Tel Aviv Kicks Parking Spots to the Curb, Driving Values Up and City Residents Mad

Municipality's moves to eliminate parking spaces in the city have driven them to cost as much as a small apartment in the periphery ■ Without daily public transportation, city residents are livid

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Parking lot in Yad Eliahu, Tel Aviv, February 18, 2020
Parking lot in Yad Eliahu, Tel Aviv, February 18, 2020Credit: תומר אפלבאום
Gili Melnitcki
Gili Melnitcki
Gili Melnitcki
Gili Melnitcki

Morin Haziz, a 32-year-old lawyer and part-time fitness instructor may have had enough of Tel Aviv. She can tolerate the high cost of housing, but it’s the time she spends every day parking her car that has brought her to the brink.

“More and more often, when I leave my office in Petah Tikva at 6 P.M. – which is not accessible as far as public transportation is concerned – I get home only at 8:30 at night. Out of those two-and-a-half hours, I spend an hour and a half looking for parking in the city. Every day I ask myself, ‘Maybe the time’s come to leave?’ [Tel Aviv Mayor Ron] Huldai already prefers young people on scooters and tourists who don’t use any services,” she says.

The parking problem is only going to get worse. In July, Tel Aviv’s planning and building committee approved a strict limit of parking spaces in new residential construction. New buildings in the city’s zones 3, 4, 5, and 6 will only be able to offer a single parking space for every two apartments, or 0.5 per unit. In the rest of the city, the maximum amount of parking in new projects will be limited to 0.8 spaces per unit.

Street parking in Tel Aviv, August 15, 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod

The only relief for Tel Aviv residents from the decision is that construction of plans that have already been approved will be exempt from the new standard.

“Parking is the problem, not the solution,” Huldai has declared, signaling a policy of discouraging private vehicles in favor of pedestrians and mass transit to reduce pollution and improve the urban environment. In that vein, Tel Aviv has closed streets to cars to create pedestrian malls, reserved parking spots for the AutoTel car-sharing initiative and allocated other public space for shared scooters. Construction of the Tel Aviv Light Rail has eaten up more parking space while National Master Plan 38 (Tama 38), which allows buildings to add extra floors if they are earthquake-proofed in the process, has increased urban density and parking demands.

Ironically, the transition away from cars has turned parking spaces into a treasured real estate asset. In Tel Aviv, it’s no longer “location, location, location” but “location, location, parking” and that adds up to money.

Property assessor Eli Cohen found that the average value for a parking space around Arlozorov Street in the city center was 370,000 shekels ($109,000), before work began on the light rail earlier this year. By comparison, in Haifa, at least 12 homes sold for between 400,000 and 450,000 shekels at about the same time, and those sometimes included a parking spot. Last January, underground parking spaces in a project on Hashoftim Street in central Tel Aviv were priced at 550,000 shekels.

The market for parking is on fire because of the shortage, says Itzik Refael, of Kamil Treshanski Refael Real Estate Appraisers & Services. The price of parking spots in Tel Aviv has risen in the last three years by about 100,000 shekels. Another three years from now “it will be absurd,” he says. “Today we are seeing parking spots priced in projects at 550,000 to 650,000 shekels, while the cost of construction is 160,000 shekels – it’s pure profit for the developer.”

For that reason, he thinks the new parking-space limits will encounter huge opposition from builders. “Today we’re already seeing people paying 12 million shekels for a garden apartment or penthouse apartment in Tel Aviv. Now the price won’t include parking? That makes sense?” asks Refael.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, 2017. 'Parking is the problem, not the solution,' Huldai has declared.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Refael found that for homes in central Tel Aviv, where the cost per square meter can reach 50,000 shekels, including parking, the change in parking standards will cause a drop in value of 9,000 shekels per square meter, or 24%.

Comparing parking to parks

That will affect the financial feasibility of urban renewal projects. Retired architect Vered Shahar, who lives in a 1950s-era home awaiting renewal, is furious. “What right does the city of Tel Aviv have to put its hand in my pocket, and harm my property rights that are worth at least an estimated 700,000 shekels ? My building isn’t going through Tama [38] and one of the reasons is uncertainty about parking, which is a component of the project’s feasibility.”

She compares parking to parks. “The city prefers to spoil a public resource that belonged to everyone and that people assumed they had when they bought homes and businesses. It’s turning it into a resource of private business that will manage it and profit from it at the expense of the residents,” Shahar says, railing against AutoTel, the scooter companies and the pedestrian malls.

Morin Haziz (left) and Vered Shahar.

The cries against the reduction of parking are not only coming from residents, says Refael. “Developers oppose it, too, because they know that their profits could be hurt, plus there’s the difficulty in selling apartments without parking spaces, along with the question marks that come up about the parking standards in the main business centers, where there’s a mixture of uses – jobs alongside housing. Companies involved in urban renewal don’t know what to do when the new rules directly affect the economics of a project in the planning stages,” he says.

Developers in the early stages of planning, such as the real estate development company Levinstein, which has projects in parts of south Tel Aviv such as the old bus station, are stuck. “It doesn’t mean developers will eliminate underground space and give up using it,” says Refael. “But it will require rethinking the commercial uses and creating economic value in place of parking.”

The move away from cars goes back a few years. In 2016, then-Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced regulations to reduce the number of city parking places, with the goal of encouraging public transportation and reducing car usage. Since then, the treasury Planning Administration has been developing a program to expand use of underground spaces and make maximum use of land – especially in areas of high demand.

“Already the minus-one floor of every building must have openings for ventilation and natural light for future conversion,” says architect Hava Erlich-Roginski, director of planning for the Planning Administration’s Tel Aviv region. “The retreat from private cars will be long and accompanied by confidence-building measures. Tel Aviv, in this case, is the pioneer. We see it as a change in thinking of the planning and strategy bodies in the city.”

A traffic jam on Kaplan Street, Tel Aviv, April 12, 2019.Credit: Moti Milrod

It is local government that sets parking standards, but the Planning Administration dictates the tone through the regional plans and policies that define planning principles. For example, about a year ago a policy document was issued on higher-density construction along Tel Aviv Light Rail lines, which dramatically reduces adjacent parking space to 0.6 spots per home. “Change is being talked about all over Israel, but in Tel Aviv there is more room for the change to be adopted,” says Erlich-Roginski. “When you see the work on the light rail, it’s easier to convince people to trust the change.”

The principles that Erlich-Roginski talks about in theory are reality for the residents of the center of Tel Aviv and the Old North part of the city. Due to a lack of alternatives, they are unwilling to accept the loss of parking spaces.

In the previous rounds of this fight, the city decided in April 2019 to reduce the number of parking spots in the city center, which mostly served residents, by 500. This step was a declarative break with the status quo, which for 20 years had allowed parking in red-and-white No Parking zones in certain neighborhoods – without rules being enforced against residents – as long as they parked their cars there after 7 P.M. and left before 9 A.M.

In the future, parking spaces in residential projects will not be allocated to each apartment. Instead, a private building’s parking lot will serve a range of uses to maximize the space for parking, according to Hagit Naali, director of strategic planning for the city. In other words, the minute residents leave in the morning, their parking spaces will be used as paid parking for people who work in nearby business areas until the evening. The city estimates that 50% of the underground parking areas aren’t used efficiently and that 60% of those who both live and work in the city needlessly use their own cars for getting around the city.

The new measures will apply to existing commercial parking lots, too, such as the enormous parking areas around Rothschild Boulevard and the center of town, which are owned and used exclusively by businesses and the banks. They will now be opened for use by the general public in the evening. In addition, Tel Aviv wants to create park-and-ride lots on the city’s outskirts to reduce the number of cars entering the city. Another major change waiting for people living in an already costly city is payment for parking permits and changing the way these parking stickers are given out, so that only one “subsidized” parking permit will be allocated per household. Any additional permits will cost much more.

A traffic jam on the Ayalon Highway, Tel Aviv, November 9, 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod

No free parking

Economist Omer Moav supports the idea of changing the way parking permits are allocated, saying they should be awarded based on payment and social factors. But he firmly opposes a ban on private parking spaces. “The idea that a person can’t build a parking space on his own private property is outrageous and borders on idiocy. Why does it bother the city that a person builds parking on their own land and drives their car on weekends in a country that anyway doesn’t have any other [transportation] on holidays and the Sabbath? After all, even if my living room is empty most of the day, does that mean someone else can come in and do what he wants there?

“If they want to reduce the traffic on the roads, they need to move in the direction of a congestion fee, which is under the authority of the national government,” Moav says. “As far as the municipality is concerned, the only way to reduce parking congestion is to charge for every [public] parking space. Today there are residents who don’t pay a penny for their cars’ parking for months in a public space. “

Moav says the populist view of free parking harms public welfare and public transportation services. “It’s fine to charge for parking that’s a city resource, but it can’t be that it’s at the cost of a ban on private parking spaces, which is not what causes the congestion in the city. What creates all the traffic on the roads is people looking for parking, not those who own a private parking spot. By the way, as a resident of Tel Aviv I don’t have a private parking spot, and I’m sorry that I have to give up in advance on the idea of hosting people in my home because I know it’s a nightmare to ask them to look for parking.”

An electric scooter parking bay, Tel Aviv, June 2, 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg

Gabi Spector, who has lived in the center of Tel Aviv for 37 years, shares Moav’s distress. “The city has turned residents who own cars into enemies of the city. Life here has become impossible. Instead of first dealing with the entry of hundreds of thousands of vehicles a day into the region, they’ve decided to make things difficult for us, the residents – without providing solutions such as the use of city parking lots in the evening and in other distant lots, and without having any connection to the transportation situation in Israel.

“It’s impossible to rely on public transportation in Israel, not even for another 10 years because for a third of the year the religious status quo bans public transport. Tel Avivians aren’t the ones who are creating the congestion. The city needs to offer solutions such as park and ride,” he says.

“My feeling is that they want to kick out the existing communities from the city and in doing so hurt the present balance and composition of the community,” says Shahar. “When Huldai and his people point to scooters and bicycles as transportation solutions in the city, I feel that they simply don’t see me. I’m 65 years old and I can’t ride a scooter.”

The Tel Aviv Municipality says its parking policy “places the pedestrians, bike riders and users of public transportation as its top priority, and even invests great efforts and resources to improve their situation in the public space. It does so by removing parked vehicles from the sidewalks, paving dozens of kilometers of bike paths, adding public transportation lanes, improving traffic-light timing in favor of pedestrians, and adding trees and shade along the main pedestrian thoroughfares.”

The municipality added that a lot of infrastructure work around the city, including the light rail, now entering their final stages, are expected to lead to better traffic arrangements and a decrease in street parking, especially the city center. “Therefore, the city is working to update to its parking policy, which is mainly an attempt to match supply and demand, and doing so through a range of methods, such as the judicious allocation of parking permits and incentives to reduce the use of private vehicles.”

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