Construction of the new main entrance to Jerusalem will begin in the next few months, but local people, many planners and environmental groups are still criticizing a plan they say puts car owners first and threatens neighborhoods.
In two weeks, the Jerusalem Regional Planning and Building Committee will hold hearings on objections to the plan regarding the road's route inside the city.
The planning of Route 16 began 15 years ago for the multilane thoroughfare that will include two long tunnels connecting Route 1, today’s main entrance to the capital, to the area of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center near Mount Herzl on the city’s west side.
The new road will also connect – without any stoplights – to the Begin Highway and Herzog Boulevard, two of the city’s main thoroughfares.
Opponents say the new road will encourage people to drive more and thus turn back the clock regarding traffic. In fact, almost everyone who helped plan the road agrees that connecting it to the road network inside the city will probably create even more traffic jams.
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The time for big, multilane highways to enter the heart of a city has passed, opponents say.
According to the plan, drivers who want to continue on the new road to the city center will go from a multilane highway to a narrow road filled with stoplights. And this road will be bisected by the future Green Line of the city’s light rail system, worsening traffic even more.
Enter the Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan Team, a public body under the auspices of the Jerusalem municipality and the Transportation Ministry, which are behind the Route 16 project.
The team has prepared a plan to further extend Route 16 into the city. This plan includes four huge bridges, four major interchanges, a multilane road and a park-and-ride parking lot with at least 2,200 spaces.
Another possible plan would extend the road eastward through a tunnel that would end near the Talpiot industrial zone. Planners say this is the best way to prevent traffic jams.
The opponents of all these plans include the residents of nearby neighborhoods, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They say the plans put car owners first, a strategy they say is very harmful and completely contradicts traditional planning policy.
Opponents say that better roads only lead to more traffic and thus worse traffic jams. They say that today Waze and other apps make such problems more dire, in part because they channel traffic into neighborhoods and also encourage people to drive in general.
As proof, they cite data showing that an average of 26,000 more cars a day now ply Route 1 between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv after the highway was upgraded. Smart planning, however, would shift drivers from using their cars to public transportation, they say.
Opponents don’t believe planners’ claims that the new road would integrate with public transportation and cause drivers to switch to the new light rail system. They ask, why would people park their cars in a park-and-ride lot and wait for a train if they’ve already driven into the city?
Hebrew University also objects to the plan because the new road would pass by the back entrance of its Givat Ram campus in the west of the city. The university says the road would severely limit its ability to develop in the future.
It would also make it harder to get to the campus and cause even more traffic jams for anyone entering or leaving the campus – as well as increase air pollution.
The director of the Transportation Master Plan Team, Zohar Zoller, said the plans are essential to prevent a transportation catastrophe when connecting the new road to the urban street network, as well as to maximize traffic efficiency.
The idea is to manage the traffic for the whole area so that the road network will be integrated with mass transport, Zoller said. Also, drivers would be kept on the main roads and the cars out of neighborhoods, and drivers could leave their cars at the park-and-ride lot and take public transportation into the city center.