Route 443 north of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN’S UNIT)
Last Wednesday afternoon, an oil patch on the highway near the western entrance to Jerusalem caused some 15 vehicles to collide. Traffic on that main artery immediately began to back up in a chain reaction toward connecting roads. Within minutes of the mass pileup, Jerusalem was virtually paralyzed.
It was a colossal traffic jam. The Valley of the Cross became a four-lane parking lot, as were Gaza Road, Golomb, and the Begin Highway. The journey by car between the German Colony and Romema neighborhoods, ordinarily a 15-minute ride, took over an hour.
In other words, a single event in one part of the city shut down virtually the entire capital. For the duration of the event, not just motorists were inconvenienced; ambulances and fire and rescue vehicles were also blocked. It was a frightening hour, but fortunately there were no casualties.
If a mere road accident, albeit a large one, can bring much of the capital to a halt, think of how much more damage could be caused by a road disaster caused deliberately by terrorists, trapping thousands of people in their stationary cars. This, of course, is a worst-case scenario – but many of Jerusalem’s residents already consider themselves hostages of worst-case traffic planning.
The recent opening of the west-bound lane of the new, improved Route 1 – a welcome installment of a vast road-widening project – was naively hailed as offering some relief to that highway’s normal congestion. But for some reason, traffic exiting the city toward the new section still creeps along in a daily traffic jam.
Moreover, when the east-bound section is completed and traffic from the coast can soar up the mountain toward the capital on multiple lanes, the soaring will grind to a halt at the city’s entrance, which is still a two-lane bottleneck.
Adding insult to injury, for years construction of this project has been carried out during peak traffic hours, instead of in the middle of the night, causing unconscionable delays on the main highway between the city and the coast, often doubling the travel time. Any motorist stuck in an overheating car in a construction zone on the way up the mountain to Jerusalem has questioned the planning of the promised improvements.
Part of good planning is to provide for the routine emergencies that occur. Ordinary road accidents have blocked off the capital before last week’s fiasco. In one example from 2011, an Egged bus caught fire on Route 1 near the city entrance during the morning rush hour, shutting down the highway and forcing police to divert traffic to Route 443. It goes without saying that the alternative route was soon jammed as well.
Visiting diplomats regularly snarl Jerusalem traffic. In March, for example, US Vice President Joe Biden’s sojourn in the city closed roads surrounding the center of town, plus, intermittently, the westbound lane of Route 1 between Ben-Gurion Airport and the capital.
More recently, a fire in the Givat Shaul neighborhood closed traffic in the vicinity, including Route 1, forcing motorists heading toward the city to divert through the Arazim Tunnel. In this case, the detour allowed traffic to bypass the fire with minimal inconvenience.
Sitting in a Jerusalem gridlock, the question naturally arises of who is responsible for this mess. It turns out that there is an elite body of experts, leading professionals whose website claims they “have been hand-picked for this task.”
The Jerusalem Transport Master Plan Team (JTMT) plans public transport in the metropolitan area according to a model that it says “is at the forefront of global knowledge.”
Among its responsibilities, the team regularly updates the road master plan and the public transport master plan, in accordance with socio-demographic data. Its analyses have been adopted by the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality since the 1970s.
With all this expert analysis, one would expect Jerusalem’s road network to be more conducive to getting from point A to point B. Especially since the plan that was approved in 1993 – that’s 23 years ago – included developing and widening the city’s approach roads. While this remains to be accomplished, residents should be grateful that the part of the plan that included a light rail was indeed implemented.
On the other hand, it should be recalled that even the light rail was stopped.
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