Pavements for pedestrians? Not in Jerusalem

In Tel Aviv, the ‘dangerous wheels syndrome’ is exacerbated by skateboards, roller skates, scooters and Segways. In Jerusalem, the situation is a lot worse.

Cars line a Jerusalem street (photo credit: HABATLAN PR)
Cars line a Jerusalem street
(photo credit: HABATLAN PR)
Regardless of whether you call it a pavement, sidewalk, footpath or walkway, the bottom line is that it was intended for pedestrians – and not for speeding vehicles, or vehicles that are difficult to control.
There are many cities and towns around the world where riding on the pavement is prohibited.
There are bicycle trails on the road that are protected by barriers of some kind, aimed at preventing clashes between two-wheeled and four-wheeled modes of transportation.
Until recently, cycling was a free-for-all anywhere and almost everywhere in Israel.
Suddenly, in Tel Aviv – where Mayor Ron Huldai himself happens to be a cycling enthusiast who frequently rides his bike around the city – they saw the light and announced that anyone caught riding on the pavement, other than within the confines of a bike trail, would be heavily fined. The Tel Avivians didn’t like it, and staged a protest demonstration while riding their bikes.
Bike trails have been around in Tel Aviv for a long time, but they’re nearly all on the pavement – unlike in Berlin, where the bike trails are on the road next to the pavement in an area wide enough for four or five cyclists to ride comfortably alongside each other.
In Rabin Square, along the center of Rothschild Boulevard and in Habimah plaza, the “dangerous wheels syndrome” is exacerbated by skateboards, roller skates, scooters and Segways.
In Jerusalem, the situation is a lot worse because there are so few broad streets, and cyclists and motor cyclists firmly believe that rules were made to be broken.
Bad enough that they ride on the pavement at all, but when they start riding in packs or through pedestrian malls, it is really the height of impertinence.
Although it is forbidden for bikes or motor scooters to ride along the light rail track, there is no one to enforce the law. Police are not around to stop this daily violation or to prevent the growing phenomenon of jaywalking.
Similarly, police are not around to prevent skateboards, scooters, bicycles and motor bikes from cluttering the pavement.
The only permissible wheels on the pavement should be those of wheelchairs, baby carriages and suitcases or shopping trolleys. Too often, especially on an extremely narrow sidewalk, ones see a wobbly, very senior citizen who really can’t control their bike, and who, as a result, accidentally runs into passersby.
Alternately, it could be a younger person for whom the speed limit is meaningless. Try skipping out of the way when you’re loaded down with groceries or dependent on a cane or a walker. It’s really unpleasant when the bike is coming toward you, but doubly scary when a bike that was behind you grazes your elbow as it whizzes past without warning, because the cyclist has no bell or horn.
Even more frightening are the motorcyclists who, in order to get out of traffic congestion, suddenly do a U-turn and land on the pavement or manage to weave their way between the cars, come up on the sidewalk behind pedestrians, and then have the gall to nudge them out of the way at the traffic lights in order to get a headstart when the light changes to green. Some don’t even wait that long.
Hey buster, if you want to commit suicide, that’s your prerogative – but no one says you have to take me with you! If there isn’t enough police manpower to make bicycle riders and motorcyclists stick to the rules, then there should be a roster system of voluntary police with the power of arrest coming out of the most senior classes in high schools. To act as voluntary traffic police would enhance their sense of community responsibility, not to mention make them more aware of self-preservation both as cyclists and pedestrians.
When I was growing up in Australia, two alternating notices frequently appeared on the front page of the evening paper. One was: “Better to arrive late than dead on time”; the other was: “The life you save may be your own.”
The traffic light system near where I live on the seam of Rehavia-Talbiyeh is appalling. Just as the light turns green on Keren Hayesod Street, a car whizzes around to the right from Ahad Ha’am Street and almost scuttles any hapless pedestrian who doesn’t realize that even when the light is green, it is advisable to look to the left before crossing the road.
Many cyclists, be they bike riders or motorcyclists, pay little or no attention to traffic lights, which is another reason for pedestrians to look in all directions before crossing the road. Unfortunately, and not just in my neighborhood, pedestrians, including those with disabilities, constantly cross the road on a red light.
There can’t be that many color-blind people in Rehavia-Talbiyeh! Adults who do this don’t seem to realize what a bad example they are setting for children. How can one teach a child road safety when adults around them are forever breaking the rules? Moreover, it’s not only the adults themselves who are taking an unnecessary risk; they also wheel carriages with babies or toddlers in them across the road on a red light, or are leading a group of tots all under the age of six. When admonished by this reporter or other people who can see the danger, they look at us as if we’re mad.
Aside from the fact that there no police around to pounce on such miscreants, there are no social workers either. How can parents be so careless about the safety of their children? Getting back to the original subject, many bike riders not only hog the pavement, but also the area around a bus stop. Bus stops with shelters usually have sufficient room behind the shelter for a bike rider to get through with ease. But no: They have to ride in front of the shelter and literally plow their way through people waiting for a bus. There’s no apology for harm inflicted. The so-called rationale is that the bus passengers should not have stood in the way of the cyclist.
Perhaps the Jerusalem Municipality will in its wisdom introduce some new ordinances for pedestrian safety; but even if it does, it will be a pointless exercise – because there will be no police to implement such regulations.
The police are present only when there’s an official visit by an American or a French head of state, or if they have to prevent the public from getting in the way of the Jerusalem Marathon.