As the current wave of Palestinian terror continues, Israel is taking steps to protect its citizens from harm. At the same time, it is also encouraging people to keep calm and carry on with their usual routines. This applies to everyone in the country, including people with disabilities—which has left authorities facing a balancing act between providing security and safeguarding accessibility.
A plan to protect vulnerable Jerusalem bus stops from car-ramming attacks is a case in point.
Mere hours after a car-ramming attack last December 14 injured 14 Israelis as they waited for buses near the main entrance to Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the installation of safety barriers at hundreds of the city’s bus stops.
The plan to place protective posts at the bus stops was proposed by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and was quickly approved by the prime minister after consulting with Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
A week later, workers were busy cementing the slightly more than one-meter-high steel posts into the sidewalk in front of the first of 300 bus stops determined to be in high-risk locations by police.
With the focus on security, not everyone had accessibility in mind. Almost immediately, complaints were lodged with the government’s Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities by Jerusalem residents reporting that the protective posts had been installed in a way that interfered with accessibility for people with disabilities.
In response, the Jerusalem Municipality temporarily halted the installation of the barriers and sought the expert advice of Dr. Avi Ramot, director of the Israel Center for Accessibility at SHEKEL, a Jerusalem-based non-profit organization providing community services for people with special needs.
“The first order of business after we got the call from the Municipality on December 29, was to go back and fix the situation at the six bus stops that had already been worked on,” Ramot told The Times of Israel.
By law, there must be 1.1 meters space between the bus stop shelter and the street. The distance from the center of one pillar to another is prescribed at 150 cm (for a net distance of 130 cm). Finally, there must be a 2.5 meter space free of obstacles where a passenger in a wheelchair can be raised or lowered while boarding a bus.
Ramot was given the list of the 300 bus stops to receive protection. He, together with an employee from the city’s transport and infrastructure development division and contractor, has personally been going out every day to do the measurements at each stop to make sure the placement of the pillars will be compliant with the law.
“I’m spending about six to seven hours a day doing this work, which includes solving on-site problems,” said Ramot, who has been visiting around 35 bus stops a day.
As of Wednesday, protective pillars had been installed properly at 125 of the 300 locations. It is expected that modification of all 300 bus stops will be completed by the end of January.
Ramot attributes the initial accessibility problems with the protected bus stops to the urgency with which the prime minister and mayor wanted to act to safeguard human life.
“There was a panic. It came like a bolt of lightning, so mistakes were inadvertently made. The city is generally very aware of accessibility issues with regard to transportation,” Ramot noted.
When asked by The Times of Israel about the need to balance security with accessibility, the Jerusalem Municipality responded that it places great importance on the matter of accessibility in public spaces.
“That is why the protection of the bus stops is being done in conjunction with an outside accessibility expert, and all the bus stops will comply with accessibility requirements,” a city spokesperson said.