Tel Aviv turns abandoned railroad into modern linear park

Tel Aviv’s Ottoman-era railroad Park Hamesila on track to connect Jaffa and downtown

Park Hamesila follows a 5-km. stretch along the railway tracks. (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
Park Hamesila follows a 5-km. stretch along the railway tracks.
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
While Manhattan boasts The High Line, Chicago The 606, and Paris its Coulée verte René-Dumont, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are the only two cities in the world which have transformed the opposite ends of an abandoned railroad into a linear park.
To the immediate delight of the Big Orange’s cyclists and joggers, the central 450-meter-long section of the city’s Park Hamesila opened in October connecting Pines Street in Neve Tzedek (next to Beit Lieber) to Elifelet Street. That was followed recently by Phase II, extending 400 meters westward between Elifelet and Kaufman Street near Jerusalem Beach. With the eastern and final section opening in the new year, the park along the Ottoman-era narrow-gauge railroad will extend 1.3 km from the sea to Nahalat Binyamin and Herzl streets downtown, and provide a missing link in the Bauhaus city’s skein of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly boulevards.
“What’s nice about Tel Aviv’s boulevards, for example, Ben-Gurion and Nordau, is that they run toward the sea,” said Haifa-born architect Opher Kolker.
Kolker Kolker Epstein Architects, a partnership between him, Amir Kolker and Randy Epstein, designed Park HaMesila, “The new park will connect Rothschild Boulevard to the sea and complete Tel Aviv’s network of boulevards,” he noted.
And as if that won’t be a triumph of good planning, the pièce de résistance will come in two years when the Red Line of the city’s light rail opens in a tunnel burrowed beneath the urban park en route to Petah Tikva, bringing the promise of rapid transit even if the streets remain congested.
The extensively landscaped urban trail includes a bicycle path, hiking route, trees and vegetation. Like its seven-kilometer-long twin in the capital, the Train Track Park incorporates elements from the historic Jaffa-Jerusalem railroad. Inaugurated in 1892 by the Société du Chemin de Fer Ottoman de Jaffa à Jérusalem et Prolongements headed by Jerusalem businessman Joseph Navon, the train was the first in Ottoman-ruled Palestine. (The first train in the Middle East was built in Egypt in 1854.)
“But whereas the Turkish railroad approached Jerusalem through the flat Rephaim Valley, the line was cut into the ground as it passed by the orange groves east of Jaffa. Neve Tzedek wasn’t built until 1897 while Tel Aviv wasn’t established until 1909. Those preserved embankments give the new park its character. They also separate pedestrians from vehicles.”
And so the car-free design from before Tel Aviv existed is what will become ever more popular as the city matures in its second century.