Residents of Jerusalem’s Katamonim neighborhood are up in arms over plans to shrink a local park to make room for a new light-rail line.
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According to the plan, the new line would steal a 400-meter stretch of the long, narrow Train Track Park, which currently extends for six kilometers.
The transportation planning board responsible for public transport in Jerusalem, a joint body of representatives of the government and the Jerusalem Municipality, is trying at present to advance several plans to expand light rail service in the city. Aside from extending the existing red line, which has been in service for the last five years, the board is planning two new routes.
One of them, the blue line, would run from the Gilo neighborhood in the south through downtown Jerusalem and out to the Ramot neighborhood in the north. But part of that line is slated to run from the Khan Theater through Katamonim to the Malha sports complex.
That part of the route would also run through Train Track Park – a walking and cycling promenade built along the city's old railway tracks, which was created at the initiative of residents of Katamonim and other nearby neighborhoods. Years ago residents objected to the original plan, which was to replace part of the train track area with a road; they urged replacing it with a park instead.
The original plan for the blue line would have demolished a large section of the park. In response to residents’ protests, planners agreed to move most of the line to nearby Emek Refaim Street. But one section, near Oranim Junction, is still slated to pass straight through the park.
“The park is an unprecedented success, a very narrow strip for pedestrians and bike riders whose uniqueness lies in its continuity,” said Yossi Saidov, one of the heads of a committee that is fighting to preserve Train Track Park. “You have two or three kilometers without any roads crossing it. For parents and children and people doing sports, this is a very rare stretch in Jerusalem. If you sever this continuity, you’ve destroyed the park.”
The residents argue that this section of the light rail could be moved to a strip of land running alongside the park, which was originally earmarked for a road.
“There are three uses for the narrow strip of Train Track Park: railway, park and roadway,” said Saidov. “But there isn’t room for all three. The light rail’s planners think the park should be given up. We think they the road should be. When you bring a railway into a neighborhood, it’s a strategic statement regarding the way residents will travel there in the future.”
Zohar Zoller, deputy head of the transportation planning board, rejected these arguments. At this stage, he said, staffers are merely working on a master plan, and only once that is finished will the light rail’s exact route be decided. But in any case, he insisted, the continuity of the pedestrian and bike paths will be preserved throughout the length of the park.
“We have three challenges in planning this area: a high-voltage wire that runs through the ground, maintenance of the continuity of the bike and pedestrian paths, and dealing with buildings that are on the future railway line,” he said. “The route we presented, which isn’t final, deals with all three in the best way possible.”