Downtown J’lem will be a mess, officials warn residents

After 150 years of serving as the city’s main artery, Jaffa road will close to all traffic.

Jerusalem bus routes 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem bus routes 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Brace yourselves, because it won’t be pretty. This was the main message from the Transportation Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Egged bus cooperative on Wednesday as the capital prepares for the permanent closure of Jaffa Road to all but the coming light rail.
After 150 years of serving as the city’s main artery, the road will close to all traffic on Saturday night, from Kikar Tzahal near Jaffa Gate to the Mahaneh Yehuda Market.
The estimated start date of the light rail, the only vehicles that will be allowed on Jaffa Street, is now August 8, meaning the city will have at least seven months of no Jaffa Road and no light rail.
Consequently, all of the buses that now use Jaffa Road will be rerouted to the already traffic-choked Nevi’im and Agrippas streets, angering many shopkeepers downtown.
“This is not going to come easily,” Dror Ganon, the Transportation Ministry’s senior deputy director-general for public transportation, said of Saturday’s closure. “This work is going to be painful. But to our joy, we’re able to see to the end – Jaffa Road with a light rail is no longer just a sketch on paper, you can open your eyes and see it.”
Around 100 traffic assistants will be on hand starting on Thursday, to hand out flyers and explain the changes to passengers. The assistants, from a private company, will also be stationed around Agrippas Street to help passengers on and off the buses with their many bags and purchases from the market. Transportation engineers have identified one of the main reasons for traffic in this area, aside from the sheer number of vehicles, as the delays caused by passengers alighting with multiple bags from their purchases in Mahaneh Yehuda.
The assistants and the materials to explain the changes to bus routes will cost about NIS 100,000 per day.
Agrippas near the Mahaneh Yehuda market will change from a one-way to a twoway street, and will be the biggest victim to the traffic changes, as about 18 lines will run in each direction.
An estimated 2,000 buses pass through downtown on Jaffa, Nevi’im or Agrippas streets each day.
“It’s important to remember that Jerusalem is a very historical city, the downtown is very crowded and built-up, and there aren’t a lot of options for the routes for buses,” Ganon said.
Jaffa Road will remain totally closed for tests of the light rail. In April, the light rail is supposed to be partially in operation for this section of Jaffa Road, to help people get used to using the train.
Transportation officials begged the public to have a little patience and faith, a tall order after almost a decade of interruptions and dust.
“We’ve gotten to the last stage. Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest stage,” said Kobi Mamalia, the deputy director for infrastructure and transportation in the municipality. Once operable, the light rail is supposed to carry 30 percent of the passengers now using buses.