An Obstacle Path to a Seamless Tel Aviv Bike Lane Network

Growing bike use in Tel Aviv creates new challenges; whole areas of the city are unserved by bike paths, and the existing network is barely connected to paths in adjoining towns.

A cyclist in Tel Aviv.
Tomer Appelbaum

The bike lane on Tel Aviv’s Bloch Street was supposed to represent a new era in urban-cycling culture. Bicyclists would finally be safely separated from swerving cars and pesky pedestrians and city hall was even willing to sacrifice parking spaces for the venture.

But when cyclists reach Ibn Gabirol Street, a major thoroughfare in the center of town, they have to share their path with pedestrians a situation that irks both sides.

Still, bicycle use in Tel Aviv has proved another Israeli success story. Some 107 kilometers (66 miles) of bike paths have been built in recent years, and this year the municipality will spend 30 million shekels ($7.5 million) to expand the network.

According to a survey a year and a half ago, 16.1 percent of commuters to school or work were traveling by bike, compared with the 10.6 percent recorded in a poll two years earlier.

Other cities also want their share of bike lanes. In the Tel Aviv area, Holon has a partial network, while Netanya up the coast plans paths running to the train station and the industrial zone downtown from Dror Junction to the east.

But success has created new challenges, as could be heard at a planning conference sponsored by the Israel Planners Association in Tel Aviv last week. One speaker, landscape architect Daniel Baron of the Tel Aviv municipality, acknowledged a lack of continuity in the city’s bike network.

Baron noted that there were whole areas of the city still unserved by bike paths, while the Tel Aviv network was barely connected to paths in adjoining towns. And upgrading the system even further would come at the expense of car traffic and parking.

Nir Kafri

“That raises question marks regarding paths that are essential to the network, the construction of which requires us to affect major traffic arteries in the city,” he said. “The situation is even more difficult now because of work on the light rail’s red line, which has made traffic in the city worse.”

Sources at city hall said this week there was a conflict between the public interest in developing bicycle lanes and residents’ interest in preserving parking spots near their homes. The solution, they said, was to eliminate some parking spots but build more parking lots and/or underground garages.

The city also has to consider whether it’s worth investing in building bike lanes in areas of the city where the light rail will run, or where public transportation lanes are planned. After all, the bike lanes would simply have to be ripped up.

The solution is temporary bike lanes at a smaller investment, the sources said.

Yotam Avizohar, the head Israel Bicycle Association, said that when it comes to bicycle lanes at intersections, cities around the world have found solutions.

In Copenhagen, for example, bicycle lanes are marked with color so motorists know that the area is restricted to cyclists.

“The problem is that in Israel there is the common phenomenon of cars going through red lights and ignoring the cyclists’ safety needs,” Avizohar said.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Ministry has recognized the need to integrate Tel Aviv’s bicycle lanes with those of adjacent communities. About a year ago it launched a program to create a network of bike paths throughout the Tel Aviv area replete with rest areas and lighting.

Funding for the planning process has already been provided, the ministry noted this week, and next year the first of the new paths are expected to be open to the public.

As a result of various barriers to the expansion of bike lanes and the creation of parking facilities for bicycles, the Israel Bicycle Association is trying to promote legislation to encourage cycling. Many Knesset members have voiced their support, led by Dov Khenin of the Joint Arab List.

The bill, which was submitted about a month ago, would require any locality with more than 30,000 residents to prepare a master plan for a bicycle path network. The proposed law would also require that all commercial, office, industrial and educational buildings provide parking spaces for bicycles.

When officials from the bicycle association and the Finance Ministry’s planning administration met to discuss the bill, the ministry staff said that what was appropriate for Tel Aviv wasn’t necessarily appropriate for other Israeli cities.

The bicycle association countered that residents of other cities, such as Be’er Sheva in the northern Negev in the south, would also welcome safe and comfortable bike lanes.