Biking enthusiasts in Palestine have welcomed the construction of the first cycle lane in the Palestinian territories on the main road leading from Jericho to Jerusalem.
The 1,200-metre two-way cycle lane on the west side of Jerusalem Street in Jericho was completed in July at a cost of 179,000 euros and will be formally opened after the end of Ramadan.
“The most pressing issue that bikers face here is they feel unsafe because they have to bike on the road with cars,” said Michael Awad of Bethlehem-based Bike Palestine, a group that organizes cycle tours of the area. “We think this is excellent.”
“Jericho is known as a favorite place for bikes. We’ll be using this lane on Jerusalem Street because on our tour we leave Jericho that way and bike to Nebi Musa, so it’s on our route,” Awad said.
“We have been pressing for cycle lanes, especially in areas where tourists can also use them,” he said. “We would like to create a bike tour in Bethlehem, so people can hire a bike after they come through the checkpoint and tour Bethlehem and the area. That would also be good in Jericho.”
The new lane runs from the Aqbat Jaber refugee camp opposite the Intercontinental Hotel, home to some 7,000 people, to the Hisham bin Abdul Malek Secondary School close to Jericho city center.
The schools in the refugee camp only serve younger children, so secondary school students have to make the trip into town every day. The long, straight, road encourages bad driving habits and there have been several fatal accidents along the route.
“This road that leads from downtown to Aqbat Jaber camp was very dangerous. Many accidents happened there and many people were killed, so the municipality has been looking for donors to improve the road for some time,” said Emad Barahmeh, a city councillor in charge of trade investment, health and the environment.
The unique topography of Jericho, at the bottom of the Jordan Valley-Dead Sea trench, makes it not only the lowest and oldest continually inhabited city on earth but also one of the flattest. With a built up area of just 25 square kilometers, the city is eminently suited to biking.
“People here have been used to being on bicycles for a long time,” said Barahmeh.
The new cycle lane was planned by an engineering consultancy in Nablus and overseen by Samar Zaina, an engineer trained at Birzeit University who is in charge of planning for the Jericho municipality.
Zaina said the idea of a cycle lane had been discussed by the municipality for 15 years. In the interim, she had visited many foreign cities and studied how the lanes there operated. A grant from the Municipal Development and Lending Fund financed by foreign donor countries made it possible to build this first module.
“There are a lot of different designs in the different countries. Each one depends on the road itself,” said Zaina.
“Lots of young people use bicycles in this area because there are schools there,” she said. “It’s dangerous to have people using bicycles there without having a cycle lane for the people to ride on.”
She said she had recommended that the municipality and the police provide training for drivers and cyclists after the official opening so local people will know how to use the new facility.
“This is a first experiment for us. We don’t even have regulations for it yet. We need to develop awareness about safety and how to use it,” she said.
But some foreign donors say this first cycle lane may also be Palestine’s last.
“We are very disappointed with these small projects that have been implemented by the Municipal Development and Lending Fund,” said Jacky Amprou, a project officer at the Agence Francaise de Developpement in East Jerusalem. “We are hoping that in future the fund will finance more integrated projects that will have a bigger impact in terms of urban development.”