More headaches in J’lem as bus routes change in center

City attempts to come to grips with new transportation patterns downtown as light rail project closes Jaffa Road to vehicles.

Jerusalem Traffic 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem Traffic 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
On Saturday night, Jerusalem entered what transportation engineers have called “the hardest stage” of the entire light rail process: the months when Jaffa Road is closed to vehicles and but the train is not yet running.
As the city attempted to come to grips with the new transportation patterns downtown over the past few days, passengers complained of bus rides that were triple or even quadruple their normal time.
“I knew there would be changes, but I didn’t know it would be this bad,” said Danielle Franco, a Ma’aleh Adumim resident whose 10- minute bus ride to the central bus station took more than 40 minutes on Monday morning.
“I knew changes were coming but they didn’t say where every bus is going, I just guessed when I got on today and hoped it would go where I needed it to.”
In an effort to avoid widespread confusion, around 100 traffic assistants were on hand starting last Thursday to hand out brochures with new route information and explain the changes to passengers, as well as help customers from the Mahaneh Yehuda shuk put their heavy bags on the buses to speed up boarding time.
Egged drivers taking a cigarette break on Agrippas Street were pleasantly surprised with the flow of traffic on Sunday and Monday, saying it was “much better than expected, giving the situation.”
“The riders need patience,” said Ya’acov, an Egged driver.
“It’s not our company that made the decision, but we’re doing the best that we can.”
Surprisingly, the time with the worst traffic has not been the morning rush hour, but between 1 and 3 p.m., when children are getting off from school and people are doing afternoon errands, said Alon, another bus driver.
“All changes are hard, there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “And people are always angry at us [drivers], this just gives them another reason.”
An Egged spokesperson said the biggest problems on Sunday and Monday were the sheer volume of vehicles, and tie-ups in areas where buses had trouble passing each other. Around 2,000 buses that pass through the downtown area daily have been rerouted to the narrow Nevi’im Street and Agrippas Street.
Jaffa Road will remain totally closed from the Mahaneh Yehuda market to Kikar Tzahal for tests of the light rail.
In April, the light rail is supposed to begin limited operations on this section of Jaffa Road for a nominal fee, to help people get used to using the train.
The intersection between Ki’ach and Agrippas streets is a good example of the challenges riders will face in the next few months: there is simply not enough room for buses to turn onto Agrippas if a bus is coming in the opposite direction. If two buses arrive at the intersection simultaneously, they come within centimeters of each other or one must stop to let the second bus pass.
Ilan, who owns Bourekas Ramle at the intersection of Ki’ach and Agrippas, says he has witnessed two minor head-on collisions between buses at the intersection since the change was implemented on Saturday night. Next door, at a fruit stand, workers recounted another instance of a bus hitting and breaking the steel fence that separates pedestrians from the cars – and coming within a meter of their glass showcase.
The market area, with its narrow sidewalks, is notorious for people darting into traffic with heavy bags and wheeled carts. Shopkeepers warn that a serious accident in the area is just a matter of time.
“[The intersection being] two-directional is really dangerous, plus there’s lots of pedestrians so it makes it even more so,” said Ilan.