Tel Aviv’s light rail

The semi-paralysis of Israel’s thriving heartland began bang on schedule. The great question is whether the healing will also be as punctual, a full six years from now.

Envelope (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
The long-awaited Tel Aviv light rail project was kick-started on Sunday night with a relatively gentle jolt in the city’s old center – the Allenby-Yehuda Halevi intersection. A more excruciating blow is expected on August 16, when the Carlebach junction is closed off.
The semi-paralysis of Israel’s thriving heartland began bang on schedule. The great question is whether the healing will also be as punctual, a full six years from now. The extent of the patient’s recovery after such drawn-out disability is altogether moot.
One thing is sure, Tel Avivians and residents of the city’s ever-expanding metropolitan area are in for an unprecedented ordeal. The crippling of Tel Aviv may dwarf the recent suffering of Jerusalemites for the sake of their own light rail. Tel Aviv is Israel’s irrefutable financial and commercial hub. It is an employment magnet that daily brings into the metropolis workers from as far away as Hadera in the North and Ashdod in the South.
Consumers, errand-runners, and entertainment-seekers flock into the city at all hours and fuel Tel Aviv’s ever-dynamic economic engine. This vibrancy may now be severely compromised for more than a few years.
Officialdom’s glib slogans don’t add credibility to the hackneyed reassurances flung at ordinary Israelis – whose entry into and exit from our single greatest urban job-provider and crowd-puller would be made all the more daunting for too many years to come. This project will impact the quality of life for multitudes of Tel Aviv residents.
Even before the city’s major thoroughfares are dug up, getting to and from Tel Aviv was no picnic for anyone trapped in mammoth traffic snarls. But the tribulations we know and hate are to be exacerbated and not for the short-haul. The effects could be disastrous for commuters and residents alike.
The dire predictions are hardly speculative and unsubstantiated, especially when the sheer volume of traffic is considered, multiplied by the fact there are nowhere near enough parking facilities for commuters, who will be required to leave their vehicles at the edge of town and switch to shuttles. There are also not enough police to oversee the new arrangements. There are few alternative routes. Existing public transport options are pitiful and certainly inadequate for mushrooming demand.
Suggestions that suburbanites, for example, ride the trains instead are nothing short of brazen mockery, since most of Tel Aviv’s satellites aren’t connected to the rails. Where connections do exist, they are far from population centers, hard to reach, and characterized by shoddy service.
Despite the bureaucrats’ hype, bicycles aren’t an option for out-of-towners, to say nothing of the elderly, handicapped, mothers, babies, etc. The insincerity of policy-makers is both disrespectful to the public and hardly confidence-inspiring.
Worst off will be many of Tel Aviv’s businesses and service-providers, especially those along roads slated for closure to vehicles. This includes not only retailers, but a broad gamut of vocations from auto mechanics to doctors, lawyers, and accountants. The light rail project undeniably will challenge the functioning of thousands of enterprises. Even if the municipality ever does reduce city taxes for them in compensation, by then they might be beyond help. Nerves will be tested as never before and traffic jams may back up into Netanya and Ashdod. Nevertheless, it should be kept in mind that this will be a protracted local crisis, not a national nightmare. Light rail, while relatively new in Israel, is an accepted mode of transportation around the world. Each train has a capacity of about 500 passengers – equal to that of 10 buses. This goes a long way both to reduce congested city traffic and to dramatically reduce air pollution.
A report by the Jerusalem Municipality found that, since the capital’s light rail began running, there has been an increase of 41 percent in the number of pedestrians in the city center, restoring businesses whose proprietors had feared being cut off from customers.
It is to be hoped that its light rail will bring a similar renaissance to Tel Aviv.