The Blue Line – and the blues

The plan to run a new light rail line along Emek Refaim Street is not sitting well with many residents and shop owners.

A model rendering of how Mesila Park would look if the light rail was routed through there, with the train running south toward Oranim Junction and space left for cyclists and those on foot. (photo credit: JERUSALEM TRANSPORT MASTER TEAM)
A model rendering of how Mesila Park would look if the light rail was routed through there, with the train running south toward Oranim Junction and space left for cyclists and those on foot.
Urbanism and development are often synonymous with great turbulence in daily life – massive roadwork, noise, dust and a change in many habits and, in the end, the feeling that all these changes have left too many behind. Such a situation is developing in the form of concern, worry and even some anger among the residents of the German and Greek colonies, Baka and Katamon, affecting residents and businesses alike.
Last Tuesday, about 200 residents attended a meeting at the Ginot Ha’ir local council on Emek Refaim Street to hear about the planned second line of the light rail, the Blue Line, which is slated to pass through those neighborhoods.
The plan is barely at the preliminary stage, and even the most optimistic projections estimate a minimum of four to five years until the project is completed, explained Ginot Ha’ir CEO Shayke El-Ami. He added that besides the fact that the project is crucial for the development of the southern part of the city, the local council will ensure that every step is taken in complete transparency and full cooperation with the residents and the merchants.
In his short speech at the meeting, El-Ami made it clear that there are only two options for the line – either through Emek Refaim or Mesila Park. However, at the end of the meeting, many residents, especially the elderly living on the small side streets that cross Emek Refaim, left the meeting with more questions than answers. As one of them put it, they departed with much more concern about what was awaiting them and a bad feeling that the residents were left on their own, with no one to talk to about their concerns.
Basically, the issue is the second line (out of eight planned) of the light rail, the Blue Line planned to connect Ramot in the north to the Payis Arena and to Teddy Stadium in the south, through the city center, the German Colony and the Katamonim.
Even those who openly support the project – or at least admit that it is necessary – fear that during the time required to complete the project, the lives of the residents and the businesses along the route will be a nightmare.
However, there is a group, including the businesses owners or tenants along Emek Refaim, who say that there is no transparency in the project and that a large part of the damages expected are not indispensable but are the result of interests of one small group.
Assaf Obesfeld, the manager of the Aroma Bamoshava branch on Emek Refaim, is the leader of those opposed to a segment of the route of the planned Blue Line.
“We were informed about the plan for the new line and basically we are all for it, despite the unpleasant time it will inevitably bring to all of us,” says Obesfeld, “but we found out that as a result of the desire to preserve the interests of the residents of Rakevet Street – a total of 900 meters – the line will go through Emek Refaim and cause immense and irreversible damage to this unique area of the city.”
Backtrack to five years ago. Israel Railways, which owns the land on which Mesila Park lies, agreed to the mayor’s request and lent the plot for the creation of the park. Upon submitting the first plans for the Blue Line, the Master Plan (for mass transportation in the city), which has the rights to this plot, considered using it for the Blue Line. But the idea was quickly abandoned in the face of adamant opposition by residents, activists for the park and the mayor himself.
“But,” added Obesfeld, “one of the results was that instead of considering a line parallel to the existing path of Mesila Park along Rakevet Street, someone decided that this street would be privileged because of Emek Refaim – and that is outrageous.”
Yossi Saidov, one of the leaders of the Mesila project a few years ago, is convinced that any attempt to bring the line closer to the park will inevitably ruin it.
Obesfeld thinks the exact opposite but points out that in any case, taking the line through Emek Refaim would come at a very high cost. For example, it would require demolishing some of the buildings along the street, such as the popular Tahanat Hacafe, because it is protruding.
For the residents of the little side streets converging with Emek Refaim, this option is nothing short of a nightmare, subjecting these narrow, quiet byways to heavy traffic.
A resident of one such byway, Masaryk Street, added that nobody was addressing the parking issue and how it would be handled during the construction process.
“No one talks to us. We don’t know where or whom to address our questions. I’m not against the light rail or urban development, but is anyone thinking about the old and disabled people living here and their needs?” A Master Plan spokesman explained that the major aim was to provide access to the light rail as quickly as possible for the largest number of residents.
“Considering the rapid pace at which new housing construction is being done, while the number of private cars is increasing for lack of alternative transportation solutions, we might find ourselves in a state of chaos unless this project is promoted,” the spokesman said.
A municipality spokesman said that Mayor Nir Barkat had asked that the Master Plan redirect the route of the Blue Line from the originally planned path on Mesila Park to Emek Refaim in order to preserve the park. He added that while the construction was being done, every effort would be made to preserve the quality of life of the residents and the businesses.