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Israel engineers are behind the development of the largest communications router in the world, launched by Cisco.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Two-wheeler Tel Aviv

With 150 bike stations around Tel Aviv, residents and will find it much easier to get about the city under their own steam.

Israel's commerce and culture center rolls out a citywide bike rental program to encourage fitness while easing traffic and pollution.

For Tel Aviv-Jaffa residents and workers sick of skyrocketing gasoline prices and incessant traffic jams, the introduction of a new pilot bike-rental project this month couldn't have come at a better time.

Like some 200 other cities across the globe, Israel's commercial and cultural center was looking for ways to encourage fitness and discourage fossil-fuel consumption. The launch of Tel-Ofan (ofanayim is Hebrew for bicycle) synchs with the municipality's mutimillion-shekel investment in additional bike lanes to serve about 400,000 residents and many thousands more who commute in for work.

Tel Aviv-Jaffa Economic Development Authority CEO Sharon Kenan tells ISRAEL21c that Tel-Ofan began with 40 stations and 450 subscribers, expanding daily to reach an eventual goal of 150 stations with up to 20 German-made bicycles each.

Using an electronic key fob, the subscriber picks up a bike and then parks it at the destination station. There's no charge for the first half hour, and if the bike is docked for at least 10 minutes, the user's "clock" restarts from zero.

"The purpose is that we want people to share the bikes," explains Kenan, who heads the project on behalf of Mayor Ron Huldai. "While you're doing whatever you're doing, someone else will ride the bike you docked."

Signup can be done on Tel-Ofan's website; via a toll-free phone number (*6070); or in person at City Hall. Annual subscriptions cost NIS 280 (about $64) or NIS 240 for Tel Aviv-Jaffa residents. Eventually, daily and weekly subscriptions will be sold as well.

Simple idea took complex planning

Kenan's staff worked on Tel-Ofan for three years before rolling it out. One of the trickiest operational details was how to make sure that when somebody comes to a station there will always be a bike available in good condition, and that the station of destination will always have a free docking place. That problem was tackled with the assistance of mathematicians at Tel Aviv University, who established formulas after researching typical bike-riding patterns in the city. Based on those formulas, trucks will patrol the rental stations on a regular basis, balancing supply and demand.

Another major challenge, according to Kenan, was to ensure a completely stable information technology system managing the project under the hood. And to deal with possible theft, damage and vandalism of the bike fleet, the EDA put both physical and electronic safeguards into action.

Now that all the pieces are in place, the next step is to physically accommodate the expected increase in bicyclists. To answer this need, the municipality is investing many millions of shekels to add to its existing 65 miles of bike lanes.

"In the last five years, we've invested 10 million shekels per year in constructing bike lanes, and for the next five years the municipality has tripled the budget for this project," says Kenan.

"Strategically, the ultimate goal is to increase awareness of bikes as a means of transportation and increase the number of people using them, which will substantially reduce traffic problems and air pollution."