A new plan to lower and revamp Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square was presented to environmentalists, public transportation advocates and city bureaucrats last week, but no members of the public or elected officials were invited to the gathering – nor was anyone from the city’s traffic department present.
Architect Yael Moria explained the design to activists from Green Course, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the public transport consumer group 15 Minutes and other activists. Also present were city architect Yoav David, and representatives from the municipality's preservation and urban improvement departments, and from the Ahuzat Hof parking lot company.
According to David, the goal of the upgrade scheme is to allow the public to "experience the space" as it was originally planned in the 1930s, by widening the walkways and creating a uniform street-level plaza that is 60 meters in diameter (the diameter of the square from the front of one building to the next is 100 meters).
The fountain by artist Yaakov Agam, “Fire and Water,” will remain in the center of the square, and a new bicycle lane is planned for the perimeter, but will not be connected to any other bike path for the time being, according to the plan.
The traffic flow around the square will remain exactly as it is, and no roundabout will be built there. Drivers will continue to drive north on one side and south on the other. The bus lane will remain solely on the northbound side; no new lane will be added to the southbound side.
To allow the traffic arrangements to remain in place while the walkways are widened, 11 old ficus trees will have to be removed from the inner part of the square; because of their age it isn’t clear that they will survive if they are transplanted elsewhere.
Green Course director Mor Gilboa wrote after the presentation that he was upset at the prospect of cutting down the trees and by the fact that no representatives of the public had attended the meeting, although it concerned issues that affect the huge number of residents and visitors who pass through the area daily.
“I don’t think it’s too late to take a broader approach of involving the public,” Gilboa said. “Perhaps new and creative ideas will be raised [by them] to preserve all the old trees and build comfortable and safe bike paths.”
Gil Yaakov, director of 15 Minutes, said it wasn’t clear that the scheme would constitute an improvement for pedestrians or public-transport users. He decried the lack of a southbound bus lane and the fact that the planned bike lane will not span the entire length of Dizengoff Street.
“We hope that the municipality will internalize the important feedback on these issues and adjust the plan accordingly,” he said.
For his part, David, the municipal architect, said that if the city tries to initiate “transportation revolutions,” the entire plan could be held up by the Transportation Ministry – because the latter would have to approve the creation of an additional bus lane.
“I don’t want to fight with them for two years,” he said.
As for the bicycle lane-to-nowhere, David said that part of the design was actually forward thinking. At some point, he explained, a bike lane is expected to be built along the length of Dizengoff Street, but added, “I don’t want to have a situation where I’m dealing with the square and after a year they decide to pave a bike path and I’ll have to change the plan.”
The old trees, he added, would be replaced with “lots of additional trees in the inner part of the square that will create a pleasant and shady strip of park.”