Jerusalem traffic dispute spills into Baka

Dispute comes as German Colony protests planned hi-rise hotel, and Abu-Tor protests planned entertainment center.

baka protest 298.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
baka protest 298.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A group of residents from Jerusalem's central Baka neighborhood, angered over municipal plans to reroute city traffic through the heart of their neighborhood, are now planning to fight a city proposal to construct a luxury complex adjacent to their neighborhood, a resident said Tuesday. This despite the fact that the traffic changes were coordinated with the neighborhood's community center. The debate is the latest in a series of city neighborhood disputes over construction and building in the remaining open spaces in central Jerusalem. The planned traffic changes, which will go into effect in the near future as a result of the city's future light rail system, will see the upscale neighborhood's main road - Derech Beit Lehem - up-graded to a major city thoroughfare. Private vehicles traveling towards the city center from Jerusalem's southern neighborhoods on the parallel Hebron Road will soon no longer be able to turn left at the city's old train station to get to the city center. "This plan to turn a historic street into a mini-highway will cause terrible damage to the neighborhood," said neighborhood resident Itai Fishhendler, who works in environmental planning and policy and who is leading a group of residents against the move. The municipal decision to turn what used to be one of Jerusalem's quaintest avenues, which is lined with old Arab homes, small boutiques, and outdoor cafes, into a major city thoroughfare was taken after an alternate plan to reroute traffic coming into the area onto a new street near the site of the old train station was cancelled. An empty plot of land near the old train station, where the alternate road was to have run, has been allocated for a luxury apartment building complex that the city is currently planning. The architect of the plan, Ari Cohen, said that he could understand the opposition of Baka residents to the city's move but said that they were wrong to take out their anger on the upscale building plan. "Even if they are right in their struggle they do not have to ruin something good in order to fix something broken," Cohen said. He voiced the hope that a compromise could still be worked out between the sides. The plan calls for about 450 apartments to be erected at the site. It is pending final city approval. Fishhendler said that neighborhood residents planned to amass "thousands" of signatures against the planned construction of the new building site. In the meantime, the previously tranquil neighborhood street has been ripped apart by municipal crews working to upgrade it to a main thoroughfare with multiple traffic lights in preparation for its future usage. The Jerusalem Municipality said Tuesday that the work being carried out on Derech Beit Lehem was coordinated in full with the neighborhood's community center, and that the plans for upgrading the road were presented to them several times in advance of the work. The head of the community center, Maya Ben-Shoshan, confirmed Tuesday that the plans had been worked out with the city, and that there were three neighborhood meetings to discuss the work. She added that neighborhood residents have a meeting with the senior municipal officials next week to discuss the outstanding issues. The dispute over the planned traffic changes comes as residents in the city's neighboring German Colony are protesting a city plan to build a hi-rise hotel there, and as residents of the adjacent Abu-Tor neighborhood are fighting plans to build an entertainment center near the promenade.