and Kibbutz Ramat Rahel," explains Arnona resident Hillel Bardin. "At present, there is no other convenient way to get to parts of Sur Bahir or Ramat Rahel except by going through Talpiot and Arnona. But with the opening of the interchange, these residents will have direct access to Rehov Harakevet and Derech Hebron without traveling through our neighborhood. We want those from outside the neighborhood to use the main highways and leave our streets for local traffic. Now is the opportunity to create the conditions that will ensure this."

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