Friday, March 1, 2013

Some more unasked questions about the Begin Expressway Extension

Begin South Extension (simulation: J'lm Municipality)
In my last post I looked at the Begin extension from the perspective of the south Jerusalem neighborhoods and suburbs that it is meant to serve. I asked whether the extension would ultimately enhance the livability of these neighborhoods (Gilo in particular).  I took it upon myself to pose this question because I had noticed, with frustration, that the media were paying attention solely to the Beit Safafa side of the affair, and were completely ignoring the extension's potential impact on all other parts of town. I'm still frustrated. Here are a few more questions that no one seems to be asking:

In what way will the extended (and widened) Begin Expressway be exempt from the phenomenon of induced demand?

"Say goodbye to traffic jams!" rhapsodizes an unnamed author in the Jerusalem Municipality's online magazine, with regard to the Begin extension. The extension is meant to replace the route currently traveled by residents of Gilo, Har Homa and Gush Etzion on their way to the Begin entry point at Golomb St.; part of it will run as a tunnel under Dov Yosef Road, constituting, in effect, an expansion of current roadway capacity (beyond the recent lane addition to an already-existing segment of the expressway). One must ask (and the answer is pretty obvious): has the planning echelon taken into account the well-known phenomenon by which such capacity expansion "provides smaller net benefits than is often recognized, due to the effects of generated traffic?" Has it tried to envision the potentially greater congestion that a lengthened and expanded Begin Expressway is likely to produce, precisely because it will encourage more driving around town? Has it, in short, paid any attention to the considerable body of research showing that highways "that were supposed to handle projected demand for decades became congested in just a few years, because of the traffic that they themselves generated?" In its eagerness to move as many south-Jerusalemites to the opposite end of town as possible, like so many pawns across a chessboard, has the Municipality considered any alternatives to highway extension and widening? Better public transit, say? or more efficient use of land resources so that south Jerusalemites might have jobs, services, amenities and shopping available closer to home, thereby obviating the need for cross-town travel?

Where are all the cars going to park once they get there?

Anyone who has been driving in Jerusalem over the past decade has witnessed a tremendous reduction in the amount of parking space available (relative to the ever-greater number of cars on the road) in pretty much any part of town that is worth going to. Many parking spaces that were once free are now paid spaces -- a positive development in terms of discouraging private car use and fostering the use of other modes. Given this situation, one can hardly help wondering why the Municipality would be actively encouraging south Jerusalemites to come downtown every day in their cars. I doubt that the 1,300-space park-and-ride garage planned for the future highrise office complex at the city's western entrance will be able to accommodate them all. Surely some of those spaces will be needed for the Tel Avivians who will be converging en masse to do business in Jerusalem's shiny new CBD. (Presumably not all of them will be enlightened enough to ride the future high-speed railway from TA to Jerusalem -- especially once Highway 1, the road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, has been widened). In all seriousness, if the Municipality is touting the transit connectivity of its envisioned CBD, shouldn't it be prioritizing transit options, rather than private-vehicle access, to that CBD from all parts of town? Why are the residents of Gilo, Har Homa, the Gush Etzion suburbs, etc., being excluded, by implication, from the city's great transit revolution? Why would they want to use the light rail line that is being planned for Derech Hevron if they are being provided with direct entry to Jerusalem's premier automobile artery? And if the lack of parking in town is ultimately going to deter them from using their cars, why do they need the Begin extension in the first place?

How will the Begin extension affect the Malha area?

This question presupposes that the area around the Malha Mall, Teddy Stadium and Malha Technology Park is a public space like any other, with potential for fine-grained urban development encompassing a variety of uses, including residential, and a variety of building types. This premise, however, is by no means self-evident to the Jerusalem Municipality, which appears to regard the area as a dead space waiting to be fashioned into a network of roads (what little of it has not already been given over to roads), the better to service one of the many mega-projects it has going around town -- the Jerusalem Arena.

Self-contained complex with tons of parking:
the planned Jerusalem Arena
(simulation via J'lm Municipality)
The question of whether the Jerusalem Arena is truly an economic-engine-in-the-making, or a boondoggle of cataclysmic proportions, deserves a post of its own, if not a public commission of inquiry. The fact that the project's cost was underestimated by NIS 120 million and that funding for "other projects in the city, including youth centers, [elder] services, and neighborhood sports complexes" has, consequently, been diverted to it, does not necessarily reflect on its potential value -- though the worth of such projects has indeed been called into question for decades by economists (“If you want to inject money into the local economy, it would be better to drop it from a helicopter than invest it in a new ballpark”).

Of course it's hard to discuss transport-related decisions separately from decisions about land use, since the two topics are intimately connected. Suffice it to say that a municipality that insists on erecting self-contained, single-use complexes in Malha (a mall, an office park, a stadium, and now a sports-and-entertainment arena) could hardly be expected to treat the land surrounding these distinct compounds as the future site of bustling, human-scaled streets where Jerusalemites might live, work, play and socialize in a variety of settings.

Town planner Gerard Heumann has noted that "At Malha, a shopping center, sports stadium, technology park and residential neighborhood were designed as if each existed on separate planets. Not a single building in the technology park bounds adjacent roads, not even opposite the shopping center, where a golden opportunity existed for the design of valuable commercial space at ground level." It's not that the Municipality has something against valuable commercial space; it's that the Municipality is incapable of conceiving that, outside of its beloved "historic downtown," anyone would want to move around such spaces on foot.

Will the infrastructure for Begin Expressway South, which will cut across Malha with "service roads" for the mall and stadium, enhance the Malha area's urban values, or utterly destroy them?
Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson asserts that "The Begin Highway does not cut through Beit Hakerem or any other neighborhood in Jerusalem. It delimits Jewish neighborhoods but cuts the Palestinian neighborhoods to pieces.” To cut through an existing neighborhood is a sad thing; but to keep existing neighborhoods from expanding because their boundaries have been artificially "delimited" by a highway is also sad. It is sad to think about the Malha that will never be -- the intensively-developed, lively mixed-use area that might have connected organically with the Katamonim, with the residential part of today's Malha and. indeed, with Beit Safafa; that might have enmeshed the mall, the office park and the stadium within a viable urban fabric.

And now for a few final questions:

Where is Jerusalem's urbanist community on this issue? Why isn't it making itself heard? And why is Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur -- who has recently and publicly criticized Israel's infatuation with the automobile -- pretending that the Begin Extension is just a  logical and necessary component of Jerusalem's municipal transportation master plan ?