Just ahead of Jerusalem’s busiest period for visitors from Yom Kippur through Succot, the municipality has
released a new survey pointing to a large increase in the amount of foot traffic
in the major downtown areas.
According to the report, since the light
rail began running, there has been an overall increase of 41 percent in the
number of pedestrians, from 298,000 visitors in July 2011, the month before the
rail started service, to 422,000 visitors in August 2012.
The survey was
carried out by video cameras at 17 different points in the downtown area that
counted the number of pedestrians from 7:00 am to midnight.
increase was Nahalat Shiva near Zion Square, which saw an increase of 87% in the
number of visitors, from 55,000 in July 2011 to 106,000 in August
The foot traffic in the Mahaneh Yehuda market increased by 38%,
from 121,000 to 166,000, and the “triangle area” formed by King George Avenue,
Jaffa Road and Ben-Yehuda Street increased by 34%, from 79,000 to
“There is no Jerusalemite that doesn’t get excited to see that
the city center is again bustling and active after it has been fading for many
years,” said Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, in response to the survey.
Meroz, head of the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, highlighted the fact
that the light rail is still relatively new and has not yet reached full
“There were those that were concerned that the train would hurt
the number of visitors in the center of the city, but today we see that the
phenomenon is reversed and this enormous investment is beginning to bear fruit,”
Meroz added that in other European cities, especially in France
and Germany, the introduction of the light rail led to a similar revival of the
Downtown business owners agreed that the light rail had
brought a dramatic increase in foot traffic.
“They don’t have to do a
survey, you can see it with your eyes!” said Malekan Kumars, the owner of the
Joy dress shop next to the Jaffa Central light rail stop. “Jaffa Road
never looked this way, and in a good way,” he said.
Kumars added that the
accessibility had certainly brought him more customers, including Arabs from
east Jerusalem who now make up about 20% of his customer base, compared with
practically no Arab customers before the rail. But the business owners aren’t
the only ones benefiting from the increased traffic: since the train started,
rent for stores along the road has increased about 20%, said Kumars, a senior
member of the Jaffa Road Business Committee.
Avraham Levy, owner of a
35-year-old vegetable stall at the shuk who sits on the Mahaneh Yehuda Council,
agreed that he also saw a much higher amount of foot traffic there. But he said
that while the light rail has brought in more visitors, it made it harder for
residents to do their daily shopping at the market.
they’re not coming to take bags of tomatoes and cucumbers,” he said. “So many
people come and say ‘it’s beautiful,’ there are a lot of tourists, but
economically for us it’s nothing.”
Levy reasoned that the coffee shops
and gift shops that have sprung up in the market are better able to capture this
“For Jerusalem in general, [the light rail] is good, but the
problem is how to bring it to the small businesses,” he said.
In order to accommodate the train, the main route to the shuk, Agrippas Street, was closed to
private cars due to the increased number of buses - a move Levy said has
severely impacted their customer base, since it has made parking near the shuk
The light rail will be put to the test over the next few
weeks, as more than 1 million visitors from Israel and abroad are expected to
flood the Old City over Yom Kippur and Succot.
The Old City will be
closed to private cars as it is the rest of the year. However, parts of Highway
1 and Hebron Road leading to the Old City will also be closed to private
vehicles to deal with the increase in buses – though there will be extra
shuttles from Teddy Stadium and Shmuel Hanavi Street. Additionally, the light
rail will run at intervals of 5 to 8 minutes all day, not just during rush hour.