Prominent architects, including Moshe Safdie, have sounded an alarm over a plan to build a cable car near the Western Wall area, warning that the project will damage the Old City skyline and will fail to solve traffic problems in the area.
The plan – promoted by the Jerusalem municipality, Jerusalem Development Authority and the transportation and tourism ministries – is scheduled to be presented to the National Infrastructure Committee in the coming weeks for final approval.
The proposed cable car line will begin at the First Station compound across from Mount Zion, passing over the neighborhoods of Abu Tor and the Valley of Hinnom, then through the Mount Zion parkade and from there to its last stop, the Kedem visitor center in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan. That center is being built by the right-wing Elad NGO, which settles Jews in Silwan and runs tourist and excavation sites in the neighborhood. From the Kedem center visitors will proceed on foot to the Western Wall.
The cable car will be part of the public transportation system and its proponents argue that it will solve the problem of accessibility to the Old City, obviating the need for dozens of tourist buses going there each day.
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However, Moshe Safdie, the internationally renowned architect and one of Israel’s foremost planners, has called the plan deeply flawed.
“As far as I know, and I’ve researched the topic, there is no other historical city in the world that allowed a cable car to be built within the visual core of its historical heritage,” wrote Safdie in an analysis of the project which was presented at a conference in Jerusalem last week, organized by the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
“A cable car system hugging the Old City walls and a floating pathway above the historical valley under Mount Zion and the southern slopes of the Hinnom Valley and the Old City will set a precedent which will undoubtedly evoke international opposition and censure,” warned Safdie.
He says the cable car will not resolve the problem of tourist accessibility to the Kotel. “The vast majority of tourists and pilgrims reach the area by bus, as part of a group, and it’s doubtful that they’ll switch to a cable car. Bus parking will remain a problem. In essence, this plan moves the congestion from the Old City to the cable car’s starting location. It hasn’t been shown that accessibility problems will be resolved by the proposed cable car location,” writes Safdie, who warns that the cable car will become a tourist attraction rather than a means of transportation.
“The plan will no doubt upgrade the facilities of Elad, but it will contribute to congestion and preserve the problematic accessibility, especially during high-attendance events at the Kotel.”
Safdie noted that the route passes above some highly sensitive historical sites, including the Valley of Hinnom, Mount Zion and the southern slopes of the City of David. In its second half it will pass low over a residential area, constituting a noise hazard and impacting people’s privacy, he added.
He also accused planners of creating misleading presentations showing the wrong images of the proposed cable cars. The actual ones will be larger than those shown, he claims.
Architect Gavriel Kertesz criticized the decision to bring the plan to the National Infrastructure Committee rather than the regional committee, where it would have been more available for public scrutiny.
Emek Shaveh, an archaeological NGO, also opposes the project. “Jerusalem is not Disneyland and its heritage and scenery treasures are not a commercial commodity,” says the organization. “The cable car will cost hundreds of millions of shekels and will be a burden on the city’s public transportation system, irreversibly damaging the city and its scenery, which are a rare resource belonging to all of us,” wrote the group, which also prepared a simulation of what it said is a more realistic representation of what the cable car system will look like.
The Jerusalem Development Authority assailed Safdie, whom they say conducted his analysis without asking them for details of the plan. “We don’t know what he based his opinion on,” said sources at the Authority, adding that his document was full of internal contradictions and did not reflect reality. “We never argued that this project would solve all the problems – it’s a complementary solution that will operate alongside other solutions.”
The Authority pointed to the project’s low cost in comparison to other public transportation solutions, arguing that there is no reason tickets should cost more than on other modes of public transportation. They added that the plan is being rigorously examined by the National Infrastructure Committee with an emphasis on what it would look like in relation to the Old City walls.