Pedestrianizing Istanbul has reduced emissions, improved air quality
Motorized vehicle emissions are a primary cause of air pollution and have some of the most adverse impacts on public health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to heavy traffic—even living near a major road—is associated poor health outcomes and high mortality rates. In 2012, outdoor air pollution caused 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide, 88 percent of which occurred in low- and middle-income countries.
However, pedestrianization projects in cities worldwide demonstrate that transforming car-oriented streets into walkable environments can generate a range of benefits—from higher levels of physical activity to greater economic activity. A new report called “Assessment of the Air Quality Effects of Pedestrianization on Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula” from our EMBARQ sustainable urban mobility team in Turkey analyzes the impacts of pedestrianization on local air quality in Istanbul, Turkey. The comprehensive study –conducted in collaboration with Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Fatih University—not only revealed a significant improvement in regional air quality, but also found positive effects on public health. Lastly, the report provides key recommendations for building on past success.
The impact of prioritizing people, not cars
One of Istanbul’s most iconic districts and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Historic Peninsula is the heart of commerce and tourism in the city. Despite attracting approximately 2.5 million visitors on daily basis, the Historic Peninsula was no exception to Istanbul’s car-centric trend until a decade ago. In 2005, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality launched the first pedestrianization project in the region, aiming to reduce the impacts of vehicle traffic on the local community. In 2010, EMBARQ in Turkey –in cooperation with Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality and Gehl Architects—prepared a report called “İstanbul Public Spaces and Public Life”, detailing key strategies for pedestrianizing the Historic Peninsula. Since then, the Fatih district has pedestrianized 295 streets and the region has become a vital transport hub for the citizens of Istanbul.
The new 2015 report finds that, from 2010 to 2014, there have been significant reductions in vehicle emissions and resulting pollution in areas on the Historic Peninsula that have been pedestrianized. Traffic-related emissions have dropped considerably at the tip of the Historic Peninsula, in Sultanahmet, and along transit stations have been closed off to cars. Beyond in the center of Peninsula, adjacent neighborhoods have also experienced a considerable decrease in air pollution. However, the residential area in the Northeast of the Historic Peninsula—which has not been pedestrianized—shows little or no reduction in traffic-related emissions, demonstrating the direct effect of pedestrianization on air quality.
A broader vision for Istanbul
The report presents a set of strategies and recommendations for further improving local air quality and public health. Some key recommendations from the report include:
- A comprehensive, long-term transport plan should be prepared that establishes congestion charging program in the Historic Peninsula. This will help create a low-emissions zone to regulate traffic entering the peninsula.
- Improve enforcement of existing measures to ensure that pedestrianized streets remain consistently pedestrian-friendly.
- Traffic calming measures should be complemented by an integrated and efficient mass transport system with a high carrying capacity.
- Cycling infrastructure should be integrated with other travel modes, such as mass transport or walking.
The scope of the recommendations presented in the report is not limited to air quality. These measures can reduce noise pollution and produce additional benefits, like improved pedestrian safety, transport access, and quality of life.
To read the report and learn more about the effect of pedestrianization on Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula, click here. To learn more about making cities healthier and safer by design, watch this video.
About EMBARQ at WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
EMBARQ, Sustainable Urban Mobility by WRI, catalyzes and helps implement environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable urban mobility solutions to improve quality of life in cities.