Residents’ response mixed as trendy Tel Aviv street goes pedestrian
Tel Aviv’s trendy Rothschild Boulevard became a pedestrian mall for 24 hours this weekend, in what the municipality says is a pilot project that will continue throughout the summer.
At 6 P.M. on Friday evening, the municipality set up barriers on the street, blocking it off to car traffic. The city is planning to close the street off to cars every weekend between Friday evening and Saturday night, and says it will decide whether or not to continue the project at the end of the summer.
The boulevard was quiet on Saturday. Too quiet, some said. While traffic continued to flow along cross streets, between intersections the sounds of traffic were inaudible.
While the occasional car could be seen driving on the street every few minutes, there were far fewer cars than usual. On the street, families pushed strollers, locals walked their dogs and people rode bicycles.
“It’s fun. I really enjoyed walking on the street instead of on the sidewalk, like on Yom Kippur,” said Rina, who lives on an adjacent street. “I’m very much in favor [of the project]. There’s less noise and no pollution, and kids can run around free.”
Her friend Hagar, who also lives in Tel Aviv, was less impressed. “I don’t think it adds anything,” she said.
“This was a very elegant way to decide that there would not be tents and a protest here this summer,” she said, referring to social justice protests which covered the boulevard with tents for several months last summer, until they were cleared away by the municipality. “Good for them for thinking of that,” she added sarcastically.
Amir and Shahar Sasson, a young couple from Herzliya who came to Tel Aviv to see the project with their one-year-old daughter Neta, said the change was minor.
“The only plus is that it’s quieter here and there’s less honking and exhaust fumes. Coming here is always a positive experience, but we thought it would be a bit more positive,” Amir said, somewhat disappointed.
Sitting on a bench nearby was Raviv Lifshitz, who lives in the nearby Florentine neighborhood, with his four dogs. “The street isn’t completely closed,” he said. “It’s a nice idea, but they didn’t take it all the way. [The pedestrian area] is not continuous. You can’t really walk on the pedestrian mall along the whole boulevard.”
Asaf Weiss and Dvir Oberg, the owners of Hashulchan, a restaurant located in the middle of the boulevard, said the project had not proven good for business, and may even have led to less business.
Still, they seemed to be enjoying the quiet. “This morning I discovered that there are birds in the city. It was the first time I’ve heard them on the boulevard,” said Oberg.
“Even the pigeons were walking in the middle of the street,” added Weiss.
They disagreed over whether the street’s closure was good or bad. “People asked me, ‘What’s up with that?’ I expected activities, a pedestrian mall. What is this, Yom Kippur?” wondered Weiss.
At 6 P.M. on Saturday night, the roadblocks were removed. Within moments the cars returned, bringing with them the usual sounds of traffic. The boulevard seemed noiser than ever.
While the cars’ return didn’t chase away the people on the boulevard, it did seem to make them appreciate the quiet weekend a bit more.
Three hours later, protesters gathered at the edge of the boulevard for a demonstration. The quiet that had prevailed throughout the weekend was replaced by loud chants. “The people want social justice,” they yelled, in an attempt to revive the protest movement which was born on the very same boulevard one year ago.