The Tel Aviv municipality has begun impounding bicycles deemed to disrupt pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
Under new rules drafted in response to residents' complaints about the confiscations, municipal inspectors will first have to attach a warning to the bike, and can seize it only 24 hours later. But the municipal opposition still objects, arguing that the city should instead erect additional bicycle racks.
"To remove obstacles that interfere with pedestrians, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality has decided not to allow bicycles to be tied up in places where they are liable to constitute a danger to passersby," the city said in a statement. "Bicycles that are parked and left in places where they block or impede pedestrian or vehicular traffic, and aren't removed by the time specified in the warning notice left by the inspection department, will be removed by the city and kept in a municipal warehouse for a limited time."
The owners will then be given a month to retrieve his or her bike. After that, it will be sent to a junkyard.
Last year, the city impounded 650 bikes off the street, up from 300 two years earlier. The city says that in most cases, inspectors were responding to complaints from residents. But owners say they often had no idea the city took their bike; they assumed it had been stolen.
Tel Aviv resident Dan Heimowitz said that a few months ago, he looked out his window and saw a man leaning over his daughter's bike in a suspicious manner. When he yelled, the man looked up, and he saw it was a municipal inspector. He ran down and saw that the inspector had already broken the bike lock.
"They claimed the bike was in a public area and was impeding pedestrian traffic," he said. "That's nonsense. It's a sidewalk on a quiet street, and the bike was chained to the building's fence."
At about that time, pictures of inspectors cutting off bike locks began circulating on Facebook. That sparked a raft of complaints to city hall, and the municipality decided to halt confiscations until it had drafted new regulations.
But opposition councilwoman Sharon Malki said the new rules are still unacceptable because instead of encouraging cycling, the city is making life harder for cyclists. A 2010 survey found that 38 percent of Tel Aviv residents own bikes, she said, but the city has only about 3,000 bike racks - not nearly enough to accommodate the supply.
The city retorted that those 3,000 bike racks, along with over 120 kilometers of bike paths and the Tel-O-Fun bike rental system, are ample proof that it encourages cycling. Nevertheless, the city said, it attributes "great importance to maintaining public order and clear passageways for pedestrians."
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