Plans to eliminate parking spots on Bloch Street in Tel Aviv in order to make room for new bicycle lanes have local residents up in arms. It’s all about turning this into a city for the rich, they argue.
By Ilan Lior

Tel Aviv residents are accustomed to wasting time every night searching for parking spots. But for those living in the vicinity of Bloch Street, this mission is expected to become even more daunting, now that plans are under way to renovate the street and pave bike lanes in both directions at the expense of 60 public parking spaces. As a result, parking will be available only on one side of the entire length of the street, instead of both sides.

In recent weeks, car owners in the neighborhood have been mobilizing, collecting hundreds of signatures on a petition protesting this move by the municipality. They have also created a group on Facebook. The municipality’s campaign to encourage bicycle use in the city, they argue, should not come at their expense.
Bicycle campaign

Neighborhood residents leading the fight, including Dan Heimowitz (far left) and Roni Edelist (second from left).
Photo by: Ofer Vaknin

“We residents of the city are as entitled to own cars as residents of the suburb of Ramat Aviv,” says Dan Heimowitz, one of the leaders of the protest movement. “They are trying to portray us as people who oppose bicycles and are not green,” when this is not the case. “The issue of bicycles is very close to my heart. I use a bicycle; my daughter rides one every day. We are in favor of bikes.”

Heimowitz laments the low quality of public transportation in the city and says that the municipality does not offer enough suitable alternatives to private cars. “We are a family of four,” he says. “We have a motorbike, a bicycle and one car, which seems completely reasonable to me. You want us to pay for parking? Deduct the cost from our real estate taxes.”

Another embittered resident, Ronen Shamir, notes: “We pay taxes like everyone else, even higher taxes than in the rest of the city. They tell us ‘What do you want? We built towers for you and raised the value of your apartments.’ They raised the value of real estate here and destroyed our quality of life.”

Heimowitz adds that the message the municipality is conveying is that it wants the middle class out. “We are being told, essentially, that ‘We don’t want people like you here. We’re going to make your lives miserable until you leave. We build towers for the rich here.'”
Deaf ears

Local residents concur that the new plan for the street mainly hurts young families with small children and older people. “I was born here, I gave birth here and I will die here,” says Roni Edelist, a retiree active in the campaign against the bicycle lanes. “What do they want to do? Evict me? Maybe they want to put me on a bike at age 67?”

In order to avoid losing existing parking spaces, residents have proposed that the city investigate the possibility of making Bloch Street one way and creating a bike lane on one side only, or alternatively, allowing only residents of the neighborhood to park on adjacent streets. They have lobbied members of the city council hoping to block the plan, but thus far, their pleas have fallen mostly on deaf ears. Tamar Sandberg (Meretz ) has held several meetings with them but they say they were not happy with what they heard from her.

Sandberg says that she understands the residents and agrees with them that there are few viable public transportation alternatives available. Still, she says, as bicycle use becomes more widespread, it will make the city more efficient in the long run. “In my eyes this is a historic moment,” she says. “It is a genuine, absolute change in municipal policy from a preference for private cars to other means of transportation. A huge ship is beginning to change its course.”

After the Passover holiday, residents are scheduled to meet with the head of the city’s building and infrastructure department, Dr. Benny Maor, but judging from the position of other senior officials at City Hall, there is not much room for hope that the parking spaces on Bloch Street will be saved.
Not an ideology

Municipality director general Menahem Leibe explains that the plans for Bloch Street are part of a broader policy. “In order to move forward in our world, we should praise the change,” he says. “Whatever I want to do, there will be people who say, ‘Wait, what will happen tomorrow morning?’ It’s impossible to conduct business [based on] tomorrow morning. Policy must look ahead and there needs to be an understanding that, ultimately, when you pave a path you bring out bike riders.”

He argues that “the path on Bloch Street is a classic bike path, the model accepted all over the world and preferred over bike lanes on the sidewalk.”

Leibe emphasizes that parking spaces do not belong to the residents but to the city. “There is relatively cheap parking available at Gan Hair [mall], not far from Bloch which can definitely be made use of. I don’t think that our considerations need only be local. It’s impossible to run a whole system when you have to account for the inconvenience to a shopkeeper of bus lanes on Ibn Gvirol Street, or some tenant who does not want to pay NIS 250 for an overnight parking lot.”

Leibe says that the municipality cannot realize its goals without thinking broadly. “The correct view is to proceed ahead even if there are those who think their situation may be worsened. We never promised to supply parking for everyone.”

Leibe rejects claims by local residents that the city is trying to get them to stop using private cars. “A resident of Tel Aviv can certainly maintain a car,” he says. “That’s fine; we have no problem with it.” But, in the same breath, he notes: “A person who owns a car cannot expect that in a city like Tel Aviv-Yafo there will be parking no matter what.” Leibe adds that “pursuing private car owners is not a matter of ideology, but there is obviously a preference for public transportation and means of transportation such as bicycles. This will happen in other areas, too. That is the policy.”

A key objective, he says, is to move cars to underground parking lots. “In the end, cars are put underground and above ground stays green, [with] bicycles, pedestrians and bus lanes,” he says. “This is the way a city should look. There will be more underground parking lots. Where they open, there will be no aboveground parking.”
Twenty minutesa night searching for a spot

For residents of central Tel Aviv, it looks like parking will continue to be a nightmare – at least in the foreseeable future.

Roughly 35,000 cars in the city bear stickers allowing them to park in Area 1 (between the Reading Power Station and Allenby Street, and between Ibn Gvirol Street and the sea ), but there are only 26,000 available parking spaces in this area, including those found in municipal parking lots and illegal parking spots.

A survey recently conducted by Ahuzat Hahof, which operates the municipal parking lots, found that residents of the city center spend about 20 minutes on average searching for a spot when they return home in the evening. The survey also revealed that only about 20 percent of those with parking stickers use their right to park free of charge in municipal lots near their homes from 7 P.M. to 8 A.M. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed said that they do not take advantage of this option because the lots are rather far from their homes.

The survey was intended, among other things, to determine the feasibility of the city partially subsidizing parking in private lots closer to the homes of local residents. This week, a decision was taken to scrap the idea, at least for the time being. “From the survey, we concluded that the demand does not justify this,” Tel Aviv municipality director general Menahem Leibe explained. In other words, although car owners want parking closer to home, they are not willing to pay for it.

Attorney Ofer Shahal, the chairman of Ahuzat Hahof, acknowledges that he was surprised by the findings. “The general belief was that this would be an excellent solution,” he said.

“It turns out that it isn’t. I understood from the summary I received that it wasn’t at all a big hit; people did not go for it, and people don’t want to pay [for parking] even if it is subsidized. We asked people: ‘If we subsidize you so that a month’s parking costs NIS 250, will you use the parking lots at night?’ They said no. People prefer to spend 20 minutes looking for parking.”