Emek Refaim and The Light Rail


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.

Northern Emek Light Rail

Central Emek Refaim will host two light rail lanes. There will be no automobile traffic between Masaryk and Rachel Imeinu .

Central Emek Light Rail

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.

Southern Emek Light Rail

This schematic clarifies the traffic flow:

Emek Refaim Light Rail Schematic

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.

Sidewalk Tree on Emek Refaim Emek Refaim Planters

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.

 Tachanat HaCafe Protruding Building On Emek Emek Refaim 23

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.

Blue Line on Emek Refaim
Emek Refaim/HaMelits (The Post Office Building)
Blue Line on Emek Refaim and Rachel Imeinu
Emek Refaim/Rachel Imeinu

Emek Refaim and The Light Rail

29 thoughts on “Emek Refaim and The Light Rail

  1. Gedalyah Reback says:

    Why not just convert the old train track area that is now a park into a light rail track? This seems wholly unnecessary.

    1. Norman Shapiro says:

      I agree with this completely. It would also mean that they would have the line between Emek and Derech Chevron – in which case they could avoid having to split the line into 2 extensions as is currently planned. Why disrupt business and residential areas for 10 years – when there is a perfectly good area that will mean minimal disruption? (Don;t get me wrong, the “park rekevet” is absolutely gorgeous and has catapulted the entire neighborhood – but the downside of such work on Emek and Derech Chevron compared to the park is mind boggling)

    2. Harry Cohen says:

      If they tried to run the light rail through the park, the residents of all the surrounding neighbourhoods would storm Kikar Safra. They love that park!
      As it is, Emek Refaim has been on a downward slope for a number of years. They can’t compete with the plentiful parking of the First Station and Cinema City or the easy access to downtown. It is thought that the light rail running on Emek Refaim would lift the area’s fortunes in the same way it resuscitated downtown. It would become accessible without the headache of finding somewhere to park.
      I just don’t understand why it requires 10 years to build it. Didn’t they learn anything from building the first line that would speed up future lines???

  2. Mo Kamioner says:

    Thanks for this informative article! You mentioned that the traffic from Rachel Imeinu will feed into Ben Zakai… what about Pier Kenig? Will drivers have the option to turn left into Talpiot or will that be light rail only too?

  3. Martin Elton says:

    This reads like part of a damage-control effort by the authorities following the debacle of Ginot Ha’Ir’s public meeting last week. Among its many omissions are the destructive accommodations that will have to be made to streets neighboring Emek Refaim. For example, narrow Smuts St. is to be made entirely southbound to provide access via a widened pedestrian passage to narrow Masaryk St, then narrow HaRakevet St. This route will serve: local residents; through traffic from the north intending to bypass Emek Refaim; and residents of the large apartment block (with about 130 parking spaces) recently approved for construction above the Jerusalem Pool. Oh, wise men of Chelm!

    1. Eli Zazon says:

      I am in no way associated with the town or any planning boards. I simply report facts that are relevant to a mass audience. I am happy to allow all comments, positive and negative.

      1. Martin Elton says:

        I didn’t think your article was based on direct associations with the planners and those they report to. It did, however, occur to me that the illustrations and, perhaps via a press release, much of the content may well have come from them. After all, they must be worried about the high level of opposition they are encountering – which, at best, suggests there will be lengthy delays in moving ahead. In striving to be concise, I may have given an incorrect impression, for which I apologize. I have no difficulty in respecting honest people with whom I disagree. In fact, over recent weeks, I have developed much respect for your publication: it does an impressive job of making important information available in a clear and timely way. And it was respect for this professionalism that led me to hope you would publish a critical comment. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have bothered to write it.

  4. Richard Szental says:

    Does anyone know whether it is intended to widen the roads of Derech Harakevet on either side of the park? It looks like traffic flow along each side of the park will increase to take up traffic that would otherwise have used Emek Refaim.

  5. julie posner says:

    As a resident of the German Colony I am concerned about how ambulances will be able to get to and from a residence in the heart of this neighborhood. Also, the narrow streets and queued single lane traffic will prevent emergency vehicles to operate effectively.

  6. Dr. Morton Posner says:

    The new connecting road from Smuts to Masaryk through ‘simta Jimmy’ seems strange: it would be costly, require property appropriation, perhaps ignore pedestrian and handicapped through access. The obvious, almost costless, alternative, is to have the traffic go out through Emile Zola onto Emek Refaim and then onto Masaryk. What is the point of making redundant work which is not particularly beneficial to almost all affected residents.
    How can we, as individuals, express our objections to an obvious planning fault?

  7. Jonathan Marks says:

    On the basis that at peak times the light rail frequency is once every six minutes,why can’t the rail and cars share Emek Refaim?To do so would save a tremendous increase in pressure on side roads off Emek.Trams and cars share road space in many major European cities without problem.The removal of buses from Emek will also increase traffic flow.The hopes of revitalizing Emek by the new proposals are in my view,doomed to failure.The simple fact is that with the opening of other attractions,Emek is overly provided with both retail and entertainment outlets.

  8. Nechama Brahinsky says:

    I hope the character of the German Colony and Emek Refaim will ONLY be enhanced. It is a shame to disturb an historic area.

      1. Martin Elton says:

        A fair question, but speaking as a resident who lives one block from Emek Refaim and who experiences the traffic on a daily basis, my answer is an emphatic NO. The whole neighborhood will be brutalized: charming old buildings destroyed, beautiful old trees cut down, sidewalks narrowed at the expense of outside cafes, and more.

        A traffic management scheme — for example, along the lines of that in the center of Florence, Italy — would probably solve Emek Refaim’s traffic problems at a very small fraction of the cost of the Light Rail line. The planners are stuck in a rut from the long-ago days when Ehud Olmert was mayor. Since then technology has moved on: Light Rail is fast becoming technologically obsolescent, and less expensive, environmentally friendly alternatives are becoming available. So besides destroying the German Colony, this particular branch of the Blue Line will represent a scandalous waste of public money.

        At present, Edinburgh, Scotland is held up as a dramatic example of what happens when a Light Rail plan goes off the rails and has to be abandoned half built. Expect Jerusalem to replace Edinburgh in about ten years.

  9. Judith says:

    Currently there is no public transport connecting Baka and HaPalmach. Will this new plan provide for a much needed for pedestrians?

    1. Martin Elton says:

      Although I haven’t seen anything yet about how bus routes will be changed, the answer certainly seems be no.

      A more sensible plan would omit the stretch of rail that would destroy the German Colony and link the Malha branch to the Gilo branch of the Blue Line at some point further south. Then, environmentally friendly public transport would link the German Colony to the Blue Line at the latter point, the First Station, and the Derech Hevron branch of the Blue Line. The last of these connecting routes could also connect Bakka to HaPalmach.

      Unfortunately, the Iria is stuck in a rut that dates back to the mayoralty of Ehud Olmert. Considerations such as the convenience of the public, economics, and conservation of historic neighborhoods appear to have become largely irrelevant. As has common sense.

  10. yehudis golshevsky says:

    we used to live adjacent to kvish echad and survived the insanity of the extended construction. after it was all over, there was a benefit to the residents. but it took a loooong time…
    get earplugs so that you’ll be able to sleep at night. the jackhammers work at about 3am.

  11. Eric says:

    Not clear to me: is the proposal for a Blue Line branch on Emek Refaim, and another Blue Line branch on Derekh Hevron, with both to be constructed (rather than only one or the other)?

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