Athletes with physical disabilities who use adaptive bicycles like hand cycles will now be able to utilize dozens of kilometers of bike paths in the Yarkon Park, after a multi-million shekel Accessible Cycling Complex was dedicated on Thursday at the National Sport Center in Tel Aviv.
The Tourism Ministry and the Tel Aviv municipality funded the NIS 5.7 million project to create the complex, as well as create improved access to the park’s bike paths by ensuring that there are no curbs or steps without ramps across the entire park.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) said the initiative is part of a two-pronged vision for the Tourism Ministry: improving accessibility, and attracting tourists from the adaptive athletic community around the world.
“We must make all tourism sites accessible, not just because it is a [legal] requirement, but also because Israel has specific and special needs in this regard,” he said.
The Tourism Ministry has funded other accessibility projects, part of a NIS 6.5 million plan to create accessible paths in popular tourists sites, including, in Jerusalem, the Old City and the Herzl Museum.
Improving accessibility refers to both physical disabilities as well as “sensory impairments” such as deafness or blindness. The Tourism Ministry has also made five “accessibility points” — areas like picnic spots or short trails that enable visitors to access viewpoints or other highlights — in nature reserves across the country, such as the Besor Stream, the Hula Lake, and the Snir Stream, among others.
Koby Lion, 40, a hand cyclist who won a silver medal in the London 2012 time trials event, said the projects represent “movement in the right direction to make as many things as accessible as possible.” Lion, who was injured in Lebanon while serving in the army, is a full-time professional athlete who competes in hand cycle competitions around the world, and will be representing Israel at the Rio Paralympics in September. “I remember when we had just a little storage closet, and now we have a much better area, with room to meet and drink coffee,” he said.
“We are minimizing the gaps between the Olympics and the Paralympics,” said Dani Ben Abu, the chairperson of the Israel Sports Association for the Disabled. Abu noted that the accessible bike paths now link the Hadar Yosef Stadium, which houses the adaptive sports center, to the National Sports Center next door, where the Israel Olympic Committee has its offices.
However, Ben Abu said that the organization “continues to dream of a center of our own,” with more facilities and workout options for adaptive athletes. He presented Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai with an architectural plan for the building the center hopes to build with the cooperation of the municipality.
“Tel Aviv has a goal of making everything accessible for all people,” said Huldai.
Levin, Huldai, and Tourism Ministry Director Amir Halevy took a spin on the hand cycles after the dedication ceremony to try out the newly adapted bike paths. The three politicians got the hang of it quickly but had some difficulty steering the bikes in order to get in position for photo ops.