Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cracking Down on Electric Bicycles

A 250 shekel fine imposed on bicycle riding on Tel Aviv sidewalks - Ibn Gvirol at Arlozorov, April 2016
Police in Tel Aviv now stop and fine electric bicycle riders on city sidewalks. On a few main streets, I have seen police officers stop riders. This seems to be happening on large streets with narrow sidewalks (Derech Ha'shalom into Tel Aviv, Ibn Gvirol Street). On streets in Givatay'im in early afternoon when high school children ride in packs through commercial streets (Katzenelson and Waitzman Streets). Besides terrorizing pedestrians on busy commercial streets, an accident can cause real trauma. Up to now accidents caused a few bruzed muscles and broken bones. But as more bikers ride on sidewalks, the inevitable serious accident it just a matter of when not if.
The electric bicycle trend has taken Tel Aviv by storm. At first electric bicycles were a curiosity, maybe another alternative transportation mode in a city with chronic parking shortage and commute time grid lock are an annoyance for years. But the electrified models came at a time where government efforts to introduce more bicycling seemed like a good idea. Tel Aviv introduced a bicycling rental by the hour program. Copying London's program, a resident can sign up for a yearly pass and pay 280 shekels (see city bicycling rental page, HE). The Tel-O-Fun program is adding a few biking enthusiasts to Tel Aviv streets, but seems more of a publicity effort than a real transportation solution. There is talk about adding bicycle lanes, but besides bicycle traffic lights along the beach path, to me this seems like a long term political babble. So if you come to Tel Aviv, and see "everyone" biking on sidewalks. Look for the marked bike paths. Or give the police a story how in London and Amsterdam bikes and pedestrians have equal rights. It could get you off a 250 shekel fine (about US$ 62.50). Otherwise just ride the streets and as they say "be careful out there!"

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Weekend Life in Startup City (Tel Aviv and Surroundings)

Israelis are constantly looking to balance intense work schedule with family life

Israel's intense startup life takes a break on the Sabbath. Family life takes back seat during the week, but on weekends (Friday and Saturday) the pendulum swings a bit to the side of leisure. Some see this weekly break as a way to compensate for the intense focus on work. There is a bit on nostalgia in Israel for days where family and especially children where the focus of attention. These nostalgic feelings seem to come from parents who grew up in simpler times here. Israel's meteoric technological and economic progress, going on for decades now, has changed many basic family lifestyle habits. With higher expenses and much larger economy, demands on personal time have gone up. To some older Israelis this change is alarming. But younger Israelis make the choice to focus on work rather than family willingly. Israelis have a perspective on a shift in focus from one generation to the next. While some younger Israelis are nostalgic, others put up with change. This means putting more into children's events. The "birthday party in the park" with "activities" - is one sign of the changing times.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Investing in "Lifestyle": Showing Up Everywhere

Flowers, trees, public bicycles and cleaner streets are a big part of local government spending today

Israel's focus on domestic lifestyle growth is slowly showing signs of life. In the past few years, Israel's perspective of urban lifestyle became a focus point. While government and private organizations were not as keen on investing in local lifestyle in the past, attitudes toward living standards have changed. The average Israeli's street view is changing for the better. Streets are cleaner, renovated where needed and even policed more frequently. To me it seems as if local government is taking outdoor life more seriously. Following the example of cities around the world, streets, parks and public spaces are cleaner, better maintained and more comfortable. There is a hidden story here. I think it relates to the change of attitude toward the hard criticism of government policies the last few years. This type of writing is best done by political writers, especially in mainstream media outlets (newspapers, TV). Yet here is my take on things:

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Spring in Israel (2016 season)

Anat in front of flowering tree in Givatayim.
Spring this year arrived early. After a few rainy days, higher temperatures and clear sunny days quickly reminded us of where we live. In New England after hard winters the say "if you can stand the winter, you deserve the summer". Here they should say the opposite: "if you can stand the summer, you deserve the spring". Spring brings clear days and cool evenings. Flowers burst out after the last winter rains. Somehow this year it seems like the flowers are blooming all at once. The last two weeks it's been a feast for the eyes and the nose. If you come to visit Tel Aviv in the spring, go to where the flowers are blooming. In Tel Aviv there are a few "green" streets where the blooms are glorious. Enjoy the spring, the summer will surely push a few of us hot and bothered.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Shopping Still Strong in Israel

Givatay'im mall at a quiet weekday morning. Shopping at a street level has actually increased recently.

Israel somehow averted the global downturn of 2008. This makes for over two decades of steady growth (see Bank of Israel statistic). Some attribute this to the cautious Israeli bank lending policies. The average Israeli who wants to qualify for a mortgage needs to show ability to pay off a loan more convincingly than in other countries. Certainly more than in the US (see the recent movie "The Big Short") even after the sub-prime Wall Street fiasco. Some attribute the strong economy to fast move into new technology start-up sectors and security (i.e. military, internet cyber) sectors. Either way, the Israeli economy is growing steadily. This puts pressure on consumer sectors. The building industry has been suffering for years from slow growth and new home prices continue to see inflation year after year (2015 home prices in Tel Aviv increased by 8%). The state (in making land available), builders (due to labor shortage) and even banks are not "building" enough new housing. Demand is simply growing much faster than supply.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tel Aviv Beach end of February 2016

Sunny warm weather brought out Tel Avivians to the beach, end of February 2016
A few weeks ago the buzz on the street seesawed between anti-Zionist rumblings from Europe (mostly the UK) and political noise over domestic issues (security, economy, democratic policy). But weather and everyday life tends to send politics and economics to yesterday's newspaper pile (out of sight, out of mind?) Last Saturday, the end of a rainy February here, was one such day. Unseasonably warm and sunny, brought the huddled masses out to the sunshine. The beach was one place to find families and bikers, even a few sun worshipers who are an unexpected bunch this time of year. Foreigners criticize Tel Avivian's for ignoring all kind of political, security and economic issues. We hear from Americans to Swedish critics how Israelis should care more about injustice and pain felt by the people who are not as fortunate as the upper class. My answer is: go to the beach. The sand and sun are free. A soft drink or ice cream costs 8 to 16 shekels (US$ 2.5 to 4). And the talk ranges from work to cost of living to public transpiration. This is the real Israeli middle class, taking a day off from work and annoying foreign criticism. Which seems like a real misunderstanding once you are here and living the life of the average working stiff. Just for comparison, temps around the world: St. Petersburg: -4; Tokyo: +6; Toronto: -1; Seattle, WA: 10; London: 5; TEL AVIV:  18 @ 3PM to 10 deg C.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Alcohol Drink Mix in Montifiore Cafe

Small alcoholic drink selection in Montifiore, a cafe during the day and bar at night (Ibn Gvirol @ Arlozorov)

Tel Avivians are different in their entertainment and drinking habits than Americans or Europeans. Alcohol drinking is not as popular as in most western countries. There is also less abuse, especially in the younger (millennial) population. Israelis consume less hard liquor than most westerners this makes for a lower alcoholic statistics (driving accidents and poisoning related incidents). But you can still get a good drink in many restaurants and cafes. With higher living standard constantly pushing up, Israelis started going out more and entertain in bars is way up (mostly with friends and work related events). This trend is driving many to Tel Aviv's more popular entertainment centers. Even small cafes (Montifiore on Ibn Gvirol in the picture above) are getting in the game. There are hundreds of small bars, cafes and restaurants serving drinks. Most will have beer (Goldstar and Maccabee are local Israeli beers) and a few choices of wine. The ones with small bars have a few selections of Whiskey, Vodka, Arak and Rum. In most small bars the selection is small so don't expect an exotic top shelf Irish Whiskey. But a good Johnnie Walker Red Label or a nice bottle of Absolut is definitely available. Beer 15 to 25 shekels, wine 25 to 50 shekels (cup), mixed drinks 25 to 80 shekels. There are variations in everything alcoholic in Tel Aviv, even taxes on alcohol in shops are a hotly debated topic.