Jerusalem of chaos

Traffic regulations barely exist. Due to inadequate parking facilities, cars park on sidewalks, often blocking pedestrian passage for people who want to cross the road.

AT THE city entrance. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
AT THE city entrance.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem has become part of the global craze for urban renewal, something that all historic cities should approach with caution.
The construction glut that has overtaken the capital has turned life into a nightmare for pedestrians and motorists alike.
Aside from ruining the character of the city, the construction of tall residential and commercial towers blocks out the view and creates tensions among Orthodox and non-Orthodox residents in apartment buildings. The Orthodox want a Sabbath elevator. The non-Orthodox often oppose it, labeling it religious coercion.
There’s a popular myth that improved public transport will influence more people to leave their cars at home and ride in trains, trams and buses. In Israel, the more that public transport is improved, including additional highway infrastructure, the more traffic one sees on the road. More people keep buying more cars and adding to the congestion.
Traffic regulations barely exist. Due to inadequate parking facilities, cars park on sidewalks, often blocking pedestrian passage for people who want to cross the road. Motorbikes illegally whiz along the sidewalk because it’s easier than weaving through the cars, and certainly preferable when traveling in the opposite direction to other traffic.
Not so long ago, it was very dangerous for pedestrians in Jerusalem to walk close to construction sites, because all the scaffolding was open, and there were few, if any, safety factors.
Today construction sites are fenced in, taking up the width of half the sidewalk, and pedestrians have to keep dodging baby carriages, wheelchairs, Segways, bicycles, scooters, skateboards and shopping trolleys – plus motorcyclists, who are an increasing illegal presence.
Construction has cut off many small streets that motorists and pedestrians alike once used as short cuts. This adds to congestion both on the sidewalk and the road – especially at rush hour.
There are occasions when it takes less time to walk the distance that would entail a five-minute drive.
Why are drivers putting up with this instead of using public transport? Simply because they don’t want to be squashed into oversized sardine cans. Buses and light rail cars were not meant for baby carriages, but that doesn’t stop parents from wheeling them on the train or the bus. It is understandable that they don’t want to fold them if they are riding for only two or three stops, but there is no excuse for not doing so when they are taking a long ride. Sometimes there are so many carriages blocking the aisles that passengers have trouble entering and exiting, let alone passing to a vacant seat.
With all that, the situation might be bearable if all property developers adhered to the times scheduled for completion. But very few do. Unlike Tel Aviv, where a multistory building is often completed in less than two years, there’s a tortoise syndrome about construction in Jerusalem. You can be quoted two years for occupancy, but you’ll be lucky if the project is completed within 10 years.
Although Tama 38 is now being written off as obsolete, there are many such projects still under construction all over Jerusalem and unlikely to be finished in the near future.
Where are all the occupants of these apartments living? In some cases, occupants do not have to move out for the duration, but in most cases they want to, because living within a construction site is like living in a war zone.