An urban stumbling block

Rehov Tchernichowsky residents claim they were given no notice of roadworks that will block part of the road for six months to a year and for which they will be charged thousands of shekels.

Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur meets with residents. (photo credit: Stuart Winer)
Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur meets with residents.
(photo credit: Stuart Winer)
On the morning of July 17, residents of Rehov Tchernichowsky 74 in the city’s Rassco neighborhood awoke to the sound of bulldozers. Within a very short period of time, they found access to their building blocked and their parking spaces gone.
The municipality had come to fix a narrow, steep and dangerous road connecting the end of Tchernichowsky with Rehov Shimoni. In addition to widening the road, eliminating a dangerous curve and leveling the gradient, the city is also widening the entire length of Tchernichowsky from the junction with Rehov Katzenelson to the end, upgrading sewerage lines, installing lighting and putting in sidewalks.
The work will last from six months to a year.
This is a project that many residents do not want, fearing it will turn their quiet neighborhood into a major thoroughfare and exacerbate an already disastrous parking situation, as well as lower their property values. It is also a project that the municipality had assured them would be discussed with them before work started. But residents were given only three days’ notice that work would begin. And, to add insult to injury, they may have to pay hefty sums to the municipality for the privilege of getting something they don’t want.
“This project took us by surprise,” says Prof. Haim Avni, who has lived at Tchernichowsky 74 since the building was constructed in 1961. “It is not justified and is being carried out without consulting with us.
Moreover, we are going to have to pay for it.”
The problem stems from the closing of a small street, on property owned by the Valero family, which served as a shortcut from Tchernichowsky, via Shimoni, to Rehov Herzog. After more than 50 years of Jerusalemites’ using this street, the Valero family decided to assert its rights to the property. The family offered to sell the property to the municipality for a large sum of money, which the city rejected.
“The road on the Valero property isn’t even a statutory road,” explains Arik Shapir, the physical planner of Minhal Darom (South Community Administration), which includes the Rassco neighborhood. “It is zoned for residential use.”
The closing of the Valero property road put tremendous traffic pressure on Tchernichowsky towards Herzog. As a result, more and more drivers began using the Tchernichowsky/Shimoni end as an alternative.
In 2008, the municipality decided to carry out improvements at the end of Tchernichowsky to facilitate orderly traffic flow. Residents objected. Meetings were held in 2009 among residents, the Minhal and the municipality. Then, due to budgetary problems, the project was put on hold.
“The municipality agreed in 2009 to discuss things with the residents before any work was undertaken,” says Shapir. “But the city did not contact us. Even in the Minhal we were not aware that work was to begin until it started. This angered the residents.”
What also has angered residents is the loss of their parking spaces. Widening the road to six meters and putting one-meter sidewalks on each side will necessitate the elimination of parking.
“The problem is that this neighborhood is one of the areas of Jerusalem with the most difficult parking problems,” Shapir states. “These buildings were built in the 1950s and ’60s when private cars were rare. The neighborhood was not planned to provide parking.
The municipality’s new plan reduces the number of parking spots and makes the problem even worse.”
“There were some 100 spots along this street,” says Noa Zilberman, a resident of Tchernichowsky 74. “The municipality first offered us 10 spots, and then increased it to 17.”
Residents have suggested that this section of Tchernichowsky be made one way and parking be allowed along one side.
In addition, there is a bylaw, dating from Mandatory times, with fees set by the Interior Ministry, which provides for work in the public domain to be financed by private residents living adjacent to the work. If the one-time fee has never been paid for sidewalks or sewerage in the area, the current residents will have to pay for the work now being carried out.
“I was told that for our 70-square-meter apartments, we will have to pay NIS 15,090 to the municipality over one year,” says Zilberman. “Both my husband and I work, but we cannot afford such a payment. We will have to go into debt. And we are not the only ones.”
On July 20, some 50 residents met with Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur and experts from the municipal traffic department.
“I would like to apologize to the residents for not giving them more notice of the project,” Tsur says.
“We really didn’t inform them in good time.
Nevertheless, as bad and annoying as the situation is for the residents, we in the municipality are not the bad guys here. I don’t think that the residents are taking into account that the road did not meet traffic safety requirements, which the new road will, and that there was a need to make the road safe to handle the increased traffic flow as result of the closing of the Valero road. The municipality is also adding a proper sidewalk for pedestrians and the disabled. And we will be putting road bumps to slow down traffic and prevent drivers from zooming through.”
As for the parking, Tsur points out that officially there was no parking on the road before the project started. People parked illegally, making it difficult for pedestrians and the disabled to get around.
“We are trying to locate more parking,” Tsur adds.
“We have canceled some of the red-and-white zones in the neighborhood and will be relaxing the noparking stipulations on adjacent streets.”
The basic problem, according to Tsur, is a conflict between the needs of pedestrians and cars. “It seems as if cars are more important here than providing access for pedestrians,” she says.
As for the fees, Tsur claims the sums are not yet known.
“These fees are one-time. The municipality has to check its records to see if residents [even previous ones] ever paid.”
The municipal spokesman’s office told In Jerusalem that fees can be paid in 24 installments.
The municipality will also study the residents’ idea of making the road one way.
Another meeting of residents with Tsur and municipal officials is to be held in about three weeks. “We want to keep an open line to the residents. My door is always open to them. We will get through this together,” Tsur concludes.