Emek Refaim, the ‘Main Street’ of the German Colony, has been in decline for a number of years. Mainstay shops and restaurants have closed and now the sidewalks are peppered with empty storefronts and underperforming businesses. Some blame the opening of the nearby First Station, an outdoor complex that offers visitors ample parking, upscale dining and an abundance of free activities and concerts. Others claim that it’s the exorbitant rents that businesses can no longer keep up with. Regardless of the underlying issue, a big change is coming…
Enter the Light Rail
Spanning 21 kilometers and passing through 34 stations, the blue line of the Jerusalem light rail network will be a complex engineering undertaking. When completed it will transport 10,000 commuters during peak morning hours. Many main roads will become shared or completely closed to automobiles. Much like the red line on Yafo Street, there will be a need for innovative traffic solutions.
Emek Refaim functions as a main artery for morning commuters. It has proven to be one of the locations most in need of a creative plan. Residents in the buildings on and around the street rely on it for their cars, but Emek Refaim is not suited for two light rail tracks and a two-lane road. The solution to this issue was to divide Emek Refaim into three sections: North, Central and South.
Northern Emek Refaim will host one light rail lane and a one-way car lane. The car lane will go down the street (north to south) and feed into Masaryk. The light rail lane will be a junction shared by trains going in either direction.
Central Emek Refaim will host two light rail lanes. There will be no automobile traffic between Masaryk and Rachel Imeinu .
Southern Emek Refaim will host two light rail lanes and one car lane. The car lane will go up Emek Refaim from Kornblum Garden (south to north) and feed left into Rachel Imeinu. The remaining road south of Kornblum Garden will feed into Ben Zakai.
This schematic clarifies the traffic flow:
Sidewalks, Trees and Demolition
Once construction is completed, Emek Refaim will cease to function as it has in the past. Morning commuters will be forced to use alternative routes. The road will exist exclusively as a means for locals to come and go, leaving the area mostly free of traffic and thus safer and more appealing to pedestrians.
Along with the light rail installation will come several beautification projects. The sidewalks along Emek Refaim will be resurfaced with pavers and made handicap accessible. Obstructions such as trees and poles that encroach on the walkways will be removed and replaced with trees in more appropriate locations. The planters that dominate the sidewalks across from the post office will also be removed. Additionally, the intersection between Emek Refaim and Rachel Imeinu will become a small pedestrian square.
The singular casualty of the construction will be the Mandate-era building that currently houses the newly renovated Coffee Mill. Because it protrudes slightly more than the other buildings on the block, it impinges on space needed for the light rail project. Instead of renovating the building, the municipality has decided to demolish and replace it.
A source at the 20-year old establishment claimed that the municipality failed to inform them of the decision and it was only discovered at a meeting of local proprietors. The Coffee Mill plans on remaining in business, but it is unknown where they will move or if they will even stay in the neighborhood when the demolition begins.
What To Expect
The blue line is a massive project that is expected to begin running in just over a decade. The anticipated year of completion is 2025/6. During this period, maneuvering through the streets will be complicated, there will be higher levels of pollution, and local establishments will suffer.
Ultimately, the project will result in a city where citizens can feel safer, travel faster and be more connected. It’s just going to take a while.