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The Changing Face of Jerusalem

Avi Friedman

A new bridge dominates the city skyline, and underground infrastructure updates necessary for the nearly-completed light rail have brought Jerusalem into the twenty-first century. But behind the façade of modernization, the holy city retains its small, traditional, family-like atmosphere.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Roads, water, electricity, bus lines, and sewage lines — many of which were laid by the Ottoman government prior to World War I — couldn’t handle the increased demand, and by the mid-1990s Jerusalem’s ability to sustain itself was severely in question. Traffic had become bad enough that many Israelis tried to avoid the city if possible, and outlying shopping malls in Malchah, Mevasseret Zion and Ma’aleh Adumim provided parking, air-conditioned shopping, and catered to an Israeli populace that for the first time had a modicum of disposable income.

In order to address the challenges, then-Mayor Ehud Olmert created the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, a committee of geographers, transportation specialists, urban planners, statisticians and other professionals, and tasked the group with formulating a plan to update the city’s infrastructure. The goal, according to Alex Langer, then- Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Transportation and Eitan Hirsch, Director General of the Jerusalem municipality, and was ultimately to prepare the city for the million residents expected to inhabit Jerusalem by the year 2020.

Shmuel Elgrabli, a spokesman for the Master Plan who has been involved with the planning process since its inception, says the committee was astounded at the state of Jerusalem’ s transportation infrastructure when it began work in 1998, and compared the city’ s transportation map to “ a plate of spaghetti.”

“When we started work, we knew downtown Jerusalem was in bad shape, but we were shocked at what we found. There was no rhyme or reason behind the public transportation map, and Jaffa Road was usually a solid traffic jam of buses, starting near the Old City and stretching all the way to the Central Bus Station — which made the city’ s main thoroughfare congested, polluted, and terribly noisy. It was absolutely unbearable.”

Much of Jerusalem is still a mess of building materials, but the city has started to emerge from a long night of hyper-construction. The city’ s first light-rail route, from Pisgat Ze’ev to Bayit Vegan, is set to begin operation in time for Pesach.


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