A traffic circle designed to make an intersection safer has instead increased the number of accidents in the area.
By GAIL LICHTMAN
After two and a half months, more than a dozen accidents, one indirect death and massive morning traffic jams, a Transportation Ministry engineer has determined that there are design faults in the traffic circle at the intersection of Dov Yosef and Hasigalit streets on the Gilo-Pat road, and ordered the municipality to redesign and rebuild the circle to correct these faults.
But even this does not satisfy Gilo residents or the Gilo Community Administration, who have opposed the circle from the very beginning. More than 2,000 of the 35,000 residents of this southern Jerusalem neighborhood have signed a petition, addressed to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski, calling for the dismantling of the circle (which while operational is still under construction) and for the installation of a traffic light at the intersection instead.
The petition also calls on the municipality to expedite construction of Route 4 (the continuation of the Begin highway to Gush Etzion) and Route 39 (the western beltway), which have been in planning for some 20 years. These projects would alleviate the heavy traffic on the Gilo-Pat road. In addition, Yaffa Shitrit, deputy director of the Gilo Community Administration, told In Jerusalem that the administration is considering getting a court injunction to halt construction of the circle and force the municipality to cancel it.
At present, the Gilo-Pat road serves as a major artery connecting southern Jerusalem and Gush Etzion with the rest of the city. The official speed limit is 70 kilometers per hour, but from Gilo to the turn to the Malha area the road is a steep downhill.
According to statistics obtained from the police by Amnon Givoli, editor of the local newspaper Yediot Gilo, between 2000 and 2006 there were more than 80 accidents there involving personal injuries, including four deaths. (The police do not keep data on accidents where no personal injuries are involved.)
In order to reduce the number of accidents and increase road safety, the municipality came up with a plan to build three traffic circles along the road, which would in effect force drivers to reduce their speed. At the end of 2005, the first traffic circle was opened at the intersection of Dov Yosef and Ihud Hakfar streets, next to the entrance to Beit Safafa.
"Police data shows that this circle did not reduce the number of accidents," Givoli says. "There were 11 accidents involving personal injuries in 2005, before the circle was operational, and 13 in 2006."
In the December 2005 issue of Yediot Gilo, Givoli dubbed the first circle "Kikar Chelm" (Chelm Circle, after the town in Jewish folklore whose so-called wise inhabitants were really fools). He cited defects in the design of the circle, including the downhill approach from Gilo, the narrowing of traffic from three to two lanes and limited visibility. At the time, he wrote: "Do we have to wait for someone to be killed? Get rid of this circle at once."
In December 2006, the municipality started work on the second circle at Dov Yosef and Hasigalit streets. Residents claim that this latest circle incorporates all the design problems of the first one, only more so, and that it has resulted in massive morning rush hour traffic jams.
In Jerusalem decided to drive down the road from Gilo in the direction of Pat (not during rush hour). The road starts off with three lanes of traffic moving downhill at a speed of 70 kph (or more). After the traffic light at the intersection of Shabtai Hanegbi and Dov Yosef streets, there are two signs warning that the road narrows from three to two lanes and that there is a traffic circle ahead. But because of the topography and buildings along the road that obstruct the field of vision, drivers cannot see the circle until they are almost on top of it. The circle itself is quite large and sticks out into the two remaining traffic lanes, forcing drivers to bear sharply right. Because of this, drivers who have not slowed down adequately have ended up crashing into the middle of the circle. In addition, cars coming out of Hasigalit cannot see approaching traffic already in the circle and vice versa. The circle is not lit up at night, making it even harder to see.
"I understand the municipality's reasoning in wanting to build a traffic circle to slow traffic and reduce accidents," says Gilo resident Miri Levi. "But this circle is a problem in itself. It has not reduced the number of accidents and only caused giant traffic jams."
"The traffic problems also point to an urgent need for some kind of a solution," notes Shitrit. "Soon Har Homa will be fully populated and matters will only get worse. If the municipality doesn't act soon, we will have another situation like that in Pisgat Ze'ev, where residents literally could not get out of their neighborhood to work during the morning rush hour."
In Jerusalem received the following reply from Jerusalem Municipality spokesman Gideon Schmerling: "The Ministry of Transportation, Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Police decided a few years ago to build three traffic circles on Rehov Dov Yosef in order to slow traffic and increase safety. The decision was made after several fatal traffic accidents occurred. So far, the circle at Dov Yosef and Ihud Hakfar has been constructed and currently another one is being built, at the junction of Dov Yosef and Hasigalit. No date has been set so far for the construction of the third circle. Professional authorities are examining the rest of the traffic arrangements on that road following these circles."
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