Grapevine: Pedestrians, please

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 PEDESTRIAN RIGHT of way on snow-lined Jaffa Road.  (photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)
PEDESTRIAN RIGHT of way on snow-lined Jaffa Road.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZAMIR)

Although the municipality is to be commended for clearing the roads so quickly during and immediately after last week’s snowfall, it was obvious that the municipal powers-that-be pay much more attention to drivers of buses, trucks and cars than they do to pedestrians.

Motor vehicles could traverse the roads with relative ease, but pedestrians had to gingerly make their way through snow, slush and ice. Worse still, there were many intersections where snowmobiles had piled banks of snow on the very corner, which made it extremely difficult for pedestrians to cross the road in any direction.

Very few side streets were cleared, so whether residents walked on the road or the pavement, they were equally at risk of skidding and falling and possibly suffering serious injury.

While Jerusalem residents were advised to stay home during the snowfall, unless it was absolutely necessary for them to go outside, many did not heed the advice, especially those who had to answer a call of duty. Stephen Schwartz, International Director of Resource Development at Herzog Medical Center, reported that even though 10% of the staff were out with COVID-19, everyone else showed up with some trekking through the snow. Herzog Medical Center is located in Givat Shaul, an area that is somewhat isolated, so the staff there deserve special praise.

Many Israelis who do not live in Jerusalem and are not attracted by the Western Wall, the Israel Museum or the Mahaneh Yehuda market were, however, lured by the snow and came in droves as they did in 2013 during the previous snowfall in the capital.

 Snow falls in Jerusalem as a heavy storm hits nationwide, January 26, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) Snow falls in Jerusalem as a heavy storm hits nationwide, January 26, 2022 (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

On Monday of this week, there was still a pile of slush on the pavement at the entrance to the Jewish Agency building, and smaller piles of slush at odd intervals on the pavement along Keren Kayemeth Street in Rehavia. People could walk around the slush, but it was much harder to walk around the lopped and fallen leafy branches that spread for much of the length and width of pavement on both sides of the road. A woman wearing a maxi skirt almost tripped, and could have ended up with serious damage to her face and other parts of her body, had she been less agile. If municipal workers are cutting branches that have drooped in the snow and which could possibly break on the heads of passers-by, why has no one at City Hall thought of a way of instantly disposing of the mess instead of leaving it in the street?

Whatever complaints one has about the snow and its aftermath, some people see it as a blessing in disguise particularly when it causes a tree to fall. David Zwebner, who lives in Talbiyeh, posted a photograph of a fallen tree that blocked the entrance to and exit from his home, but took a philosophical approach to the situation, writing that he and his wife, Ronit, could enjoy the inner warmth of their abode.

Reader Shifra Glickman, who lived in New York where snow problems were much more critical than in Jerusalem, writes that there was a law that property owners had to keep the sidewalks in front of their homes and business enterprises free of snow. Whoever didn’t comply, was fined. If someone slipped on snow or ice in front of someone’s home, and was hurt the homeowner had to pay damages. In Jerusalem, Glickman lives next to a series of crosswalks that had not been cleared and in order to walk across the road, she and others had to detour to avoid the snow, and later the slush, but the detour led straight into the path of oncoming traffic.

■ ON THE subject of walking into the path of oncoming traffic, it’s almost a year since the people at city hall decided to upgrade the fountain at French Square (also known as Paris Square). To be honest, there was nothing wrong with the fountain and its surroundings. The site was used for small demonstrations, for celebrating Hanukkah, for the Friday vigil of Women in Black and on Saturdays and other Jewish holy days, as a place for people to sit and shmooze. But Mayor Moshe Lion with his obsession for urban renewal in the city, whose charm lay in its age, decided almost a year ago to dismantle the fountain and redesign the site. The construction area was boarded up, and extended to part of the crosswalks, which meant that to get from Terra Sancta College to the Prima Kings Hotel across the road, meant to literally take one’s life in one’s hands because it entailed walking in a traffic-packed road. In the interim, many large-scale building projects have either been completed or construction on them has progressed significantly. How is it that so little has been done with regard to the fountain?

■ PEOPLE LIVING between Ahad Ha’am and Sokolov Streets are complaining that the traffic arrangements intended for a yet-to-be-built hotel on the corner of Ahad Ha’am and Keren Hayesod will impose hardships on residents in the neighborhood, especially on children who play in Sokolov Park. They’re not the only ones with traffic gripes. The Azrieli Group; which purchased the Mount Zion Hotel in December 2019 for NIS 275 million with the intention of investing NIS 500m. in renovating and expanding it, have discovered that another hotel is being built next door by the Israel Land Authority which appears to have sequestrated some of the Azrieli Group’s land, in addition to which the parking facilities of the other hotel will do damage to the Mount Zion Hotel. Rather than give in, Danna Azrieli, who is among Israel’s most affluent business people, will fight for her rights but in Israel, bureaucracy is too often the victor.

■ WITH EVER rising prices and Israel being an expensive tourist destination under the best of circumstances, it’s hard to understand the glut of hotel construction in the capital. Some construction projects have just been left dormant. One that stands out is the Intercontinental Hotel opposite the Jewish Agency building which houses national institutions such as the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod United Israel Appeal. In the beginning, the Intercontinental went up at lightning speed, and then suddenly it stopped. Scaffolding and safety features are still in place, but there’s no sign of life – no workmen, no sound of construction equipment. And that’s been the case for several months. It’s not the only unfinished project in the city. One wonders how the people in City Hall will handle these architectural skeletons that put a blight on their renewal programs. Perhaps some of the high-ranking personnel who have left the Jerusalem Development Authority in recent months, know something that the public should know but has not yet been told. It has been made public that there are literally thousands of Jerusalem apartments that are in danger of collapse and others that are insufficiently safeguarded against earthquakes. Geographers are not sure when Israel will experience the next earthquake, but they are certain that it will come. The most recent JDA high-ranking official to give notice of quitting is Ilanit Melchior, Director of Tourism at the JDA where she has worked for 12 years. In June last year, she was still very gung ho about her job and was among the speakers at the Jerusalem Post-Khaleej Times Global Investment Forum in Dubai. She spoke of Jerusalem as the city of faith and the city of hope. But apparently, her faith and hope insofar as being a public servant have waned, and she is now entering the private sector, where there is perhaps a little more hope.

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