Agrippas Street Jerusalem Buses - Daniel Bar-On - 6.4.2011
Buses on Agrippas Street near the Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Two months ago, the Transportation Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality launched a new transportation scheme in the city center - redirecting buses from the now-pedestrian Jaffa Road to Agrippas Street, the main route through Mahane Yehuda market.

A month ago, the city announced proudly that levels of air pollution along Jaffa Road had declined considerably: According to the local measuring station, one of the most polluted streets in the country suddenly had the cleanest air.

But an Environmental Protection Ministry report now shows that the pollution had simply migrated to the smaller, narrower Agrippas Street, upsetting shoppers and vendors alike.

The report, compiled by Dr. Daphna Alper Siman-Tov, air quality coordinator for the ministry's Jerusalem district, was based on measurements taken over a period of 32 days. During that period, the study found, pollution rose beyond the permissible level no less than 20 times. The primary pollutant was identified as nitric oxide, commonly found in public transportation emissions.

The measuring station, located at the heart of Agrippas Street, showed that the most polluted time on the street was around 12:30 in the afternoon, when 787 particles per billion were registered - 287 above the permissible 500 particles per billion.

Air quality along Agrippas was found to be worse than that detected on Jaffa Road when buses were still allowed to travel there.

"[Agrippas] is a narrow, congested street, in which travel is slow and the gas pedal - breaking and driving again - is used more often," the report said. "Trucks that stop to unload goods do a lot of maneuvering, and overall the street is narrow, lined with tall buildings that don't allow the pollutants to disperse."

Light rail to replace routes

Many of the bus routes that currently pass through Agrippas are expected to be canceled or reduced in favor of the light rail, which will begin limited operations in the next few weeks and full operations in the summer.

"This is yet another aspect of the chaos happening on Agrippas," said Kobi Farij, an activist in the Awakening movement and head of the Agrippas struggle committee - comprised of market vendors, community administrators and the "15 minutes" public action group.

"It's too narrow to accommodate nearly 1,700 buses a day," he added. "Agrippas is known as the street that invented the 'Jerusalem mix' dish, it sells basic foodstuffs, and the pollution in the air damages the quality of the products we're proud of."

The Jerusalem municipality said in response that the traffic arrangements on Agrippas Street were temporary, pending the launch of the light rail.

"In the six months leading up to the light rail's full commercial operation in August, public transportation traffic is expected to be gradually reduced. It was already reduced by 20 percent last week and will drop by 50 percent in August," the statement said.