Road transport, environment and equity in Israel.


I will return to Jerusalem, my holy city, and live there. It will be known as the faithful city... Once again old men and women, so old that they use a stick when they walk, will be sitting in the city squares. And the streets will again be full of boys and girls playing.

Zechariah 8:3-5; (2)


Israelis are only now beginning to discover what residents of American and European cities have learned over three decades of automobile-oriented development. Transport networks are not just a means of moving people from place to place, but a defining factor in how we live, how we relate to each other, and how equitable our society is. On the macro level, transport decisions being made today will set the shape and character of Israel's urban centers and rural periphery for decades.

The present government policy places a heavy emphasis on development of new road systems, over more environmentally sustainable alternatives. Without a radical change in thinking and direction, Israel risks duplicating the experience of southern California. The Los Angeles region covers an area of 35,000 square kilometers, roughly 62 percent larger than that of present-day Israel, with the same average population density as that forecast for Israel in 2020. (3) Los Angeles is the prototype of an automobile dependent city -- a sprawling, polluted and crime-ridden megalopolis -- where the already very high per capita vehicle travel is still growing, and residents live in isolation and alienation -- phenomena that analysts trace in part to the powerful "city-destroying" force of the automobile. (4)

For Israel, as in Los Angeles of the 1960s and 1970s, rapid population growth and road-oriented expansion of the transport system is channeling new development into relatively "inexpensive" land in rural areas, where car-oriented shopping malls, housing projects and business centers sited at road interchanges will become the dominant landscape features.

If Israel follows a similar pattern, road-oriented growth will create a landscape of continuous metropolitan and suburban expansion, at least north of the Negev, until built areas meld into one another -- rather than developing as more compact and distinct urban, town and village units, separated by green space. Investment in new roads and road expansion will exacerbate urban air and noise pollution, just as they have done in Europe and the United States.

As a result of these processes, road-oriented growth will have a negative effect on social equity -- one that will increase over time. In terms of shopping, work and housing opportunities, the dispersal of suburban housing, businesses and shops along major road corridors and at highway interchanges, together with a parallel decline in the scope and service level of the public transport system, will reduce the mobility of Israel's "transport-disadvantaged" groups -- children, elderly, poor, new immigrants, Arab citizens, women and ultra-Orthodox communities -- all of whom have lower-than-average access to automobiles. Already, road-centered development is providing Israel's stronger socio-economic groups with an incentive and opportunity to "escape" the congestion, noise and pollution of traffic-congested urban areas for less congested suburbs -- leaving the poor, elderly and other disadvantaged groups behind in aging downtown city centers.

On the macro-economic level, car-oriented development costs a society more than transit-oriented development and yields fewer economic growth benefits. The employment opportunities generated by road projects are mostly short-term, low-paying jobs, many of which may be filled by imported foreign workers -- as compared to the skilled, permanent jobs generated by transit. Road construction, moreover, feeds a wasteful economic dependency on imported automobiles and oil. And contrary to popular belief, road construction has a minimal impact on growth in other economic branches.

Over the long term, road development, rather than easing congestion, spurs more traffic as well as more long distance commuting -- costing time in lost productivity. Finally, in Israel today, road construction is subsidized by the government at a far higher rate than transit, creating an unfair competitive advantage for road-oriented transport modes. For instance, in the case of...

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