Greening our city

As we all know, preelection promises are not always kept in full, if at all. Taking a deep breath may be in order.

Mayoral candidate Yossi Daitch (left) cycles. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Mayoral candidate Yossi Daitch (left) cycles.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With the local election almost upon us, it’s time to decide who we think will do the best job in Jerusalem in the areas of city life that we deem to be the most important.
Are we distressed by the amount of litter swirling around our streets as we make our way to school, work, the stores? Or are we concerned about the lack of affordable housing for young people here? And what about having some more foliage around? Leafy vistas can soften the edges of urban aesthetics, not to mention improve the quality of the air we inhale.
And how about having a stab at reducing pollution levels by, for example, investing in cycling infrastructures? As has been proven unequivocally in such cycle-friendly hot spots as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires and Strasbourg, for every euro you invest in bicycle paths and other human-powered forms of transports, you get a pretty decent return on your money. A European Commission report on Auckland, New Zealand, said that every dollar put into cycling infrastructures produced a staggering return of 24 dollars. The financial bottom line is based on the proven benefits to be had from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion and air and noise pollution, as well personal gains from increased fitness levels.
That was one of the environmental topics that came up for discussion a week or so ago at a panel discussion featuring mayoral candidates Ze’ev Elkin, Ofer Berkovitch, Yossi Daitch and Avi Salman. The fifth runner, Moshe Lion, canceled at the last moment. The event was organized by the Jerusalem Green Fund headed by former deputy mayor Naomi Tsur, who also lined up an English-language panel on similar issues for this week. The Jerusalem Green Fund has been active for some years across a wide range of local environmental issues, including urban agriculture, green lungs, environmental education and cleaning up our streets.
All the speakers expressed support for cycling as a viable means of transport around the city, together with investing funds in public transport. But a previously proposed bicycle hire scheme for Jerusalem came in for criticism, with Berkovitch claiming that the initiative was scuppered by religious political shenanigans, while Elkin said that the NIS 1 million that was pumped into the project had been wasted.
I was unable to attend the environmental panel event, so I resorted to sending the candidates, other than Berkovitch, whom I met a few weeks ago, questions by email. None responded. That may suggest that they don’t rate environmental matters in Jerusalem too highly. Much of the information I obtained came to me via the Jerusalem Green Fund.
WHILE NIR Barkat’s potential successors squared off, the outgoing mayor released details of a grand scheme to invest a whopping NIS 150m. in 80 km. of cycle paths and routes, designed to bring the total cycle route infrastructure in Jerusalem to 123 km. According to reports the master plan calls for the work to be completed by 2023.
That sounds like wonderful news. Then again, if one considers the woeful management of a couple of other major projects connected to the capital – the light rail and the fast rail link to Tel Aviv – which exceeded their budgets and timetables by some distance, with the train route yet to be fully operational seven months after its scheduled start, one could be forgiven for adopting a skeptical view of the grand cycling infrastructure program.
The raised-eyebrow approach is further vindicated by the sorry saga of the bike tunnel that stretches just over 2 km. from near the Israel Aquarium of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo to the Kerem junction.
The tunnel was officially opened in April, for the Grand Fondo New York international biking event, with a beaming Mayor Barkat doing the ribbon-cutting honors. The only problem is that, since then, the tunnel has been shut, and no one is willing even to offer an estimate as to when it might be opened, if ever.
“The tunnel next to the Aquarium should be opened immediately,” said Berkovitch, in the context of his cycling policy for the city. “Priority should be given to developing bicycle infrastructures in Jerusalem,” he continued. “First, cycle routes should be built, separate from the road, all around the city, to enable residents to get around safely on bicycles. That will reduce traffic congestion and pollution and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
The Hitorerut Party candidate says he also supports providing parking facilities for bicycles as well as installing showers at various institutions and businesses around the city. “Reductions in housing taxes should be offered in return for these facilities.”
OF COURSE, making Jerusalem a healthier, better and greener place to live and work in is not just about encouraging people to get biking. Cleaning up our streets would probably rank highly on most Jerusalemites’ quality of urban life improvement list. All the mayoral candidates went along with that line of thought.
“Cleanliness in the public domain will be a major topic in my agenda as mayor,” says Elkin. “That is an issue that has come up, time after time, in my meetings with sectors, more than education.” The Likud candidate says he will work to improve cleaning services and enforcement, and will initiate education on the subject.
Meanwhile, Berkovitch says that ensuring our public spaces are spick and span is a flagship issue for him and his party, and he follows a line similar to Elkin’s. “Jerusalem has to uphold its environmental values, because that is part of our quality of life.”
Berkovitch wants to get us all onboard and suggests raising residents’ awareness and involving us in keeping our city clean. But you’ve got to put your budget where your mouth is if you want to get Jerusalem to clean up its act. Lion says he will be looking to invest in relevant education, as well as in municipality cleaning equipment and personnel.
As the number of vehicles on our streets rises steadily – hopefully, at some stage, that will be offset by boosting local cycling facilities – the quality of the air we breathe declines. Pollution levels can be somewhat counterbalanced by trees, whereby particulate matter suspended in polluted air tends to settle onto leaves, and certain gases are absorbed by small apertures in leaves, filtering the air and reducing pollution levels slightly. Studies also suggest that the shade provided by trees that grow near housing helps to cool the building, thereby reducing the need for air-conditioning and cutting the ensuing greenhouse gas emissions.
PROVIDING AFFORDABLE housing for young Jerusalemites figures highly across the mayoral candidacy board. But adding new buildings would, of course, cut into the remaining green stretches dotted around the city. Reches Lavan, near Moshav Ora, and Mitzpe Naftoah sandwiched between Route 1 and Ramot B, have been suggested as new large-scale construction spots.
Elkin does not believe it is possible to maintain open spaces to the west of the city, some of which were originally slated for massive construction in the Safdie Plan, which was rejected in 2007. As things stand, he supports developing new housing projects both at Reches Lavan and Mitzpe Naftoah. Berkovitch says he wants to keep Mitzpe Naftoah au naturel, but would be willing to allow building at Reches Lavan. Lion takes a similar view with regard to Reches Lavan, but adds that he would support efforts to improve environmental matters in Romema by advancing the project to build a promenade there, and helping to develop a 150-hectare park in Romema valley.
As we all know, preelection promises are not always kept in full, if at all. Taking a deep breath may be in order.