Something appears to be afoot on the local cycling scene.Just last week, the prestigious Grand Fondo international cycling franchise made, and left, its mark in these parts with the inaugural Jerusalem version of the Grand Fondo New York; and today, the Giro d’Italia, one of the Big Three races on the entire global road cycle race scene, kicks off from the capital, to be followed by a second stage up north and a third down south, ending in Eilat.This is the first time the Giro has held stages outside Europe, so that is definitely a feather in our national cycling cap.
The aforementioned local GFNY event was, by all accounts, a resounding success.Even the forecast precipitation held off, the day after most of the country witnessed almighty downpours dramatized by thunder and lightning. Hundreds of hardy road bikers trundled up and down the 70-km. and 130-km. courses, one of the funky highlights of which was riding through the brand new tunnel that stretches from Ein Kerem through to Ein Lavan near the zoo.Last Tuesday I caught an eyeful of the tunnel and even sneaked a short ride along its ever-so-smooth asphalt paving.It is, indeed, a joy to behold and use. It was officially opened the day before, at a press conference, naturally attended by a beaming Mayor Nir Barkat, who even donned an attractive green GFNY Jerusalem riding jersey and had his picture taken with a couple of at least equally attractive top female cyclists.For a brief moment, all seemed well with the world. So what if the Jerusalem Light Rail eventually came in – several years overdue – at over four times the original declared budget? And who cares if the eagerly anticipated new express rail link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv was due to open for business around a month ago, and now it is unclear when, in fact, we will be able to whiz our way to the coast in a hardly credible 28 minutes, less than a third of the duration of the current journey time, inclusive of the recently introduced train switch at Beit Shemesh? We bikers, in and around Jerusalem – and there are hundreds and hundreds of us – were so looking forward to the ribbon- cutting ceremony over near the zoo, so we could wheel our way along a full 2.1 km. of a tunnel that is – imagine this! – solely for the use of cyclists. The days of the Messiah seemed to be looming large on the horizon.The day after my uplifting visit to the tunnel, I discovered that the tunnel would, indeed, be used by the GFNY Jerusalem participants, but that would be that for the time being. The subterranean cycle path is now barred from the public, as “certain approvals” are still pending, as I was informed by a representative for the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem Municipality.It took a lot of email and phone nudging, but I eventually coaxed some sort of official response out of the municipality.“In order for the tunnel to be operational on a permanent basis, various systems have to be installed, such as a fire extinguisher system and a camera system,” read the statement. It seems the authorities managed to cope with those shortcomings for the GFNY ride, but strictly on a one-off basis. “For a onetime event one can bridge the gap by having a fire engine and a Magen David Adom mobile unit stationed nearby,” the statement continued. “But one can’t have them there on a day-by-day basis.”For the time being, not only is the spanking new, mayoral photo op documented tunnel well and truly shut, behind sturdy gates, but no one seems to know when we cyclists, the very consumers for whom the tunnel, presumably, was so professionally crafted, will be able to use the thing. The nearest I got to an official time frame for completing the aforementioned systems was “a few weeks.”“Don’t believe them,” said Ilan Zaviv, a Jerusalemite tourism professional and keen cyclist. “They have been working on getting all the requisite permits since last August. I wouldn’t hold your breath.”Zaviv finds the whole situation downright frustrating. “The tunnel really is gorgeous, and it offers cyclists the possibility of enjoying over two kilometers of safe, comfortable cycling, away from the busy roads. But who knows when we’ll get to use it?” Dr. Jacques Benaim, a veteran Jerusalemite and keen road cyclist, is also thoroughly disgusted at the go-stop tunnel story. “They launch the thing with a lovely ceremony, and also their promises, and then nothing. I went down to the tunnel in the afternoon, after the GFNY race, and I found it locked, with a big gate.There was no sign there. No information about what is happening with it.”Benaim, like the rest of us, heard only good things about the promised underground thoroughfare for human-powered two wheelers. “There were loads of things about it on the Internet and Facebook.There were lovely pictures of the festive opening of the tunnel, and then nothing. It’s really frustrating. I dreamt of having a lovely ride through the tunnel.But nothing. I was really disappointed.”So, dear cyclists, whose only wish is to enjoy maintaining your physical and spiritual health with a completely environmentally friendly, nonpolluting activity, as safe as possible from overassertive or simply unfocused drivers, you will have to hold your horses for a while longer. How much longer is anyone’s guess. Perhaps, before he quits city hall, and while he happily welcomes the GFNY and Giro d’Italia to the city over which he has ruled all these years, Mr.Barkat might like to enlighten us.