Tel Aviv set to ban diesel traffic downtown

Two square kilometers of Tel Aviv will be shut to diesel traffic within a year as part of an experimental project to cut pollution, Moshe Blasenheim, head of the municipality's environment department, said over the weekend. The move will close a sector bordered by Sderot Ben-Gurion, Rehov Ibn Gvirol, Allenby Street and Rehov Ben-Yehuda to such traffic, one of a variety of efforts by municipalities to fight the growing problem of pollution from cars reported in a check of such efforts ahead of International Earth Day, which falls on Sunday. Blasenheim said that if the Tel Aviv project succeeds, it will be tried elsewhere in the country. It is expected to yield a 15 percent reduction in city pollution levels. Tel Aviv is at the forefront of antipollution efforts, imposing stricter laws regarding what kind of fuel buses may use, and removing diesel vehicles from the road found to be violating pollution standards. The municipality has also closed down the city's wholesale market, which had drawn many larger vehicles into the city which were the worst polluters. Municipality inspectors also hand out NIS 450 fines to cars found in violation of emission standards. To encourage alternative transportation, the municipality has prepared 100 km. of bicycle paths. In Jerusalem, the municipality has been operating an inspection vehicle that checks emissions from cars stopped by volunteer police. Drivers whose vehicles are found to be in violation of emissions standards are reported to the Environment Ministry, which then fines them. Around 700 vehicles are checked monthly; 13% of the cars examined have failed the test. The municipality also uses fixed air pollution monitoring stations, located on Jaffa Road, the Bar-Ilan Junction, at the central bus station, and on the new Route 9 to monitor air standards. Several new projects aimed at reducing the city's pollution levels are in the works, chief among them the light rail system currently under construction, as well as reducing the number of parking spots downtown. Jerusalem has also been turning additional city streets into pedestrian malls, and planning more one-way routes for public transportation to reduce pollution caused by stop-and-go traffic. Haifa has the most serious pollution problem of the three largest cities, and appears to be the least advanced in its efforts to improve the situation. The Haifa District Municipal Association for the Environment, which is affiliated with the Haifa Municipality, also operates a mobile vehicle emission unit. However, instead of fining those found in violation, drivers are given seven days to fix the problem, and must then return for a second inspection. Those who fail to do so are fined NIS 250. "Eighty percent of the car owners return within a week with a fixed car. The other 20% are reported to the Transportation Ministry, but they don't do anything about it. They say they test these cars once a year, and that's enough," said Zwi Fuhrer, director-general of the association. Fuhrer said they usually stop old cars, about 15% of which turn out to be in violation of standards. A total of 10% of these old cars are responsible for 50% of Haifa's automobile pollution, he said. He added that the municipality had recently decided to obtain a similar detection vehicle to test municipal vehicles such as garbage trucks. Fuhrer said his group offered a free service where Haifa residents could check their cars' emissions, "but there's low demand for this service." Haifa recently presented a plan for a light rail system of its own, which it expects to be complete in 2011, Fuhrer said.