Believe it or not, for the first time in our married life Elana and I do not own a car. So you might be wondering how we get around? Well, full disclosure, we do have access to a car when we need one. We gave our former car to my daughter and son-in-law. But for the most part, we simply don’t need a car.
In Tel Aviv, everything is close. If I have a meeting, I have multiple ways of arriving without the use of a vehicle, and thus I get to avoid the horrible Tel Aviv traffic. I can walk, I can ride my bike, or I can take a scooter (the kind you rent through your phone). Every day there is a new bike path in Tel Aviv. Biking is my preferred method of travel, but it’s never good to show up to a meeting dripping in sweat. So I mostly use my bike for exercise or running errands.
As a last resort, if it’s too far, I can take a taxi. So yesterday, we had to shoot some video at the congregation. Because we had equipment, we took a taxi there. I had to leave early for a meeting and simply walked home. The day before, I had to go to Jerusalem. The train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is only 39 minutes. And I can work on the train.
Tel Aviv subway is coming
Over the past several years, Tel Aviv has been building a subterranean subway system. That has meant constant changes to traffic patterns. The GPS apps like Waze do their best to stay up-to-date. Once the new subway is ready, it will be even easier to get around Tel Aviv. But in the meantime, it’s simply easier without a car. In fact, I keep hearing that once the subway system is finished, they will not allow people who do not live in Tel Aviv to drive into Tel Aviv but take an alternative method to cut down on traffic and pollution.
Israel’s amazing highway system
Now, if you have a car, one thing you’ll notice around Israel is our incredible highway system. If you had told me in 1990, when I first visited Israel, that I would be raving about our highway system, I would not have believed you. At that time, it was anything but extensive. It was quite primitive. There was no such thing as a rest stop, and even worse, the concept of getting a cup of coffee or cappuccino in a to-go cup had not yet made it here.
Today, we have all kinds of highways and tunnels and bypasses. When I first moved here, sitting in traffic on the highways was a very normal experience. Now you can go from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by car without experiencing any traffic. We have two different ways to get there, and the main road now has an additional lane. If you go north to Haifa, they have literally carved through the rocks of Mount Carmel, building a bypass tunnel. And Rd #6 goes right through the middle of the country, from north to south, making it much easier to get from the southern coastal city of Eilat all the way up close to the Lebanese border.
And you cannot go too far without seeing a Plaza on the side of the road with bathrooms, restaurants, and of course, coffee to go.
Highways with an even number go north or south (20, 4, 2, 6 are the most used). Highways with an odd number go east to west (1 is from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 5 goes from the beach all the way to Ariel, one of our larger cities in what the media refers to as the West Bank.)
Getting directions takes local knowledge
One of the things I realized when I moved here 20 years ago is that Israelis love to be helpful. They love to tell you what they think. So when asking for directions, even if they’re not quite sure of the way, they will give you directions. It’s always good to get a second opinion!
But what I found even more comical is that no Israeli knows the Roads by their number. So if you ask someone how to get to Rd #5, they will ask you what is Road 5? It’s the same with Road 2 or 4. Some of these roads have actual names. So the highway that cuts through Tel Aviv is called the Ayalon. Because you see all these signs for the Ayalon, I thought Ayalon was the Hebrew word for highway for longer than I care to admit. I did not realize that part of it follows the Ayalon River, hence the name. Road 2 is actually called Rechov Hof HaYam—the Beach Road because it follows the Mediterranean coast. If you wanna know how to get to Jerusalem, you don’t ask where is Rd #1; you ask, “how do I get to derech Yerushalayim,” which means the way to Jerusalem or the road to Jerusalem.
In the past, I was often exasperated asking people how to get to Road number 4. Where we lived, in Ra’anana, we were just minutes from this highway. And the number four is larger than life, just as it is with any other highway. But Israeli simply don’t see the numbers. They don’t even know there is a number! Once I learned the specific name of the highway—chavish geya—I had no trouble getting directions.
Suffice it to say, the transportation in Israel is quite different than what I grew up with in Virginia. And despite the craziness of inner-city traffic, Israel is quite advanced in its ability to get you from A to B, with an extensive highway system, light rail systems, trains, scooters, and biking paths.
But we don’t have Uber!