Justice for Pedestrians! Crazy Cyclists Are Controlling Our Sidewalks

Every bike should have a license number and cyclists should compensate their victims.

Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh
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Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh

I feel flustered by the upcoming municipal elections. If I lived in a city where genuine problems exist, such as Jerusalem, I know how I would vote. I would vote for the lesser of two evils, the incumbent Nir Barkat, because even though he is responsible for the massive building of Jewish neighborhoods in Palestinian areas, and, like his predecessors, is forced to yield to ultra-Orthodox extortion, he is certainly a lesser evil than the even more right-wing Moshe Leon, who I suspect will accelerate the Haredization process. Nor is Leon a culture buff like Barkat − culture, in fact, is one area in which Barkat did very good things for the city.

If I lived in Haifa, I would at least know enough not to vote for the incumbent, Yona Yahav, unless he immediately canceled his decision to build a stadium with a gilded roof and announced that he would abandon PR for half a year at least. As a Tel Avivian, I know which mayoral candidate I will vote for, but the real problem is with the glut of newly established parties that are running for the municipal council.

Like everyone else, I am used to voting mainly against ‏(that is, voting for a candidate in order to prevent another candidate from winning‏). But now I feel lost, because all the new groups look good to me. I am for a green city, for parents, for young people, for animal rights, for Meretz. But I am also for the opposite: for the old, for the childless, for the orphans and, above all, for the city’s minority, the Arabs of Jaffa, who have been cast aside in the face of their city’s judaization and whose streets − those that have not yet been invaded by affluent Jews − are filthy, neglected and have no playgrounds, and who lack the wherewithal to buy a home on the Jewish streets.

If there were a party whose primary goal was to rename at least half the streets in Jaffa for Arabs, I would vote for it unhesitatingly and hope that the mayor at the time would be Nitzan Horowitz, currently a Meretz MK − because the incumbent mayor, Ron Huldai, has already demonstrated his total alienation from the Arab inhabitants by refusing to include even one of them on the recent list of “Worth y Citizens.” I would also vote for a party that promised to find a concrete job solution for the refugees and work migrants and would launch an uncompromising battle against the meanness of the Interior Ministry and the project of deporting the foreigners.

But even then, I would emerge from the polling station only half-satisfied, because no one in this city has paid any attention to the most neglected potential constituency of all: pedestrians. Walking is said to be very healthy for pensioners, Greens, young people, Jews and Arabs. Research studies prove it. However, those studies − which come furnished with convincing data about the health of the heart and the spine, strengthening the bones, burning off fat and improving one’s state of mind − were apparently not conducted in the streets of Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv has become a paradise for bicyclists, especially since the introduction of the brilliant public bicycle sharing arrangement, which makes bike riding cheap and convenient. But it has turned the streets into a nightmare for pedestrians. Even more widespread than the trend of running for the municipal council is the trend of riding full-tilt toward pedestrians, with the accompanying hit-and-run accidents on the sidewalks − which have now become the territory of merciless bicyclists.

“Sorry,” they say afterward, sometimes using the English word, as though the English language, which they don’t usually speak, bears some sort of magic that can soothe a bruised knee, hemorrhaging of the thigh or just some minor panic attack as a result of my being pushed or of someone riding past me so fast that all I can do is stand there, flummoxed, until the anger subsides, or step onto the busy road to the blare of irritated car horns.

It’s high time that someone on the municipal council decided whether the bicyclists are drivers, and therefore have to ride on the road in the direction of the traffic and stop at pedestrian crosswalks and red lights; or a form of pedestrian and therefore can run me over on the sidewalk or at crosswalks. As things now stand, they are drivers when they feel like it and disrupt traffic, while at other times they are pedestrians from a master race whose speed and weight advantage constitutes a hazard that threatens to topple me or knock me onto the road at any given moment.

Joining the bicycle riders are those on motorized scooters, electric bikes and Segways, who, besides having the ability to run people over − even more so than the bike riders − have an imbecilic smile on their face which is apparently an unavoidable by-product of their height advantage and of the exaggerated self-confidence that comes from standing like a klotz on the vehicles that propel them forward, with no effort on their part, straight at me in order to annihilate me. Just yesterday, while sitting at a sidewalk cafe table, a cyclist with circus capabilities managed to run me over as I sat.

If I were to form a party to run for the municipal council, its platform would be pedestrian rights. I would see to it that every bike had a license number and that the city inspectors concentrate on giving tickets to dangerous riders, instead of hounding dog owners with flagrantly unjust fines. I would also establish some sort of municipal unit that would make it a misdemeanor to run people over with a bike. ‏(At present there is no definition in the law for accidents that occur on sidewalks, which are supposedly designated for pedestrians.‏) Similarly, I would make sure that the offending cyclists pay compensation to their victims, and take the opportunity to restore the already narrow sidewalks to the pedestrians.

If there were such a party, I might even take my life in my hands and go to the polling station by foot on election day.

Illustration by Avi Ofer.



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