Making Istanbul a cycling city
Istanbul – Turkey’s most populous city with approximately 17 million inhabitants – is notorious for its congestion. While the city has taken strides to improve sustainable transport, bicycling remains an underutilized alternative to car transport. In March 2014, EMBARQ Turkey launched a series of initiatives across Turkey to create safer environments for urban cyclists. The results of this project will be compiled in a Safe Cycling Design Manual, which will create standardized tools for Turkish cities to build safe and accessible streets for non-motorized transport.
EMBARQ Turkey will build on this work in Istanbul, where it has been selected by the city to study the potential for cycling and contribute to its Transportation Master Plan.
Istanbul recently committed to expanding its bike lane network to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) by 2023. To achieve this ambitious goal, local development agencies are looking for strategies to build cycling culture. The Istanbul Development Agency is funding EMBARQ Turkey to study ten districts, test three pilot cycling lanes, and create Istanbul’s Safe Cycling Design Manual. The results of the pilot projects will contribute to the ongoing Istanbul Transportation Master Plan, and may become permanent cycling routes. In support of this initiative, EMBARQ Turkey conducted a Visioning Workshop on September 15, 2014 with international experts and multiple officials from Istanbul’s municipal government. The workshop emphasized the need for improved cycling infrastructure and helped gather practical solutions to increase cycling in the city.
In preparation for the workshop, EMBARQ Turkey completed a literature and policy review, and conducted stakeholder meetings with representatives from local and national governments, NGOs, and cycling advocates.
Experts from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), road safety consulting company CONSIA Consultants, road marker manufacturer EVONIK, the Centre for Budapest Transport (BKK), Istanbul’s Directorate of Transport Coordination (UKOME), and the Turkish Ministry of Health’s Public Health Institution also facilitated the workshop. Participants included both members of the local government, cycling NGOs, UKOME, the İstanbul Public Bus Authority (İETT), İSPARK, Istanbul’s Directorate of Geographical Information Systems (CBS), the İstanbul Development Agency, Bolu Municipality, Edirne Municipality, and universities.
Bicycling is an underutilized transport mode in Istanbul
A common theme at the workshop was the role cycling plays in people-oriented cities, with a focus on economic, safety, and public health considerations of biking as an urban transport mode. Ceyhan Vardar from the Public Health Institution of Turkey highlighted the public health benefits of cycling. "The negative effects of physical inactivity can damage our health. The studies demonstrate that 71.9% of individuals in Turkey are physically inactive. Therefore, bicycling is important for mobility and public health," he said.
Experts discussed the most problematic issues that limit cycling in Istanbul. For example, one of the most common challenges is the lack of cycling infrastructure. Carsten Wass from CONSIA Consultants stated that one of the major problems for biking in cities across Turkey is finding a parking place. “While even finding a parking space for cars is quite difficult, finding an area to park a bike is almost impossible.” Participants also indicated that there is insufficient support from local governments, awareness of cycling as a means of transport, and integration with other transport modes.
Overcoming challenges to promote cycling
The workshop also helped bring to light strategies to improve the use of cycling in Istanbul. These include better planning and integration of transport modes, increasing public participation, improving cycling infrastructure, and training activities to raise awareness and improve law enforcement around bicycling. Wass, who collaborated in a 2013 EMBARQ Turkey Cycle Lane Road Safety Audit in Istanbul’s Veliefendi-Zeytinburnu area, described that segregated bi-directional bike lanes can be appropriate in this part of the city. Marisa Cruz from EVONIK also indicated that color contrast on roads can improve traffic flow and save lives. Experts also described potential solutions based on examples from other cities, such as bicycle escalators implemented in Norway, which can be an appropriate solution for Istanbul’s hilly terrain.
There are still major problems for cycling in cities in Turkey, including a lack of safe cycling infrastructure, insufficient prioritization of road safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and urban design that favor cars. On the other hand, many Turkish cities like Kocaeli, İzmir, Antalya, Eskişehir, Konya, and Kayseri are making great strides to promote cycling. Especially considering Istanbul’s ambitious target of 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) of bike lanes by 2023, the Safe Cycling Design Manual currently in production is a unique opportunity to fill these gaps and help promote cycling as a safe transport alternative.