Istanbul's Historic Peninsula Closed to Traffic, Open for People
Istanbul Municipality finished pedestrianizing Sultanahmet Square in an effort to protect the city's 8,000-year-old Historic Peninsula, one of the most important cultural and historic centers in the world.
Ninety streets in the heart of the peninsula have been closed to private vehicular traffic since January 8, according to Mustafa Demir, the mayor of Fatih.
Vehicles bringing supplies to the shops in the area are now able to enter the area after 6:00 p.m. and before 10:00 a.m. Emergency vehicles will still be allowed on the streets.
Tourists who arrive to the square in buses will finish their journey on trams. Parking in the pedestrian area is also forbidden. Pedestrians seem happy about this change. Food kiosk vendors working in Sirkeci, one of the main travel hubs for the city, are also relieved that they are no longer exposed to vehicular emissions.
The municipality will repave the newly pedestrianized streets with granite pavestones.
“Making the area open to pedestrians only would have a positive impact on the area’s tourism potential," Mayor Demir said. “Our prime minister [and former mayor of Istanbul], Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has shown a personal interest in the project and attaches particular importance to it."
Preliminary works on the pedestrianization project started in early 2010, in conjunction with various nongovernmental organizations and the Turkey Travel Agencies Union.
EMBARQ Turkey, under the leadership of Director Sibel Bulay, organized a stakeholder workshop with government officials, NGOs, academics and businesses in 2007, concluding that the Historic Peninsula should become a "low emissions zone."
Then, in May 2008, Bulay met with a team from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and stressed the need for sustainable transport infrastructure to safeguard the authenticity of the Historic Peninsula and maintain the area's nearly 25-year status as a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was under threat because of damage caused by heavy traffic and air pollution.
As a result of EMBARQ’s initiative, UNESCO formally recommended that the Turkish government develop an integrated “Transport Plan,” with an emphasis on improving mass transit, as part of the overall “World Heritage Management Plan” for Istanbul. This was the first time that the negative impact of traffic on Istanbul’s historic infrastructure had been officially acknowledged, not only by UNESCO but also by the Turkish government, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, and the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.
Two weeks after EMBARQ Turkey's presentation to city officials, including advisors to the Prime Minister and the Mayor of Istanbul, the city announced that Sultanahmet Square would be pedestrianized, the first step in a series of decisions that culminated in last month's unveiling of car-free streets.