City Front: Not on my block

Some 100 Baka residents and business owners packed a meeting at the local community center on November 14 to protest proposed new traffic patterns being put forward by the municipality for Derech Beit Lehem and adjoining streets in their neighborhood. The meeting was organized by the neighborhood administration. Residents are angry over what they see as a plan by the municipality to turn Derech Beit Lehem, a narrow two-lane street that is the neighborhood's commercial heart, into the main thoroughfare for private cars traveling from southeast Jerusalem to downtown. They fear it will seriously impinge on their quality of life and lower property values. The municipality is currently completing work on the Blue Line bus lane on Derech Hebron, the main north-south artery of the area. When this work is completed, private cars traveling north along Derech Hebron will no longer be able to make a left turn at Navon Square toward the Khan Theater, Rehavia and downtown. This traffic will be diverted to Derech Beit Lehem. In addition, the municipality intends to change the direction of several streets intersecting Derech Beit Lehem. "This plan will not only ruin the character of Derech Beit Lehem but it will also spell the death of Baka, one of the last remaining jewels in the city," says local resident Itay Fischhendler, who holds a doctorate in environmental planning and is organizing neighborhood opposition. "This is a struggle for the soul of Baka." "Local business owners fear for their business because of this plan," says Yaakov Ben-Elul, owner of Cafe Kalo on Derech Beit Lehem, which features an array of sidewalk tables. "I want my quiet neighborhood back." At the meeting, residents heard explanations of the plan from community administration heads Shalom Kwaller and Chalom Amouyal, and physical planner Maya Ben Shushan. It was decided that the community administration would write immediately to the municipality registering neighborhood opposition and requesting a meeting with city officials. In the meantime, residents intend to draw up a petition protesting the plan and to collect signatures in front of Cafe Kalo from 9 a.m. on Friday, November 17.