Setting the wheels in motion

Will 2009 be the Year of the Bicycle? Not quite, but biking activists in Jerusalem are optimistic that a brighter future lies ahead for two-wheeled transportation with the arrival of new faces in City Hall. Despite a master plan for bicycle paths sitting on the shelves at the Jerusalem Municipality for some time, most of these are just a road to nowhere. Jerusalem currently has just one urban cycle path, running from Sacher Park through the Valley of the Cross to the Pat Junction, as well as an off-road path through the picturesque Lavan Valley sloping down to the Malha-Tel Aviv railway line. Marcelo Glucksmann, coordinator of Bicycles for Jerusalem, says that despite some progress at the planning level, no new cycle paths were actually constructed during Uri Lupolianski's term as mayor. He believes that the newly elected council, which includes the former head of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel's Jerusalem branch, Naomi Tsur, represents a "real window of opportunity" to promote cycling as an alternative form of transport. "There's a new constellation in the municipality after the elections, and we see this as something positive," says Glucksmann. "They seem to be friendly towards our objectives, and Naomi Tsur is very committed to the green movement. We also received a commitment from [Mayor Nir] Barkat before the elections to build cycle lanes. I believe that he is interested, but I also believe that we need to exert pressure." Prior to the elections, then-mayoral candidate Barkat attended one of Jerusalem's "Critical Mass" bike protests, where he spoke of his love for cycling during his days as a Hebrew University student. According to Bicycles for Jerusalem's Web site, Barkat spoke of the necessity for integrating and promoting bicycles within the urban transportation system and the need for the proper development and planning of cycling infrastructure. In a survey carried out by the Jerusalem Municipality two years ago, cycling ranked as the second most popular sport - after walking - among residents. The municipality told In Jerusalem that its Department of Transport and Infrastructure Development, in cooperation with the Municipal Sports Authority, is "working towards the promotion and development of bicycle paths in the streets of Jerusalem," including five new routes due to be implemented in the coming years:
  • A system of bicycle paths in neighborhoods A and B of Har Homa.
  • A 43 km. network of routes passing through Cedar Park, Emek Refaim Park and Motza Park.
  • Cycle tracks to be included as part of a new car-free recreational path near Emek Refaim from the Khan Theater to the Oranim Junction.
  • A system of bicycle paths feeding the route of the new light rail from neighborhoods such as Beit Hakerem in the west and French Hill in the north of the city.
  • Paths are also planned as part of the upgrading of the Talpiot Industrial Zone. Glucksmann hopes that the Khan-Oranim path will become a reality in 2009 but is skeptical about the potential paths that pigeonhole cycling as a recreational pastime. "Extreme sports aren't our concern. Our focus is on urban cycling and promoting it as a sustainable form of transport," he insists. "We have four or five years in which we can really change the city, for all its inhabitants, and to promote green transport through bicycles." Even if the long-awaited paths get the go-ahead during Barkat's term in office, Bicycles for Jerusalem, which works closely with the SPNI and local community centers in Jerusalem, as well as the national Israel for Bicycles organization, believes that a new "culture of cycling" is needed to make the Holy City more bike-friendly - including more education about cycling, workshops and provision of showers at campuses and workplaces. "It should become an accepted thing that someone can come to work with a little perspiration!" says Glucksmann.