Jerusalem street construction forces a synagogue to close - opinion

The city has created a mess in carrying out its expressed desire to make things better for residents and drivers. In addition, this situation repeats itself in other locations as well.

View of the construction site of 'Mechir Lamishtaken' at Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem on January 28, 2019. (photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)
View of the construction site of 'Mechir Lamishtaken' at Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem on January 28, 2019.
(photo credit: HADAS PARUSH/FLASH90)

Anyone who drives through Jerusalem these days can only come away with one assessment of the situation: the entire city is under construction. There does not seem to be a street or neighborhood that is not undergoing significant change.

One would think that if the city’s leadership made the decision to reconstruct the streets in every neighborhood, the result would be something better, something more practical or something that improves the services provided to the residents. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case. Often, the situation is worse than before the upgrades.

One need only look at Chopin Street for proof. While only one long block long, one side of the street houses the Jerusalem Theatre, the Ohel Nechama Synagogue and the Jerusalem Bar Association, as well as a large park plaza that sits between the theater and the synagogue. On the other side of the street are a number of apartment buildings, as well as the yet to be opened Theatron project, which will have luxury apartments, a hotel, and a parking garage for the public, hotel guests and apartment owners. The public parking section of the garage is already open.

Given the reduction of parking spaces on the street and the concomitant opening of a privately run pay parking garage at the end of the street, one may wonder if the company who is the developer of the new housing project and garage lobbied the city in such a way as to create a situation where the only alternative is for people to pay them to park in that area. 

What has been lost? Before reconstruction of Chopin Street the street supported two-way traffic with opposing lanes of traffic separated by a dividing island. While parking during theater events has always been a problem, at other times cars could park legally on the entire length of the street along four parallel curbs, one on each side of each direction of traffic. In addition, the traffic lanes themselves were of sufficient width so that even if people parked in a sloppy manner, as Israelis tend to do, with either their front or rear ends sticking out into traffic lanes, there was still no problem getting past them.

According to the recently-published Central Bureau of Statistics Social Survey for 2019, among Jewish residents of Israel ages 20 and older, about half (49%) think there is sufficient parking in the area where they live (credit: FLASH90)According to the recently-published Central Bureau of Statistics Social Survey for 2019, among Jewish residents of Israel ages 20 and older, about half (49%) think there is sufficient parking in the area where they live (credit: FLASH90)

The reconstruction of Chopin Street resulted in a major widening of the pedestrian sidewalks on the theater side of the street, the addition of bike lanes and the reduction of traffic lanes to one lane in each direction, effectively eliminating more than 75% of the previous available parking spaces. This beautification project has created a series of problems.

To begin with, the two traffic lanes are considerably narrower than the ones they replaced. The standard width of traffic lanes for through streets is 370 cm. The traffic lanes on the newly opened Chopin Street vary from 316 to 330 cm. or 11-15% narrower than the standard. That causes situations when a car parks with its front or rear ends partially in the traffic lanes, cars traveling in that lane must enter the opposing lane of traffic to get by the parked vehicle, creating a driving hazard.

Furthermore, the reduced number of parking spaces has left residents of the apartment buildings and people wanting to attend the synagogue, events at the Bar Association or the theater with no option but to use the pay garage at the end of the street.

One might think the garage is a reasonable solution, but that may only be so for healthy people. The synagogue, for example, has a high percentage of members with mobility issues and it is simply not an option to park at the end of the street and then walk 300m back uphill to get to the synagogue. Yes, there are five spaces near the theater for people with niche parking tags, but that is nowhere near enough spaces for all of the people who frequent these venues.

For the people living on Chopin Street, the city just made the street an Area 8 zone. This means that only residents on the street with an Area 8 sticker can park on the street daily from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m.  The result of this latest change is that people who attend the daily 6:15 a.m. minyan at Ohel Nechama can no longer park on the street, even if there is space available. The situation is the same for the evening minyan, which usually begins after 6 p.m.

For some time it was possible for people attending the 6:15 a.m. minyan to park on the sidewalk for the 30 minutes required for prayer services; however, the city ultimately installed barriers there, which now eliminates that possibility. As well, the delivery vehicles of caterers and others who serve the synagogue are challenged to get close enough to the building to comfortably deliver goods and provide services.

Effectively, at least for those who consider Ohel Nechama as their synagogue, the only remaining option is to park in a pay garage 300 meters away and walk back, regardless of weather, mobility issues or any other challenges which may or may not be related to age. For all practical purposes, the synagogue is no longer accessible by vehicle, which could result in the synagogue ultimately closing. One can only ponder if anyone cares, as it certainly does not seem so.

To sum up, the city has created a mess in carrying out its expressed desire to make things better for residents and drivers. In addition, this situation repeats itself in other locations as well.  For example, on Hanassi Street, in front of the L.A. Meier senior citizens residence, the street has been narrowed. When a bus stops in front of the residence to let people off it is impossible to pass the bus without entering the opposing lane of traffic.

On Derech Ruppin Street near the Israel Museum, the street has been reconfigured with narrower traffic lanes than previously. As on Chopin Street, if someone parks carelessly it is quite easy to slam right into the parked car in order not to enter another lane of traffic where cars may be passing.

Don’t even ask about the full reconstruction of Hapalmach Street, which has created a situation worse than what existed before the improvements began. Narrower sidewalks, the elimination of dedicated bus stop areas on the road and narrower traffic lanes make it a driving nightmare.

The obligation of the government is to work as diligently as possible to ensure the health and comfort of its citizens, who have placed their faith in their elected representatives to carry out this task to the best of their abilities. The massive upgrading of the streets of Jerusalem continues as I write this and seems to be a sad example of how elected officials can fail to fully understand the obligations they have promised to uphold. The results are not an upgrading of our surroundings but a sad downgrading made even more egregious given the financial resources foolishly expended.

The writer is a 38-year resident of Jerusalem, CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consulting firm, past national president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, the immediate past chair of the board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and president of Congregation Ohel Nechama.