Sherwin Pomerantz

When Street Reconstruction Closes a Synagogue

Anyone who drives through Jerusalem these days can only come away with one assessment of the situation and that is that the entire city is under construction.  There does not seem to be a street or a neighborhood that is not undergoing significant change.

One would think that if the city’s leadership made the decision to reconstruct the streets in every neighborhood, that the result would be something better, something more practical or something that improves the services to the residents.  Sadly, that does not seem to be the case. Often the situation is now worse than before the “upgrade.”

One need only look at Rechov Chopin for proof.  While only one long block in length, one side of the street houses the Jerusalem Theatre, the Ohel Nechama Synagogue and the Jerusalem Bar Association as well as a large park plaza that sits between the theatre and the synagogue.  On the other side of the street are a number of apartment buildings as well as the yet to be opened Theatron project, which will have luxury apartments and a hotel along with a parking garage for the public, the hotel guests and the apartment owners.  The public parking section of the garage is already open.

Given the reduction of parking spaces on the street and the concomitant opening of a privately run pay-for-parking garage at the end of the street, one can only wonder if the Hasid company (who has developed the new housing and the garage), was not somehow instrumental in urging the city to create a situation where the only alternative is for people to pay them to park in the area.  With a well-known history of building graft in the city, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to conjure up such a scenario.

What has been lost?  Before reconstruction of Rechov Chopin the street supported two-way traffic with opposing lanes of traffic separated by a dividing island.  While parking during theatre events was always a problem, at other times cars could park legally on the entire length of the street along four parallel curbs (one on each side of each opposing lane of traffic).  In addition, the traffic lanes themselves were of sufficient width so that even if people parked in a sloppy manner (as Israelis tend to do) with either their front or rear ends sticking out into the traffic lanes, there was still no problem getting past them.

The reconstruction of Rechov Chopin resulted in a major widening of the pedestrian sidewalks on the theatre side of the street, the addition of bike lanes and the reduction of traffic lanes to one lane in each direction, effectively eliminating more than 75% of the previous available parking spaces.  This supposedly “beautifying” project created a series of problems:

  • The two traffic lanes themselves are considerably narrower than the ones they replaced. The standard width of traffic lanes on through streets is 370 cm.  The traffic lanes on the newly opened Rechov Chopin vary from 316 to 330 cm, or 11-15% narrower than the standard.  That means that when a car parks with its front or rear partially in the traffic lane, cars traveling in that lane must enter the opposing lane of traffic to get by the parked vehicle, creating a driving hazard.
  • Because the number of parking spaces have now been reduced by 75%, both the residents of the apartment buildings as well as people wanting to attend the synagogue or events at the Bar Association and theater simply have no option but to use the pay garage at the end of the street.
  • One might think the garage is a reasonable solution but, in fact, that is true only for healthy people. The synagogue, for example, has a high percentage of its members with mobility issues.  For them, it is simply not an option to park at the end of the street and then walk 300m back “uphill” to get to the synagogue.  Yes, there are five spaces near the theatre for people with “neche” tags, but that is nowhere near enough for all of the people who frequent these public venues.
  • For the people living on Rechov Chopin the city just made the street an Area 8 zone. This means that for residents on the street with an Area 8 sticker, only they can park on the street from 6 in the evening until 8 in the morning every day.
  • The result of this latest change is that people coming to the morning minyan at Ohel Nechama, which begins each day at 0615, can no longer park on the street even if there is an available space. The same will be true when the evening minyan begins after 6 at night.
  • For some time it was possible for people attending the 6:15 AM minyan at the synagogue to actually park on the sidewalk for the 30 minutes required for services. However, the city ultimately installed barriers there, which now basically eliminates that option as well.  As well, this means that delivery vehicles of caterers and others who serve the synagogue are also challenged to get close enough to the building to comfortably deliver their goods.

Effectively, at least for those of us who consider Ohel Nehama “our synagogue” the only remaining option is to park in a pay garage 300m away and walk back regardless of the weather, mobility issues or any other challenges which may or may not be related to the age of the members.  For all practical purposes, the synagogue is no longer accessible by auto which could result in its ultimate closing.  One can only ask:  “Does anyone care?”

It certainly does not seem so.

In a word, the city has created a mess in carrying out its expressed desire to make things better for the residents and drivers.   In addition, this situation repeats itself in other locations as well.

On Rechov Hanassi the street in front of the L.A. Mayer senior citizens residence has also been narrowed.  Now, when a bus stops in front of the residence to let people off it is impossible to pass the bus without entering the opposing lane of traffic

On Derech Ruppin near the Israel Museum, the street has been reconfigured once again with narrower traffic lanes than previously.  As on Chopin, if someone parks carelessly it is quite easy to slam right into a parked car in order not to enter the next lane of traffic where other cars may be passing.

Don’t even ask about the full reconstruction of Rechov haPalmach, which has created a situation worse than what existed before the “improvements” were made.  Narrower sidewalks, elimination of bus stop indentations, and narrower traffic lanes make it a driver’s nightmare.

The obligation of government is to work as diligently as possible to ensure the health and comfort of the citizens who have placed their faith in their elected representatives to carry out this task to the best of their ability.   The massive “upgrading” of the streets of Jerusalem that continues as I write this, seems to be a sad example of how elected leaders can fail to fully understand the obligations they promised to uphold.  The result is not an “upgrading” of our surroundings but a sad “downgrading” made even more egregious given the financial resources foolishly expended.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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