Nowhere to daydream

There seems to be no correlation between urban planning and pedestrian needs; here in Israel, pedestrian rights are constantly being abused and eroded.

311_sidewalk (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)
Not so long ago, children skipped rope and played hopscotch on the sidewalk.
Adults, who were not necessarily in a hurry to go anywhere, could walk along at a leisurely pace and daydream.
Today, a daydream is a luxury that could prove fatal. Sidewalks (or footpaths, if you come from Australia or any other country that uses that expression for sidewalk), are by definition intended for pedestrians. But here in Israel, pedestrian rights are constantly being abused and eroded.
There seems to be no correlation between urban planning and pedestrian needs. Urban planners or traffic departments in city halls across the country are gradually putting bike trails along the pavements. This would be acceptable if the pavements were wide and cyclists stuck to the trails – but they don't.
Instead, they weave all over the pavement,sometimes coming full speed in the direction of an unsuspecting walker.
Simply put, many cyclists are very poor riders. Few wear crash helmets, and even fewer have lights on their bikes for night riding.
Cyclists also invade pedestrian malls, and there is no legislation requiring them to ride in the same direction as the flow of traffic, so they come from both directions, leaving pedestrians with little or no room in which to maneuver. When they ride in packs, the pedestrian has little option but to stand still in order to avoid being hit – and that's not always a successful ploy.
ON MORE than one occasion when I have been standing with other people at a bus stop close to the curb, cyclists have plowed through the crowd as if no human obstacle existed.
There is some form of legislation which makes it illegal for electric vehicles to be driven on the sidewalk, which is why a lot of people who are confined to wheel chairs are forced onto the road. But wheelies, who really shouldn't be on the road because of the limited speed that they can muster, are not only forbidden to be on the sidewalk, but in too many case they are unable to skirt the planters, saplings, benches, electric light poles and garbage cans that seem to be randomly placed all over the sidewalk.
From an aesthetic perspective this may be well and good, but as far as accessibility goes, it's a nightmare. Yet while wheelchairs are exiled from the sidewalk, motorbikes and electric scooters are par for the course. Motor cyclists, who seem to enjoy playing a form of Russian roulette, make life hazardous for car and truck drivers by zigzagging through traffic.
But when traffic congestion is such that even impudent and inconsiderate motor cyclists can't break through, they think nothing of zooming onto the sidewalk and rushing at full speed towards their destinations.
And if a poor pedestrian gets in the way – then let him or her be damned! Anyone who has been close to a motor cyclist doing a uturn on a sidewalk knows the meaning of real terror.
Even pedestrians with good reflexes find it difficult to leap out of the way – how much more so an elderly person with limited mobility who has to depend on a cane or a walker to get around. They are simply incapable of jumping out of the way. Moreover their paths are now made more difficult by the introduction of the new higher and wider baby carriages that have become some form of a status symbol.
Still, there's no arguing the fact that baby carriages should be allowed on the footpath, along with wheelchairs and shopping trolleys.
But as noted previously, wheelchair people are like refugees with nowhere to go The trouble is that most pavements are barely wide enough to accommodate baby carriages and shopping trolleys at the same level. Even on wider sidewalks, it's still difficult for people in wheelchairs or those who depend on walkers, because despite the fact that Israel is on its way to its 64th anniversary of statehood, Jews have remained a nation of shleppers.
When we're not pushing baby carriages or strollers that are also used to carry groceries, we're pushing shopping trolleys or suitcase trolleys.
Many foreign students come to Israel to study in our top universities and colleges, as well as in our yeshivot and seminaries and they are forever trundling suitcases trolleys from one destination to another, filling aisle spaces in buses and later taking up the width of the sidewalk, making it almost impossible for people behind them to pass.
It's time for pedestrians to reclaim the sidewalk.
There's not much we can do about the suitcases, but we certainly can do something about the bicycles, the motorbikes and the electric scooters by lobbying for legislation and by holding sidewalk demonstrations that force cyclists and motorbike riders back on to the road where they belong.
The same goes for cars which park illegally on sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to risk their lives by stepping out into the road in order to get past illegally parked vehicles. In Tel Aviv vehicles that are illegally parked, get towed away. For some reason, Jerusalem hasn’t quite figured that one out. It costs several hundred shekels to redeem one's towed vehicle in Tel Aviv.
Every city should have a hotline which pedestrians can call to report vehicles parked on the sidewalk. If offenders have to pay substantial sums to redeem their vehicles in addition to hefty fines for illegal parking, it would eventually prove to be a good deterrent.
Simiarly, if a law is passed banning two-wheeled modes of transport from the pavement, offenders can easily be photographed with a cell phone and reported, making it easy to fine repeat offenders. The possible confiscation of a bicycle or motorbike would likely be an effective means of restoring the pavement to pedestrians.