From the first time I visited Tel Aviv more than a decade ago, up until today so much has changed in the way the city’s residents accept cycling. Back then if you rode a bike you were either a migrant worker pushing fabric rolls across the city, a vagrant collecting junk and hobbling it to the side of your wheels, or a strange kind of hippy. Fast forward ten years and the middle and upper class of Tel Aviv has embraced bike riding – so much that the city has rolled out a Paris-style Velo bike program called Tel-O-Fun.
Although it has its aggravating moments (as some users complain), it’s a pretty neat way to get around the city while avoiding the stress of thievery. But now, Tel Aviv cyclists have more than vandals to worry about. Media reports say that the City is indiscriminately impounding bikes that aren’t chained to one of the city’s 3000 official bike racks. Like every story there are two sides, but the approach has the city’s bike riders up in ire.
According to the new rules drafted by the city, bikes parked in non-official racks will be affixed with a 24 hour notice. If the bike is not claimed the city will come to remove it and impound it for a month. If it is not claimed, it will be scrapped. Many residents who have had their bikes impounded this way were not aware that the city had taken their bike, and thought it just had been stolen. The city says that many of the residents bikes are being parked in a dangerous way and that the bikes need to be removed.
I have seen bikes flung off electricity poles dangling onto the streets, and with European-sized sidewalks there is a good argument that many of the city’s bikes are not parked appropriately. There is also a good measure of abandoned bikes left throughout the city, with chains hanging off them. Now that I am a mother with a baby in a stroller it becomes increasingly important to me that the sidewalks are clear when I am walking down the street. In fact one of the biggest pet peeves I have where I live in Jaffa is that a local bike store on Jerusalem Boulevard thinks it owns the sidewalks – using public space as a place to change tires, give tune-ups and unload product.
Biking is good but I don’t advocate this holier-than-though approach that I grew up with in Toronto. There the cyclists are pretty aggressive as to their rights, kicking in the sides of cars that piss them off. I grow to realize that everyone has to give space to all people that share our cities. If you drive a car, don’t drive carelessly, and don’t park on sidewalks. Same is true if you are cycling or riding a moped or motorbike. All people driving something need to respect the flow of traffic, and most important the nearby pedestrians walking on foot.
Image of Tel Aviv bike inspectors via My Tel Aviv