(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It was in the framework of the government’s plan to implement economic reforms
in many fields that Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced in late April
of this year his intention to break up the automobile and spare parts import
monopolies. Katz promised to open the market to competition, thereby reducing
the price of new cars, spare parts and servicing by up to 20
Given the exorbitant prices paid for new cars in Israel, there
is little doubt Katz’s stated goal is commendable.
Yet even if he
succeeds in overcoming the vested interests and Histadrut labor federation the
negative implications of that success will be many and diverse.
the following: The immediate result of cheaper vehicles will be far more of
them, both new and used, on the roads. As affordable and efficient electric cars
are still some years away, air and noise pollution will increase significantly.
There are also the social implications: mechanical mobility inhibits social
And cars require, in addition to roads, land-consuming
parking, as well as servicing stations.
Transportation and road planners
will be exhilarated.
The much increased demand projections for new
vehicles will be instantly converted by them into new transportation master
plans, followed, needless to say, by more and more new roads, not to mention the
accompanying utilities – water, sanitation, electrical and communication lines.
The fact that roads already take up some 30 percent of the land has never
especially concerned them.
From their short-term point of view the
equation is a simple one: the greater the demand for cars, the greater the need
for roads. The absurdity is apparent. With no end in sight to this cycle, the
land of milk and honey will eventually be transformed into one enormous asphalt
So that having succeeded in reducing the price of automobiles
against all odds, our transportation minister will have succeeded only in
solving one problem at the cost of creating a thousand others, many of them far
Isn’t there a more sensible option? An inclusive and balanced
approach to the problem must obviously be adopted, one which is related to the
long term. The following would be some of its main elements:
• Assign first
priority to improvement of the public transport system.
• Reduce travel
distances and times and number of car trips, thereby lowering pollution levels
and offering people more time for living and working, by planning compact,
mixed-use, live-andwork environments.
• Insure the continuity of all
movement systems. In town, provide a variety of street types that serve
pedestrians as well, and not just vehicles, and increase the use of nonmotorized
transit. In this way, land consumption and infrastructure costs will be
significantly reduced and the transportation system as a whole made far more
• Finally, demonstrate far greater respect for the
existing natural and built environment, protecting public open space and rural
and agricultural land where appropriate.
Few would question the need for
reforms in the automobile sector here. But vehicle prices are just a single
factor in a much larger, far more complex picture. Such reforms must be
considered in the light of a well thought out regional and city planning policy,
one which, inter alia, takes into account the capacity of the land available to
absorb and contain not only automobiles and other vehicles, but an entire array
of closely interrelated physical planning elements that need to be planned in
harmony with real concern for coming generations.
planning on the basis of land capacity, rather than on the basis of simplistic
demand projections, holds the key to a better future.The author is an
architect and town planner in Jerusalem.