From Emek Refaim to Emek HaBacha

In general, I do not consider myself an alarmist. I prefer to think about things with a level head, and after careful consideration of all of the facts, to make a rational observation or decision.

With that in mind, I had been following the hullabaloo of the proposed Light Rail extension down Emek Refaim street in German Colony. I read various articles and posts. I spoke about it with a couple of people, albeit very briefly. But, I decided that in light of the fact that I have family in the area, I would pay a visit to see the “facts on the ground” and get a better picture of the situation.

Boy, am I glad I did this! I took a three hour walking “tour” of the area, based on a map of the proposed changes to the area. Many people are under the mistaken impression that the project will just entail widening Emek Refaim, placing down tracks for a light rail and moving on. If that were the only action to be taken that would be minimally problematic.

However, I can state with certainty, that anyone who believes that the planned/proposed changes to the infrastructure, traffic flow and destruction that will take place is a POSITIVE move is grossly mistaken. I say that because their lack of perception of reality and replacing that with a vision better suited to the Twilight Zone is in need of help.

A little “alarmist”? Not at all….more accurately: A REALIST!

It is important to note that any public meetings that have been held in the Emek Refaim area were held Y-E-A-R-S after all the proposals were drawn up, almost at the point of no return. Once plans were made public, it was done via the local Community Council–Ganot HaIr–with zero transparency. When activists requested to speak to city officials, they were rebuffed and told “No, but if you voice your concerns to us, we will relay them and get back to you.” You can guess how well that went! If a citizen wanted to offer to walk around the neighborhood with a member of the planning commission–that is a task that couldn’t be done. The reason? The knowledge as to who is involved, who is running the show, who is the designer, who is responsible, etc…all of that has been a SECRET.

There has been zero transparency.

Please bear with me as I attempt to highlight some of the folly of this project. These items are in no particular order of importance. Remember, this list was formed after actually walking the streets to see the FACTS and is not based merely on reading a couple of articles.

  • In order to facilitate the flow of traffic on Emek Refaim, there will be ELEVEN stoplights in a span of 1300 meters. That is an average of one stoplight every 118 meters!
  • There will be DOZENS of trees uprooted and either destroyed or replanted from the main street and the side streets (Replanted in other areas; not on the streets from where they will be removed).Some of these trees are hundreds of years old.
  • The Mesilla Park, which borders  the back of German Colony and Baka will be altered radically. Roads will run almost right up against a park that has children playing in it at all hours of the day. The smog and noise form the cars and trucks along with a major loss of green area from this move will change this from a magnificent oasis into an abandoned zone. (See pic below — the park that will be altered drastically)
  • IMG_20160816_155421487
  • Areas in the neighborhood that will have to have walls and trees removed (to accommodate traffic) will not have any where near adequate sidewalk width for even a stroller or a wheelchair and will cause people to have to walk in the street.
  • The configuration of one of the streets that will be “reconfigured” will create a situation in which cars approaching the intersection (one slated to be a major intersection) will be unable to see traffic flow and will need to “creep up” to look; leading to dangerous conditions.
  • There is one street that currently is narrow and does not (by design) allow for traffic. Yet, this street is slated to become a major cross street onto Emek Refaim–but is nowhere near wide enough, even if the wall on the side is removed!IMG_20160816_155750274
  • The proposal is for the light rail track that runs on Emek Refaim to be ONE track only! This means that as the trains need to approach, the traffic signals and train signals will need to ensure only one train goes on the single- track while the other one in the opposite direction waits. That, along with coordinating the crossing of the streets across the train tracks (remember those 11 stoplights?!) will make for an engineering nightmare and open up the area to massive problems in logistics.
  • Regarding safety/security: There will be a single lane for traffic in only one direction (from the city towards Pierre Koenig)  in addition to the single track for the train. In case of an emergency, there will be nowhere for a car to pull over. If an ambulance needs to get through the area and there is a train as well as traffic, there will be no place for vehicles to move out of the way of an ambulance. If emergency vehicles will be needed on Emek Refaim itself, their presence will effectively shut down the street  and cause gridlock all the way back to the streets entering the area. This indicates clearly that the current plan does not have any provision for emergency situations.
  • On an aesthetic level: What is now a beautiful tree-lined street with statuesque buildings of the Templar Period will be turned into a street (sans MANY of the trees!) with a jumble of wires, street lights, poles for the light rail, etc.
  • maxresdefaultjaffa-road-jerusalem-israel-dx39w5(Above a view of Emek Refaim (L) today and Jaffa Rd with all the cabling)
  • Currently, there is an Olympic size pool that one has access to from Emek Refaim. However,  this structure and pool  are slated to be torn down and replaced by a new building and reconfigured into a pool that is 1/3 the size of an Olympic pool. At that point, the access to the pool  will be from the road on Park Hamesilla, which will also cause major traffic congestion.
  • Finally, the very narrow Yehoshua Bin Nun street is slated to become a “major thoroughfare,” is a street that will need to accommodate buses, cars, trucks, taxis and bicycles. The sidewalks will need to accommodate pedestrians, wheelchairs, strollers etc. At BEST this street can be called a “side street” and not the major thoroughfare needed to handle all of this new traffic!
  •  Then there is the vital issue of the businesses on Emek Refaim. Many of the businesses there will experience, that which was called on Jaffa Road, the Third Intifada. While the perspective of many is that businesses are already suffering and closing due to the opening of First Station, a stroll down Emek Refaim in the evening disabuses one from that idea. On an average evening, there are over 500 patrons in local restaurants in a bustling environment. During the course of an average day, thousands walk the street. Only a small percentage of these patrons are from the immediate area. This move would be the  death knell for the businesses on Emek Refaim with no chance of resurrection. Many businesses will close their doors during the expected four-year project–never to re-open. This street will also lose the popular and enjoyable twice or thrice a year street fairs that take place here.

This all, of course, begs the question: WHY? Why are these changes–that are so CLEARLY disastrous–needed in the first place? There IS a need to expand the light rail service in the greater Jerusalem area. However, why must it be done in such a damaging way to a neighborhood? Why is everything so secret? Why is there no representative of the City available to speak to residents who wish to express their grievances?

In general, the answers to questions like this have the same two answers: MONEY and POLITICAL GAIN. Yes, indeed, follow the money and see who will benefit from this project. Follow the political lines and see who will benefit from pushing through this Theater of the Absurd. If there were even a single elected official in Kikar Safra who would be willing to walk around the neighborhood and see the impending disaster, he or she would see with their own eyes the mistake that is about to be made.

You might be asking yourself: Why in the world should I care? I live nowhere near German Colony and once the train is ready, I am certainly going to benefit from it! The truth is that German Colony is one of the few remaining שכונות  (neighborhoods) in Jerusalem. This is not “just” German Colony. This is a national asset; it brings tourists to see the Templar homes and experience an ambiance that is unique in Jerusalem. These kinds of foolish moves will erase the “neighborhood” and will remove this national asset.

Indeed there are a number of citizen-proposed alternatives to this plan. However, after submitting these suggestions (which are cheaper, more effective and maintain the integrity of the neighborhood) they were dismissed in a public forum without even being discussed.

Do you really want to be silent about this? What can you do? You can start by SHARING THIS POST! In addition, please be in touch with Mayor Nir Barkat  as well as with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (sar@mot.gov.il) or with Finance Minister Kahlon (sar@mof.gov.il) Express your feelings and dismay at this dismal situation. Explain that you are concerned that at a time of austerity, how can Israel condone spending this money?

I humbly request that you all stand, make your voices heard and help prevent Emek Refaim from turning into Emek HaBacha (the valley of tears)!

 

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