"Developing the infrastructure and labeling the city as the capital for cycling will improve the image of the city," says Eitan Hevrony.|
The area surrounding Beit Shemesh, mid-way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is dubbed the Israeli Tuscany. Known for its mild weather most of the year, gentle hills and picturesque routes, it attracts bicycle riders from all over Israel.
"One of the reasons that I moved to Beit Shemesh was because of its beautiful and accessible surroundings. The surrounding area is a biker's pearl with potential for further development, perhaps even on an international level," says architect Otto Friedmann, a veteran immigrant from Colombia. "In the heart of this cycling paradise is a vacuum – the city of Beit Shemesh - with no bicycle infrastructure, and cycling there is dangerous. We must utilize the tremendous bike potential surrounding the city for the benefit of Beit Shemesh so it becomes Israel's bicycle capital."
Eitan Hevrony, a computer programmer at the Israel government's Central Bureau of Statistics, also envisions Beit Shemesh as Israel's bicycle capital. "Developing the infrastructure and labeling the city as the capital for cycling will improve the image of the city." Eitan grew up in nearby Moshav Noham and is moving back after an absence of many years. "Raised a nature boy, I find that riding bicycle paths is a way to reconnect with nature and my roots."
Otto and Eitan are among the founders of the Samson Regional Bicycle Club (SRBC), a local bike advocacy organization based on its members' voluntary work. "We try to promote awareness of cycling," explains Otto. "The urban element of cycling advocacy includes encouraging biking as a means of alternative transportation. The regional element is to develop recreational biking to tour and enjoy a most beautiful area."
Partnership 2000, through its Beit Shemesh-Yehuda Plains Region partnership with Washington D.C. and South Africa, is involved in developing the region's bicycle tourism. Eitan's involvement with Partnership 2000 began in 1999 when he joined the Student Leadership Project which encourages university students to volunteer. Eitan then became a delegate to the Young Leadership Conference in Washington D.C.
As a direct result of this conference he established LaMitnadev ("For the Volunteer"), a grassroots organization that recruits volunteers from Beit Shemesh to reduce social gaps. Partnership 2000 has contributed to this initiative. "I believe that as individuals we must take personal responsibility and give to help others," reflects Eitan. "If we just complain, it won't help."
Eitan Hevrony (left) and Otto Friedmann (second from right) are working together to promote awareness of cycling.|
In November 2004, at the Local Economic Development Conference under Partnership 2000 auspices, SBRC representatives proposed a project to develop bike infrastructure and tourism. The main goal behind Partnership 2000's approval of this project (along with two others) is to promote tourism to the region, thus stimulating the economy by increasing employment opportunities.
Partnership 2000 then established the Bicycle Forum made up of representatives from the Jewish National Fund, SBRC, the Beit Shemesh municipality and other authorities. Plans are underway to expand bike tourism by marketing via the Internet, improving signs, creating a Bible route, and developing services. Ideas based on North American models are gradually being implemented, like the National Mountain Bike Patrol to prevent littering and treat injuries. "We've already trained people for the patrol, but we don't have a budget for communications equipment, first aid kits and a director," notes Eitan. Another project, the Critical Mass Bike Rally, promotes the rights of cyclists on the road in order to encourage alternative transportation, thus preventing pollution.
Last August riders from all over Israel cycled in the First Sovev Yehuda (Yehuda Circuit) race. This race, slated to become an annual event, is the initiative of the Bicycle Forum of the Beit Shemesh-Yehuda Plains Partnership 2000.
Meanwhile, the SBRC has successfully petitioned to delay the paving of a new road through the expansive Britannia Park. Efforts are being made to transform abandoned quarries into sites for challenging "free ride" and "downhill riding".
Otto and other volunteers are in touch with the authorities to create a master plan for infrastructure of Beit Shemesh. A pilot is underway for a 2-kilometer children's bicycle lane for students to safely ride to school from their homes.
Bike infrastructures are a sustainable development for Beit Shemesh and the Yehuda Plains region. With relatively small budgets for their creation and requiring a minimal amount of maintenance throughout the years, the quality of life and environment are considerably improved along with increased economic development.