Sheinkin Street is about to get a facelift. The Tel Aviv municipality will begin renovations shortly with a view towards turning Sheinkin into a pedestrian street barred to traffic. Two other streets - Shabazi in the Neveh Tzedek neighborhood and Washington Boulevard in the Florentin quarter - are also earmarked for upgrades. They, too, may become pedestrian-only avenues, at least part of the time.
City officials say that a final decision will be made only after consultations with residents.
In the meantime, the roads on all three streets are to be paved with small tiles instead of asphalt. Sheinkin will also get a two-way bicycle lane along the entire street, decorative street lights, new trees, and an ungraded sidewalk. In addition, a number of parking spots will be eliminated.
The work, slated to begin in a few weeks, is expected to last until March 2013. It will be done gradually in order to minimize disturbances to residents and store owners.
Currently, the only pedestrian street in Tel Aviv is Nahalat Binyamin.
Municipal officials say that they regard the creation of additional pedestrian walkways as a way of establishing lively urban centers. The move also reflects a city policy of giving preference to pedestrians and cyclists over private vehicles.
City representatives say that initial talks show that many residents support turning Neve Tzedek's Shabazi into a pedestrian street on weekends, and transforming Florentin's Washington Boulevard into a permanent pedestrian street.
"Most of the residents are very enthusiastic about it," says Dr. Benny Maor, head of the Construction and Infrastructure Administration at the Tel Aviv Municipality. "They'll have a boulevard that will upgrade the entire area. More cafes, more stores, and a nice corner for children to play in, instead of running around in traffic and among parked cars," he explains.
Attorney Ofer Shahal, chairman of Ahuzot Hahof, which is in charge of renovating Sheinkin Street, emphasizes that the plan takes into account the special role of Sheinkin as an urban symbol. "It isn't just another street - it's a concept and we're changing it. Of course that sparks controversy. There are those who always prefer keeping things the way they are."
Talks with shop owners on Sheinkin suggest that many support the facelift.
"It's great that a change is being planned, because in recent years the street really looks like ...the central bus station," says Tomer Yaron, owner of the store, Glasses on Sheinkin. "The maintenance here is really bad."
Some shop owners are concerned about the toll the construction - which will last a year and a half - may take on business.
"I'm not against renovating, but the municipality isn't considering the needs of the local businesses," says Yossi Gofengart, owner of the Lanchner Cafe. He expects the municipality to grant municipal tax discounts to businesses during the renovation period. "Would you go out to eat in a construction site? They say, 'in a year and a half everything will be fine.' Who knows what will happen in a year and a half? Some of the businesses will simply close down."
Local business owners are worried that the extended period of construction may upset routines, limit access and eliminate many parking spaces.
The Tel Aviv Municipality responded that "the various planning stages were accompanied by a process of broad public participation, during which the municipality was in contact with residents and local businesses regarding the actual execution of the works. Regarding municipal tax rates, just as the rates will not go up when the street is renewed and the value of the businesses rises, so the rates will not be reduced now."