Turkey turns to cycling to solve a public health crisis
Accounting for approximately 3.2 million deaths each year, physical inactivity is now the fourth leading cause of mortality in the world according the World Health Organization (WHO).
Turkey is no exception to the trend. Studies show that one out of every four people in Turkey suffers from cardiovascular diseases and obesity attributed to physical inactivity. In addition to significantly reducing quality of life, these diseases are also putting major financial strains on the country’s healthcare systems. In response to this alarming trend, Turkey's leaders are planning a series of new initiatives focused on public health. At the national level, the Ministry of Health launched the Healthy Nutrition and Active Living Program, which promotes cycling as a mode of active transport and a means to better health outcomes. In February 2015, Minister of Health Mehmet Müezzinoğlu gave a televised interview in which he clearly explained how the program incentivizes local governments to adopt and implement measures to support urban cycling. Müezzinoğlu even pledged one bike for every city that builds one kilometer of bike lanes.
EMBARQ Turkey has supported this initiative by organizing workshops to improve bike infrastructure in Antalya, Eskişehir, Konya, and Sakarya; conducting road safety audits in cities like Istanbul, İzmir, Konya, and Kayseri; and organizing a cycling masterclass in Copenhagen for representatives of local administrations.
Istanbul has been among the leading Turkish cities in leveraging urban cycling to improve public health. Mayor Kadir Topbaş has set a target to build over 1,000 kilometers of bike lanes in Istanbul by 2023. Istanbul already has 83.3 kilometers of bike lanes and recently announced a new route of 6.5 kilometers in the Sarıyer district.
To further these efforts, EMBARQ Turkey is releasing the Safe Cycling Design Manual for Istanbul. The manual approaches cycling by examining three main topics: (1) economic, social; and environmental benefits of cycling; (2) the governance of cycling infrastructure and user preferences in Istanbul; and (3) solutions for implementation in Istanbul.
The current state of cycling in Istanbul
In preparing the manual, EMBARQ Turkey conducted interviews with representatives from local and national governments and cycling NGOs and surveyed over 3,000 people to determine the particular opportunities and challenges for cycling in Istanbul. This outreach found that responses converged on three major issues:
- The potential role of public service announcements in popularizing cycling and promoting its benefits for health and the environment
- The need for car drivers to obey traffic rules and respect cyclists
- The need for effective, organized public relations campaigns about cycling
Another significant finding from the survey concerned policymakers themselves. 64 percent of respondents believed that cycling would become more common if policymakers publicly rode bikes in their cities.
Furthermore, the survey found that road safety ranks as the biggest problem for cyclists in Istanbul. Many believe that cycling in the city is not safe and that the existing bike lanes lack connectivity throughout the city. This has led to widespread conflicts with motorists over road space. 15 percent of respondents stated that they had experienced a traffic collision while cycling in the last year.
Istanbul’s most popular bike lane is located in the Kadıköy district. The survey indicates that cycling is also common within the Sarıyer, Beşiktaş, Fatih, and Bakırköy districts. Taking into consideration transport preferences and the extent of multi-modal integration in various areas, EMBARQ Turkey has suggested three new bike lanes for Istanbul. Due to the Istanbul’s topography, short and integrated bike lanes are more beneficial to riders than long, isolated lanes that lack integration.
Setting the groundwork for nationwide change
In November 2014, the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources introduced the Action Plan for Energy Efficiency. The plan involves six steps to reducing Turkey’s energy use, which is already above the average of OECD and EU-27 countries. One step relates to energy consumption in the transport sector. The action plan highlights the role of cycling infrastructure and smart bike sharing systems to reduce emissions and make the country’s transport network more sustainable.
Building on the Safe Cycling Design Manual for Istanbul, EMBARQ Turkey is now working on a national framework. This publication will provide Turkish cities with practical solutions to creating complete streets while also taking into account the unique features of Turkish cities. In the long-term, the safe cycling design manual will help combat the country’s dependency on motorized transport to bring about more connected, sustainable cities.