Transportation Planner Provides Peek into Jerusalem Transit Changes

by Brian on March 7, 2008

in In the News,Only in Israel

Motorists in Jerusalem have for several months now been stuck in severe traffic jams while traveling near or through the city center. That’s unfortunate, though not entirely unintentional, explains Marc Render, partner and co-founder of AmAv, a transportation planning consultancy that has been actively involved in designing traffic pattern changes in the Jerusalem area.

The problem, says Render, is that the timing for modifications to the city’s traffic flow and the new mass transit system aren’t in synch. Traffic lanes once dedicated to cars are now reserved for buses and the light rail system, but the trolleys and high density buses aren’t running yet. When they are, it will still be difficult for cars to reach the center of town, but there will be attractive mass transit alternatives.

Why was the timing so poor? We asked Amnon Elian, Community Relations Officer for the Jerusalem Transport Master Plan Team, who basically shrugged his shoulders. “We have to start somewhere,” he told In Jerusalem. “Otherwise it’s just talking. We admit that it’s not ideal the way we’re doing it now. It’s frustrating for us as well. But there’s no way we can do it all in one go. We are initiating a transportation revolution. This is a mega project that will take years.”

When the new transit design eventually comes online, Jerusalem is set to see some major changes in its bus system, affecting nearly every line in the city. The current system, in place for decades now, of local bus lines feeding into Jaffa Road downtown and ultimately passing by the Central Bus Station will effectively end.

Jerusalemites will instead be required to transfer between feeder routes in the outlying neighborhoods and the main high speed trunk lines – the red line light rail system that travels from Pisgat Ze’ev to Kyriat HaYovel via the center of town, and the blue line “busway” which is already mostly in place and bisects the city, running from Gilo in the south to Ramot in the north by way of the Har Hotzvim industrial zone. North south running buses in the busway won’t turn onto Jaffa Road either. A major transfer point at the corner of King George and Jaffa will enable travelers to continue their journey.

This is the first time such a hierarchical system has been tried in Israel, though it’s commonplace in other parts of the world, Render says, particularly in Europe. And the results are faster travel times. Render gives Pisgat Ze’ev as an example. “Would you rather take a local bus that slowly winds in and out of neighborhoods on its way downtown, or transfer from a feeder route to a high speed line that has travels in its own lane and gets you to the city center 15-20 minutes quicker?”

Not all local buses will be transformed into feeder lines. In Talpiot, for example, the 7 line will travel through the neighborhood as it does now, then join the busway on Derech Hebron for the rest of its journey into town – though not turning to head towards the Central Bus Station as it does today.

Render says he already avoids taking his personal car downtown from his office in Talpiot. Instead, he drives to the free Liberty Bell Park parking lot and jumps on one of the frequent buses that travel via the busway, thus shaving off traffic time and parking costs.

The first of the changes to Jerusalem’s bus system were set to begin on February 24. A new 74 express line will travel from Har Homa up the busway to the center of town. Another new line, the 66, will act as a feeder in Pisgat Ze’ev. The old number 5 bus has been reestablished and will run from the Central Bus Station through the Talpiot Industrial Zone ending in Har Homa. The 21 line will now run from Ramat Sharett to Givat HaMatos by way of Emek Refaim, replacing the number 14 bus. Finally, the venerable 6 line has been rerouted to connect Pisgat Ze’ev and the Malcha shopping mall by way of the Begin highway.

In addition, buses will be rerouted downtown to give work crews room to lay tracks on Jaffa Road, currently scheduled to begin on April 27. Buses traveling from the Central Bus Station will now head east past the Mahane Yehuda marketplace, then turn left at Strauss and right on Nevi’im. Buses heading the other way, will turn right on Strauss and left on Nevi’im. Riders from the periphery – Ma’aleh Adumim, Givat Ze’ev, Bet Shemesh, Mevesseret Zion and Betar Illit – will now either end their trips in the center of town or at the Central Bus Station, requiring a transfer to continue on.

“It’s going to be a big mess,” Render says, “because almost every bus route in the city goes on Jaffa Road.”

Once in place, the new system will include a transfer ticket mechanism so that riders don’t have to pay twice. Currently 39 percent of all trips are made by Egged’s unlimited ride monthly pass. 40 percent use the multi trip punch card (“cartisia” in Hebrew) while only 12 percent pay cash. Daily tickets will also be offered when the new system is in place.

Jerusalem has been quite bold in its transportation planning policy, Render says. It wasn’t always this way. Render was involved in the original Jerusalem Area Master Plan. Back then, budgets were tight and vision was short. Render points out that the Begin Highway was originally conceived as one lane in each direction with traffic lights along the way, rather than how it turned out – a four-lane expressway with onramps and offramps and state of the art interchanges.

The light rail system is ultimately intended to comprise 8 different lines. Only one has been built so far with another two in the planning stages. “We have a planning budget but the routes have not been decided yet,” Community Relations Officer Elian told us.

But it’s the busway that’s gotten a lot of the flack. Lanes for cars have been redirected to buses only from Derech Hebron up through Keren Hayesod Street and King George, across Jaffa Road and through Geula and Mea Shearim to the Har Hotzvim industrial zone. Monumental traffic jams now exist along all these routes at peak times of the day.

High density buses will run in the busways. In practice this means the current articulated double buses, though some three part buses may be added in the future. Bus stops along the busway will also be hi-tech, indicating how long until the next bus arrives. Busway buses will be tracked by satellite GPS. The goal is to make public transit a viable alternative.

If taking your car downtown becomes less comfortable, where will riders park to take the new transit lines? Three “park and ride” lots are planned. The first, at Mount Herzl with 530 spaces, is ready to go. “In Israel, the fact that we have even one parking lot waiting for the public is a dream come true,” muses Elian. A second, intended for drivers coming from out of town, will be built by the new Road 9 near Ramat Shlomo. The third is planned for the Ramat Eshkol area.

The existing parking lot at Binyamei HaUma will also be doubled, providing drivers from Tel Aviv with a convenient transfer point to the light rail. All of these lots are intended to be open when the light rail is done in 2010.

Even when the new system is in place, though, some buses will still run direct from the neighborhoods to downtown. For example, the 31 and 32 routes from Gilo and Ramot will be rerouted to travel on Agrippas Street, affording better access to the shuk.

Was there any consideration given to the desirability of bus travel in an age of suicide bombers? Render turns philosophical for a moment. “Our whole existence in this country is not logical. My attitude is that you have to assume that life here could be normal and that problems will be temporary. The light rail will have all kinds of security systems including camera.”

Elian is less prosaic. “We are working actively with the police and the army to deal with security. A lot of thought has been invested. This is part of our work.”

Render points out that in the U.S., passengers also avoided public transportation for security reasons – in that case crime. Authorities responded and now “public transit use in the U.S. has been going up every year for the last five years.”

With bus fares steadily rising, is there a point when the price will simply be too high? Render says that studies show “the least sensitive factor affecting ridership is price. People are much more concerned with reliability, comfort and speed of travel. That’s important data, because if there’s more money coming into the system, it’s better to use that money to provide more frequent service than to reduce the price. Conversely, if you have a budget problem, it’s better to raise fares than cut back on frequency.”

Render’s firm AmAv was founded in 1992 and has worked on hundreds of projects in Israel from Haifa to Eilat as well as in Eastern Europe and Africa. Render has a master’s degree in urban planning and made aliyah from Chicago in 1978. Elian also has a background in urban planning and has been the official spokesperson for the Jerusalem Mass Transit system for 7 years.

This article originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post‘s In Jerusalem section. The link is here.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: