Stuck in traffic

October 28, 2010 by

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This week I was roundly derided for my choice of traffic routes. Apparently the beltway, a high speed road created to bypass traffic congestion, is in fact a low speed highly-congested traffic jam created to move you back onto local roads. If this is common knowledge, with hoards of people laughing smugly at my ignorance, who are all those drivers making up the traffic jams on the beltway, and why has no one told them? I am sure that there is a mind-numbingly obvious solution to my question, so please send your answers on the back of a 20 dollar bill…

Whilst sitting on the aforementioned beltway, I had the opportunity to consider my driving experiences in the Holy Land. I learnt to drive in Israel, subsequently the horn, the fog lights used for blinding and the finger, are a central part of my repertoire. Road rage is a cathartic, almost zen-like, interaction with my motoring peers. I love driving in Israel. And despite what you may think, it is safer than driving in America: in Israel 5 per 100,000 citizens are killed in car accidents, in the US that figure is almost triple at 14 per 100,000.

When we arrived in Australia on our first Shlichut I had trouble understanding the different road culture, the flashing of lights was especially bewildering. In Israel you flash your lights at oncoming traffic (if you are a good citizen) to warn them of an upcoming police speed trap. If you flash the vehicle in front of you it means speed up and move out of the way, if they do not comply, the flashing ends – you leave your high beams on. But whilst I could pontificate on the niceties of Israeli road etiquette, it was not this that I was considering on the beltway, but the subtexts of the roads we travel on in Israel.

I have friends who refuse to travel on Route 6, a mammoth toll road slicing the country from North to South. Kvish 6 is an impressive engineering feat enabling a journey time of one and a half hours from Jerusalem to Haifa (but only if you drive really fast). The toll on Kvish 6 is calculated by how many intersections you pass and gets sent to your home address. However, immense damage was done to natural habitats during the construction of the road and many Greens still hold a grudge. Ultra-Orthodox Haredim also opposed the project, but for different reasons, and Yiddish chants accompanied self-chaining to earthmoving equipment as they protested the excavation of ancient gravesites which impeded the road’s path.

I have friends who won’t travel on Route 443, a shortcut alternative to Route 1, which links Jerusalem to Modi’in. The 443 is a classic example of no one knowing who is the legislator: the IDF closed it to Palestinian vehicles, the Supreme Court demanded it be reopened to the Palestinians, and the IDF reopened it in such a way that no Palestinian can logically use the road, and the Knesset… well the politicians got some sound bites. The road consists of strips which are encased on both sides by the security wall/fence, checkpoints that are unmanned, hastily constructed tributaries for Palestinian traffic and other signs of gross misspending. It is a journey of around 30 minutes that can open an internal conversation which lasts much longer.

I especially enjoy not travelling on the new and beautiful 431, which links Rishon LeTzion to the trusty Route 1 (TA – Jerusalem). The road was built by Lev Leviev (Israeli billionaire) and his bombastically named company, Africa-Israel Investments. It is Israel’s first Private Financed Initiative (PFI) in which the government has funded a public infrastructure project with private money. Put simply, Leviev has built a road for the State of Israel and will be paid by the government for every car that travels on it for the next 25 years, when it will finally become public property. This means that every time I don’t travel on the 431 I am saving the government money, I’m not wasting my taxes and I’m freeing up money for better uses than making a billionaire tycoon richer.

And so, I’ve learnt my lesson and I will be avoiding the beltway. It will be novel to avoid taking a road for purely traffic related reasons, and when I visit Israel next week I will go back to travelling and not travelling on various arteries based on complex identity-defining reasoning.

Anton Goodman is the Israel Engager Shaliach to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington

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