Reclaiming the sidewalk

Today sidewalks aren't just used by pedestrians, but also bicyclists, motorcyclists, skateboarders, baby carriages and shopping carts.

311_sidewalk (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski/The Jerusalem Post)
The approval by the socioeconomic cabinet of a NIS 100 million bike trail covering 4,900 kilometers is yet another indication of the growing popularity of cycling, a recognition of the need for physical fitness and the desire to save on energy and pollution.
However there is a major problem – and it’s getting worse.
Bicyclists and motorcyclists are usurping the sidewalks that were built for pedestrians.
It’s bad enough when the sidewalk is wide, to have a two-wheeled mode of transport whizz past you from the back, or come at you full speed from the front – but when it’s very narrow, the experience is sufficiently harrowing to give some people a heart attack.
A sidewalk, by its very name, is designated for walkers, but pedestrians today have to contend with shopping carts, baby carriages and strollers, tricycles, scooters, roller skates, skateboards, Segways, wheelchairs and, to top it off, motorbikes and bicycles.
Some of these means of transporting goods, infants, children and adults can obviously not be cast out into the road, but certainly motorbikes and bicycles, taking into account the speed at which they travel, the weaving by their riders, the fact that their riders travel in both directions without having to observe road rules on the sidewalk, constitute a mortal danger to people who are walking – especially elderly people with mobility problems, who can’t jump out of the way fast enough.
It’s a disaster waiting to happen.
TEL AVIV is way ahead of Jerusalem in marking its wider sidewalks with designated bike trails. This would be well and good if every cyclist observed the rules, but they don’t.
Many cyclists, especially motorcyclists, weave in and out between pedestrians, creating a very scary environment.
It’s terrifying when there’s a group of cyclists racing each other on the sidewalk.
For some odd reason, cyclists also challenge themselves to see if they can ride past bus stops in which the bus shelter is very close to the curb, with only the narrowest stretch of sidewalk between it and the road.
This is where bus passengers stand to wait for the bus. Totally oblivious to the discomfort let alone the dangers that they cause, the cyclists ride across this tiny area, instead of behind the bus shelter where there is usually much more room.
Last year, while waiting for a bus in Tel Aviv, I was hit by a cyclist who couldn’t control his bike. On another occasion, while waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road at a busy intersection, I felt myself being nudged out of the way by an impatient motorcyclist, who wanted to be first off the mark and had come up on the sidewalk behind me and other pedestrians.
When they’re on the road, most motorcyclists are equally arrogant and aggressive, weaving between cars, ignoring traffic lights and taking the sidewalk option when the density of cars makes weaving difficult.
Daydreaming on the sidewalk has become a thing of the past. No pedestrian can afford that luxury any more. We all have to be constantly on the alert.
Not only do motorcyclists and bicyclists ride on the sidewalk, they also park on the sidewalk. Walk past almost any restaurant or coffee shop in Tel Aviv and you will see at least a dozen two-wheeled modes of transport parked outside. Most park at the edge of the sidewalk, but when there’s no longer any room there, they also park in the middle and alongside the buildings, yet again taking away from the area intended for pedestrians.
We’re not even going into the four-wheeled vehicles that park on the sidewalk, often in such a way that pedestrians are forced to walk on the road.
I must admit that I’ve often been tempted to slash the tires of such a vehicle, but that would be a pointless exercise because its owner would then have yet another excuse for not moving.
THE SITUATION is getting worse almost by the day, without advocacy groups rising to meet the challenge.
When pedestrians complain to each other, the conversation usually ends with the typical Israeli acceptance of what fate has to offer: ma la’asot – what can we do. It’s not a question.
It’s a statement.
But laws can be enforced. It’s not all that long ago that people smoked in buses and taxis. One can’t do that any more – and no one even tries.
It’s time that our lawmakers started walking in clusters through city streets to experience the hazards that confront pedestrians daily, and then maybe by force of law we’ll be able to reclaim the sidewalk.