Is Rehov Hillel a pedestrians' paradise or a drivers' nightmare?
By DAVID RUBINGER
If you have noticed, as you undoubtedly have, that driving into downtown Jerusalem has become a nightmare, be advised of the following: The traffic jams you encounter are not divinely ordained. The number of cars may have increased, but the true reason behind your suffering is the brainchild of one Kobi Bartov, who carries the title "traffic and superstructure manager, Jerusalem Municipality."
In an interview he told me bluntly: "I cannot pass a law that would prevent private cars from coming to downtown Jerusalem. But what I can do is to make life so miserable for the drivers, they will eventually leave their cars at home and come by bus."
Bartov so far has succeeded in the first part: Making life miserable for drivers.
He did so by narrowing all approach roads to the center to one lane only. To do so he created a white elephant on Rehov Hillel, a wide useless plaza with a few seats on it, thus squeezing all traffic into one lane, probably not more than 25 percent of the width of the street. Simultaneously Rehov Keren Hayesod and King George Avenue were given similar treatment.
To add a little more suffering and misery to the drivers, he purposely created a sort of funnel on Hillel near the ex-Eden Hotel, merging two lanes into one - even though there is no logical reason for it.
A tiny, but from his point of view useful, torture is to make the green pedestrian-crossing light at King George-Hillel coincide with the green light for cars. Vehicles, all the way back to the Agron crossroads, have to wait for a single pedestrian to cross, even though the light is green. Ingenious.
When on a more serious note I pointed out to Bartov that if - God forbid - a terror act or even a simple heart attack occurs - let's say near the Aroma Cafe on Hillel - no ambulance or fire engine could get to the scene. Even if all the vehicles in their one narrow lane allocated to them would want to, there is no way they could move aside to let them pass. He made sure of that: Concrete pillars prevent them.
Mr. Bartov's reply to this: "Write what you wish!"
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