Terra Incognita: The school of chaotic and wasteful management

Terra Incognita The sch

In Pirkei Avot one of the many statements of wisdom claims "the more maidservants, the more lewdness, the more manservants, the more thievery." It might just as well be said that "the more ministers, the more falls through the cracks." The current Israeli government has more ministers than any other before it. In fact each of the last governments has added to the number of portfolios in the cabinet. There is one ministry called the National Infrastructure Ministry. It was created in 1977, taking over duties of what was once the Development Ministry. It is currently run by Uzi Landau. Some of its duties seem to overlap with the ministries of Transportation and Economics and Planning. There is no doubt that the Israeli transportation system and infrastructure related to it have undergone huge improvements in recent years. However, the trouble that remains is not a question of national planning or large projects, but rather numerous small projects, many of them the responsibility of local councils and municipalities, that are handled in a chaotic and wasteful manner. Consider the eyesore-cum-museum of dejection that is Tel Aviv's "new" Central Bus Station, which was completed in 1993. It has 23 escalators and 13 elevators, many of them in a state of extreme decay. Unlike Jerusalem's Central Bus Station, it has no baggage screeners which means that each piece of luggage entering the station must be individually examined. The bus station appears to have been designed as some sort of cross between a Rube Goldberg device and an M.C. Escher drawing. The decay and the area around it are an embarrassment. It has no direct pedestrian connection to the nearby Hahagana railway station. It reminds one more of bus stations in Africa than in a developed country. It has come to the point that most of those traveling frequently to Tel Aviv prefer to use the Arlozorov bus terminal and its Tel Aviv Central railway station (which conveniently are adjacent). \ALTHOUGH JERUSALEM'S bus station is clean and efficient and has modern security screening devices, the city in which it is located is full of planning boondoggles. There is no need to dwell on the continued embarrassment of the Light Rail. Suffice it to say that the Jaffa Road portion has recently been paved over (apparently the cheap asphalt put down can be easily removed from the railway tracks) so that buses can traverse it. But can anyone excuse the junction at Jaffa Road and King George Avenue, which is an endless snarl of traffic? But lo and behold, if one drives out to Pisgat Ze'ev he can see the light rail trains waiting to use the tracks that may never be ready for them. Furthermore, the train stop at French Hill is already finished, complete with advertising billboards, as if to tease people. But where is the connection between that stop and the university? Will that stop end up being serviced by ugly, crammed sherut taxis? Few recall what the city did to Kikar Zion when it first built a raised hexagonal center in it to sit on and then destroyed it when it became a gathering point for drunks. Then there is the strange sign that appeared on Rehov Keren Hayesod six months ago that appears to digitally show how much time there is until the arrival of the next bus. The sign worked for a few weeks and people could count down the minutes before the 21 or 74 arrived. Then the sign was switched off and now announces that this is a "forthcoming project." Is it? There are no other such devices at bus stops in Jerusalem. The situation in Jerusalem around the new Mamilla mall is yet another example of terrible planning. A new mall was erected but the parking lot spills out onto a crammed road so that during rush hour those trying to exit the underground parking lot sometimes wait for more than 40 minutes without moving, in an increasingly carbon-monoxide-filled concrete car park. There are six stop lights between Damascus Gate and the Mamilla junction, meaning that during rush hour the entire stretch becomes needlessly clogged. All this chaos after the city invested huge amounts of money in a tunnel beneath Kikar Tzahal (which abuts the Mamilla project) so that traffic could avoid this problem. Why are there two stoplights near New Gate for pedestrians when pedestrian bridges could have been constructed? Israel needs to have elected officials who actually ride public transport in the nation's two major cities, which should be showcases to tourists and the world. Any mayor, council or Knesset member will be embarrassed to witness the situation now prevalent in and around the central bus station in Tel Aviv and the entire area from Jaffa Road to Mamilla in Jerusalem. It is not a matter of saying "we are building something new here." These are not projects akin to Boston's "Big Dig" fiasco (which cost $14 billion although originally budgeted at $2.8 billion). Most of the problems are not about the project themselves but the Mickey Mouse chaos around them, the half-baked ideas that harm public transport, cause inefficiency and redundancy and waste public money. Israel needs an infrastructure minister who will clean up the chaos and city councils that will drain the swamp of thoughtlessness.