Expert Blames Traffic Jams on Israel’s Shape


A novel explanation was offered for Israel’s chronic traffic congestion at a Knesset committee meeting on Thursday when an expert on transportation issues said that the country’s shape was largely to blame.

Dr. Moshe Becker from the Israel Association for Intelligent Transportation Systems told members of the Knesset Science and Technology Committee that Israel’s long, thin shape contributed to the problem. “Were Israel circular or rectangular, there would have been twice as many roads,” Globes quoted him as saying.

To be sure, Becker did not stop there. Human error also played its part, he said:

“In addition, Israel did not plan in advance where the level of motorization would increase, and did not properly plan its population distribution. Not enough use is made of knowledge in order to develop plans wisely. The Tel Aviv light rail should have been operating 30 years ago. Only a complete plan including integration of light railways in metropolitan areas and convenient moving from one form of transportation to another will make a change.”

Committee chairman MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) opened the discussion by saying that the purpose of the session was not to go over the statistics, which are more or less known, but to delve into causes and solutions.

“Everyone here, and especially those who were late, has encountered the traffic jams. The report is no surprise to us, but we came here to hear the reasons for it. On the one hand, we see that roads are being widened and developed, with light and heavy railways being added. On the other hand, there is no progress; and we only know that according to all the forecasts, the situation will get even worse.”

Dr. Robert Ishaq of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology Transportation Research Institute provided the committee members with the relevant data:

“We provide 467 parking places per 1,000 work places in the main business center in Tel Aviv, more than in the other cities examined in the OECD report. A rigorous parking standard went into effect here only last year, 15 years too late, and it will take the same length of time before it has an effect. The effective speed in public transportation is very low in comparison with these countries, and this keeps people away from public transportation — 25 percent use it in Israel, compared with a worldwide average of 60 percent and 80 percent in New York. We have no nationwide railway network. There are 15 suburban railway lines, 10 subway lines and nine light railway lines in Berlin.”

Ishaq predicted that in 20 years, every user would spend one more hour on the road. “We’re losing NIS 20 billion a year,” he said. “We need a nationwide railway system and more diversified public transportation. It will cost NIS 200-250 billion to make up the gap between us and Western infrastructure. It will be worthwhile in the long run. In addition, travel sharing should be encouraged, and occupancy of passenger vehicles should be increased. Bicycle riders and pedestrians all over Israel should be encouraged.”

Politics has something to do with it too. MK Maklev faulted the state for “blocking shared transportation, which is part of the solution, for what appears to be unprofessional reasons of pressure from various groups. This will open new vistas. The prevailing idea is to do nothing in order to avoid making waves.”

He concluded the discussion: “We all agree that the solution is in public transportation. Rapid implementation is important, including suitable budgeting, rather than a project a minute. Otherwise, nothing we do will be enough. In view of the situation and what is liable to happen in the future, the government and the Ministry of Transport should declare a state of emergency. They should do the same thing in transportation that they did for housing; otherwise, the people in the housing will not be able to leave their homes; and we will find ourselves with a catastrophe.”