Florentin, Tel Aviv
Wednesday, March 12th, 2003 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/tel-aviv-skylift
fter a deadly arson attack on the Seoul subway, London successfully introducing its vehicle congestion charge, and with Israel’s rough recession, perhaps we should seek alternatives for the long-postponed Tel Aviv subway. Digging under a town that already exists is a huge business, and shouldn’t any money spent on trains in this country go towards restoring a rail link between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, its capital and largest city? And to its furthest city Eilat? No, rather than copycatting a transportation system from the 19th century, Israel should inject into its civic planning the same audacity and resourcefulness that it has historically brought to agriculture and defence.
My suggestion is to run cable cars, something like ski lifts, along popular routes in Tel Aviv. The city’s eastern edge is now dotted with train stations from north to south. Each of these could have an east-west cable car running to the city’s far western edge, the Mediterranean Sea. There could also be a north-south line on main streets such as Ben-Yehuda and Ibn-Gvirol. And possibly two diagonal lines, though a study of people’s real-life movements might reveal more efficient routes. Unlike a conventional ski lift, cars could run independently, stopping and starting upon request, then automatically varying speed to restore the ideal distance between them.
Less time would be spent hailing one of these cars by pressing a button on a pole than descending in an escalator to an underground platform. It would also be a more pleasant to ride in the open air above ground than in a tunnel. If you’ve ever visited a ski resort, remember how quiet a ski lift can be — especially compared to Tel Aviv’s buses and diesel-run sheruts!
The drawbacks seem minor compared to building and maintaining an underground railway. Perhaps a privacy issue with people living on the first floor, as passengers could see into their apartments. To solve this the cars could be situated not directly above the sidewalk but over the road, providing distance between passengers and residents. The system would require more poles in the sidewalk, but perhaps new pillars could consolidate streetlamps, street signs and billboards, so that older single-purpose poles can be removed.
Perhaps each car could contain a licensed food or drinks vendor. To express the local colour, any food served on board could be Kosher, and on Shabbat the service could run like a Sabbath elevator, stopping automatically at all designated stops. Regarding the problem of exchanging money on Shabbat, well, why not make the entire service free on Saturdays? No secular rights campaigner would have a problem with that, and the most Orthodox stickler would be delighted that a civic project is distinctly and mindfully Jewish from the get-go. It’s about time that Shabbat was seen by the general population as more a boon and less a burden.
And lest we forget the terror issue: an ingeniously-designed cable car system would be a lot less of a target than an underground railway: Escape is easier, population density is lower — in short, the maximum number of casualties simply can’t compare. Thinking this way is not appeasement, it is adapting to realities. And if Tel Aviv’s urban skylift succeeds and other cities take interest, it could become a national export. It would at any rate be a tourist attraction, for when that becomes relevant again.
But the main advantage is that it’s surely at least an order of magnitude cheaper than digging up the city and running trains beneath it.
Update 2016 Aug 20: Over a dozen years later this still seems to me a fantastic and even obvious complement to the Tel Aviv Light Rail system now underway alongside the digging.