Julian Ferguson, ECF,Bike sharing, Cities for Cyclists, News, 12.10.2012
Tel-Aviv has signed ECF’s charter of Brussels and wants to see 15% of all trips done by bicycle by 2020. The city appears to be making all the right moves to become a cycling leader.
Last week in sunny Tel-Aviv, something of a revolution took place. Some 20,000 cyclists flooded the streets for the third annual Tel-Aviv bicycle race. According to organizers, it was a record turn-out.
The event points to a larger trend in Tel-Aviv transport policy. On that same day, the city’s Mayor, Ron Huldai, signed ECF’s Charter of Brussels, which among other things wants to see 15% of all trips done by bicycle and halve cycling fatality rates by 2020.
“We are aiming to encourage cycling in the city and transform bikes into a legitimate transportation mechanism,” Mayor Ron Huldai told the Jerusaleum Post.
He added: “The Charter of Brussels is an official stamp of our intention to continue to develop Tel Aviv-Yafo as a city that is bike friendly.”
Tel-Aviv didn’t only get the stamp of approval from its own Mayor. The Dutch Ambassador to Israel, Caspar Veldkamp also congratulated the city’s pro-bicycle policy.
“84% of the population in Holland owns at least one bike,” explained Veldkamp.
“There are many obvious advantages to cycling: it’s clean, it’s green, it’s cheap and it’s the fastest way of getting around in a city that is equipped for it. We applaud Tel Aviv’s municipality for transforming Tel Aviv into a cyclists’ city and hope to have been an inspiration as a cycling nation.”
The Dutch Ambassador on a bicycle in Tel-Aviv. Courtesy of the Embassy of the Netherlands. Photographer Tomer Neuberg
You could even say that Tel-Aviv puts some European cities to shame. According to recent surveys, cycling is on the up. Some 14% of Tel Aviv-Jaffa residents use bikes as their primary means of transportation to work or school and about 83% perceive Tel Aviv as a “bicycle city”.
This push for more cycling has been in part spurred by committed individuals from Israel’s Bicycle Association, the national cycling advocacy group. Eran Shchori, who runs the city’s bike to work program has seen with his own eyes the recent rise in cycling numbers.
“I think the survey may have overstated the number of people cycling in Tel-Aviv,” he concedes, “But there’s no doubt that there’s been an explosion in the number of people cycling.”
According to Shchori, much of the boost in cycling numbers can be put down to infrastructure. Since taking office, the Mayor has taken cycling seriously as a mode of transport, and has built high quality segregated infrastructure and implemented a bicycle share scheme “Tel-O-Fun”.
“Up until three years ago, we only had infrastructure in paths for recreation, but not for transportation. Today it’s part of a transportation network.”
Bicycle advocates like Shchori believe that Tel-aviv’s transformation came about because their Mayor understood that bicycles aren’t just for recreation, but also for transportation. And this change in attitude towards cycling in Israel has been reflected in main-stream media.
“It [cycling] is no longer a niche. Newspapers and other media are starting to cover us, not as if we’re weird people, but as if it’s part of the mainstream,” explains Shchori.
Not All Perfect.
While Tel-Aviv’s bicycle credentials are looking good on paper, there’s still some work to do. Car is still very much king. In 2005, car ownership levels were 2.2 times Israel’s national average and also more than the national averages in Norway, Germany and France. Much of this can be put down to poor public transport. Transportation Ministry figures show that the rate of public transportation use in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area is among the lowest in the world.
“We have problems in Tel-Aviv that public transportation is not as good as in Europe. The private car is still very much needed. It’s a big obstacle,” explains Shchori.
The railway companies did however recently allow bikes on trains during off-peak periods and there are some large public transport schemes in the works. And bicycle advocates like Eran Shchori are adamant that the future of cycling in Israel is bright.
“With our support, Mayor Huldai got the idea: bicycling is part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
About the Author
Julian Ferguson is the Communications Officer for the European Cyclists’ Federation. Originally hailing from Australia and a keen bicycle advocate, he plans one day to ride his bicycle from Brussels to Melbourne