The transformation of Tel Aviv: how cycling got cool in Israel’s hippest city

When four Israeli cyclists suggested to the Tel Aviv city council in 1994 that it might be a clever idea to promote the bicycle as a new mode of transport, they were met with laughter.

“They were told that cycling was something for third world nations,” says Yotam Avizohar, director of the Israel Bicycle Association. “The council official said: ‘Tel Aviv is a modern city. We only promote sophisticated transport solutions. Very soon we will have a light rail system.’”

Undeterred, the cyclists gave it another try and approached a council official who they knew to be a cyclist himself. “This time, they were told that cycling was something for European countries. The man said: ‘Israel is a Middle-Eastern country and Israelis are addicted to their cars or to their camels.’ He didn’t see how it could ever be changed.”

More than 20 years later, the realisation of the Tel Aviv light rail system is still a very long way off. But cycling has definitely become the new mode of transport in the city. Everywhere you go in Tel Aviv, you see people on bikes, and most of them aren’t wearing any special gear. In Israel’s hippest city, cycling is the hippest way to get around.

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