A mega city known for its accessible beaches and vibrant nightlife ranging from Lilienblum Street’s lounges to Dizengoff Street’s open-air cafes, Tel-Aviv is now dubbed the hippest cycling city in the world. While not yet on the level of, say, Amsterdam, it is well on its way. Today, it is not uncommon to see people riding bikes as a preferred means of transportation, supported by dedicated bike lanes, conscientious traffic direction, and Tel-o-Fun, a popular public bike sharing system.
However, as recently as 1994, the idea of making the city bike friendly was one met with laughter by the Tel Aviv city council.
“They were told that cycling was something for third world nations,” says Israel Bicycle Association Director Yotam Avizohar. “The council official said: ‘Tel Aviv is a modern city. We only promote sophisticated transport solutions. Very soon we will have a light rail system.’”
Still, the cyclists pursued the movement and approached a council official who, like them, was known as an avid cyclist. However, they were met with a familiar response: “Israel is a Middle-Eastern country and Israelis are addicted to their cars or to their camels.”
The road to changing mindsets began when Tel-o-Fun proved successful, causing bike use to go up by 54%. The cause saw another breakthrough in 1998, when former brigadier general Ron Huldai was elected mayor of the city and committed himself to promoting the use of bikes as a solution to the city’s growing traffic concerns. To this end, Tel Aviv began hosting annual cycling events in October, closing the Ayalon highway and other main thoroughfares for the estimated 30,000 cyclists that participate every year.
Architect and urban planner Guido Segal, who was actively involved in the city’s transformation recalls how, even when the bike lanes were already under construction, a lot of people were apprehensive about possible road accidents or mishaps.
“A senior official of the Ministry of Transport said: ‘People will die like flies.’,” says Segal. “But of course, this never happened. The more bicycles you have in a city, the less often accidents occur. Once we had the infrastructure, more and more people wanted to use it. We saw the number of cyclists go up and the number of accidents go down. This convinced decision-makers.”
Citizens of Tel Aviv have grown to embrace cycling as a great way to go around the city, helping them to stay fit as well as contribute in reducing the city’s traffic woes. (seattletravels.com)
Tel Aviv now boast about 85 miles of bike lanes, and 200 Tel-o-Fun bike stations. Currently, there are plans to establish a 90-mile network of interconnected cycling paths in the greater Tel Aviv region to ensure safer and more efficient bike routes, in addition to provisions for riding in the heat of the city’s the summer months.
While the city’s “bike worthiness” is a work in progress, Avizohar and other pro-clycing Tel-Avivians have achieved a lot in transforming their city into a haven for two-wheeled commuters.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” says Avizohar. “But we are optimists.”