Jerusalem Police Officers Fining Bicyclists in Violation of City Policy

Although much of Jaffa Road is closed to vehicles, police are issuing tickets to bicyclists riding on the sidewalk or alongside the light-rail tracks

A cyclist in Jerusalem receives a citation from a police officer on Jaffa Road, June 2018.
Emil Salman

Police officers in Jerusalem recently begun issuing fines of hundreds of shekels to bicycle riders in the city, including on the main thoroughfare Jaffa Road. City officials are furious about the new policy.

Although much of Jaffa Road is closed to vehicles, police are issuing tickets to bicyclists riding on the sidewalk or alongside the light-rail tracks. Some riders say police officers told them they could ride on the sidewalk with a regular bicycles, but Binyamin Lopez was fined Tuesday after being caught riding an electric bike with the engine turned off.

“I told the policeman that there were no signs that prohibiting it and that I didn’t know,” Lopez said. “So he said, ‘Now you’ll get a fine and you’ll know.’”

Pini Lozowick, a well-known entrepreneur and businessman in Jerusalem, was fined last week for riding along the light-rail track. According to him, the policeman told him that if he had been traveling “one meter to the right” – on the sidewalk – he would not have been fined. But other riders reported that police also fine those who ride on the sidewalk. “They stopped me three times on the sidewalk; one time the policeman took my keys from the switch so I would not run away,” said rider Hagai Hirshman.

Jaffa Road, which crosses Jerusalem from the Old City to the city’s western exit, was rebuilt 15 years ago as a street for pedestrians and the light-rail. Parts of the street have marked bicycle paths, but in the central part — from Mahaneh Yehuda to Safra Square — there is no bike path. As a result, cyclists are forced to ride on the sidewalk or on the light-rail tracks.

“Before we built the track on Jaffa Road, I had arguments with the staff of the Transportation Master Plan [a municipal-government agency that develops transportation in the city],” said Lozowick. “I told them it wasn’t logical for bicycles to travel on the tracks, but they told me that’s how it is all over the world.”

The middle part of the street is designated a railroad track, on which bicycle traffic is banned by law. Until the construction of the Jerusalem light-rail, all railways were for intercity trains, but the law treats the tram within the city the same way. However, along the road there are small signs bearing a bicycle symbol, from which one could understand that cyclists are welcome on the tracks. The municipality has also installed bike racks in a central location on the street, but the police regularly ambush riders near one of them.

The Jerusalem Municipality criticized the police’s new policy. “Jaffa Road is a unique street in Israel,” said a source in the municipality. “It is supposed to be defined as multiuse, like other pedestrian malls in the world, a combination of light-rail, pedestrians and bicycles. Many people have to get to places on the street and they have no other way. “

On the other hand, the light rail operator, CityPass, welcomed the police’s policy. “We’re talking about a real danger to the public,” the company said. “Cyclists who ride on the tracks and adjacent to the train cars endanger themselves and light rail passengers.”

CityPass said it had “repeatedly asked the municipality, the Transportation Ministry and the police to deal with the worrisome phenomenon, which is only getting worse.”

Police are also fining cyclists in other parts of the city, with riders claiming this enforcement is unjustified. For example, riders have been ticketed for riding on the sidewalk along Bar-Lev Road and on Hebron Road, two dangerous thoroughfares with wide sidewalks that have little pedestrian traffic. On Tuesday morning tickets were given to people riding on the sidewalk along the road leading to the Har Hotzvim industrial zone. There, too, there is a wide, empty sidewalk.

The police said in response, “The Israel Police constantly carries out prevention, information and enforcement actions against cyclists who commit life-threatening traffic offenses in violation of the law. During 2017 alone, the police issued some 17,000 tickets for traffic violations by cyclists, almost twice as many as in 2016. To avoid any doubt — riding a bicycle on railway tracks or other places prohibited by law, sometimes at high speed while endangering the lives of riders and other road users, is prohibited and dangerous. With regard to the claims related to road infrastructure, one must contact the local authority, not the police.”