August News from Tel Aviv

Aug 23rd, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Articles

A stalled light rail, a new bus system and a controversial master plan. Plus a French invasion, heat and humidity.

Is this Tel Aviv’s new skyline? The buildings in purple would be built according to the new master plan.

The Light Rail is Dead

It’s official: the light rail, at least in its current incarnation, has finally expired, after being on life support for the last couple of years. Last week, the state announced that it was cancelling its contracts with MTS, the consortium that was supposed to build and operate the first line of the system. Now the legal battle between the state and MTS begins, but that doesn’t interest anyone.

The real question is: what will become of the light rail? The good news is that the Finance Minister has declared that the project will endure, with or without MTS. Instead, the state will carry out the work itself (through an army of contractors and subcontractors, of course).

How long will this take? Professionals working on the project claim it will take perhaps 7 years of work to get the first line up and running, but most people who are not connected to the project estimate at least another decade. And that’s just for the first line.

Jerusalem’s light rail, by the way, is scheduled to start running next April – a small miracle, considering the project’s mismanagement and frequent (and often ridiculous) setbacks.

Calls for BRT in TLV

With the light rail project delayed until who knows when, new ideas are emerging about how to keep traffic moving in the interim. The most interesting by far is something called Mahir Ba’ir (Fast in the City), a plan for two new Bus Rapid Transit lines being promoted by City for All, a movement on the Tel Aviv city council. While the campaign in favor of the plan is gaining momentum, the municipality has been strangely detached, offering no substantive reaction to the proposal.

The Mahir Ba’ir campaign, by the way, also proposes doing away with the almost universally loathed New Central Bus Station, and scattering its bus routes across various other bus terminals around the city.

At the same time, a coalition of environmental organizations is calling for a network of exclusive bus lanes to be built immediately on all main roads in metropolitan Tel Aviv.

Bus Reorganizing Launched

Meanwhile, the city’s bus system is being reorganized. Today the first of five phases was launched, with minor changes being made here and there, and two very short dedicated bus lanes coming into existence (one of them on part of King George Street).

Surprisingly, the Transportation Ministry has launched a clear and informative website to accompany the reorganization, as well as another new website with information about all public bus routes in the country (previously, this information was scattered among the websites of the various bus companies).

However, while the bus reorganization’s website has comprehensive and easily accessible information about the present phase of the process, there is absolutely no information regarding the changes planned for the next four phases of the process, nor the dates on which the public can expect these future changes to occur. Apparently, the planners of the bus reorganization would prefer to keep us in the dark for now.

New Master Plan

A controversial new master plan for the city is making its way through the city council this summer. The plan, meant to guide the city’s growth and development through the year 2025, displays an unhealthy preoccupation with the construction of new skyscrapers and pandering to the interests of the real estate industry. Apparently, it also has plenty to say about issues such as green building, affordable housing and upgrading public space, but these parts of the plan have not been released to the public.

After attempting to ram the plan through the city council at lightning speed, the mayor was forced to backtrack and allow for a bit more discussion of the plan in the city council than he had previously planned. Three meetings have been scheduled for the next two weeks, in which the planning for the north, east and center of the city will be presented to the city council.

Discussions on the south of the city and Jaffa will presumably be scheduled for October, after the Jewish holidays, although these dates have not yet been announced. After that, the pan-urban aspects of the plan will be presented to the city council.

Interestingly, the municipality has made no special efforts to publicize these important meetings. As a result, very few residents of the city are even aware of the fact that such an important document is currently under debate.

The Society for the Preservation of Nature in Israel has been harshly critical of the hasty and amateurish way that the plan has been promoted, while a group of architects and urban planners from the south of the city are attempting to convince the plan’s architects to be more mindful of the needs of the actual people living in the city.

Intolerable Heat and the French Invasion

Meanwhile, as happens every August, the city has become unbearably hot and humid, and the areas next to the beach have been almost completely taken over by Jewish tourists from France. Haaretz recently wrote an amusing article about the phenomenon.

Due to the heat, the country’s electricity consumption is threatening to overwhelm peak production, and the electric company has warned of possible power outages. Everyone agrees that no one remembers it being this hot in previous years.

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