Government to Bankroll NIS 145m. Bike Lanes

The government will allocate some NIS 145 million by 2013 for developing bicycle lanes in urban as well as undeveloped areas across the country, the cabinet decided yesterday.

The government will allocate some NIS 145 million by 2013 for developing bicycle lanes in urban as well as undeveloped areas across the country, and for building or upgrading 32 overnight parking lots so drivers can park their cars and go out into nature, the cabinet decided yesterday.

The cabinet meeting was held in a cave in the Beit She'arim national park in the Lower Galilee to mark Israel's Week of Love for Nature, which started yesterday.

Before the meeting took place, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert participated in a ceremony to unveil a stone menorah - possibly the largest in the world - which was reconstructed at the national park's menorah tunnel.

According to the cabinet decision, the Jewish National Fund will be responsible for planning and building bike trails in the country's four largest cities, which will link up with open areas around them.

An additional trail will be paved within a few months and will link Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority will be responsible for the parking lots, which will boast information centers and camping spots, as well as offer leisure activities.

"I presented a plan to the government that we are leading together with our partners over the last few months," said Israel Nature and Parks Authority director Eli Amitai. "The mission was accepted willingly, as one of the beliefs that guide us in our work is that those who love nature and are connected to it will be those who preserve it." Meanwhile, the government is postponing its approval of the clean air law - considered one of the most important environmental bills in recent years - due to inter-ministerial disputes over its implementation and because it has not yet approved a manpower increase at the Environmental Protection Ministry to enable it to enforce the law.

The Knesset Interior and Environment Committee was supposed to approve the law's wording this week, ahead of its second and third readings, but encountered delays from government ministries.

The government is expected to oppose the law if it goes before the Knesset for approval within the coming weeks.

Air today, gone tomorrow

"The government is unnecessarily holding up a law of strategic importance," charged committee chairman MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor).

The clean air law is supposed to clarify the powers of the Environmental Protection Ministry concerning air pollution and require the government to be responsible for a national plan to treat sewage. If passed, it will also give the Environmental Protection Ministry the power to set air-quality conditions to which factories would have to adhere.

Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra said 24 job slots need to be added to his ministry so the law can be enforced, which led the ministerial committee for legislation to decide to postpone final approval of the law by 90 days.

Ezra said his ministry is unable to enforce laws because it simply does not have enough people, adding that the Prime Minister's Office was supposed to get approval for his ministry to hire more employees to enforce the law.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam Teva V'Din) noted that while the government was taking positive steps such as building bicycle lanes, it was also delaying the passage of key legislation like the clean air law.