Friday, June 14, 2013

Beating the Flow in Istanbul

On Sunday at a big climate change event in Istanbul, I will make a presentation about bicycling as a tool for climate mitigation. I'll try to make it locally relevant with some comments on how cycling could help alleviate some of Istanbul's congestion.

The traffic snarls here are amazing. It's like rush hour maybe 18 hours a day. I arrived here yesterday, and last night we took a cab down along the Bosphorous coast on the European side of the city. It was 8:30 p.m. but traffic was stop start all the way. After 10 minutes watching pedestrians pass us by, we paid our fare and hit the pavement ourselves. Istanbul is a great city for walking, lots of stuff to see and even with the lack of crosswalks, you can always squeeze through traffic because it's often not moving.

Not great for cycling at all. City has a plan to build 1,004 km of cycling tracks, but so far just 40 km have been built. Public transport is very scarce for a city of this size. So everyone's by car and there's no dedicated space for bikes.

At this event, Al Gore's Climate Reality Leadership training, there are about 580 attendees. One guy came by bike, an Istanbul colleague of mine at the REC named Eren. He says he bikes everywhere. It's the only way to travel here with any predictability. On four wheels, you're subject to traffic disruptions and jams, so you have to give yourself an hour safety margin if you have an important meeting to get to. By bike, you may have to suck a lot of exhaust, but you never get stuck, he said. Reminded me of my experience in Paris -- tons of traffic but it was normally moving so slowly that it didn't seem threatening.


Bruno said...

Hi Greg!
I would be very interested to know what is the commuting path Aren takes to work. Is he based in Istanbul or Ankara? What is the distance he covers? If in Istanbul, what parts of the city does he traverse daily? I have been there and it seems impossible that anyone would ride a bike in those roads, not necessarily because of the motor traffic, but because of the erratic and unpredictable way turkish drivers behave. I assume it's fairly easy to get run over...

Greg Spencer said...

Hey Bruno, thanks for the comment! I'm not as familiar with the lay of the land here, so I didn't get into specifics with him. The traffic and driver behaviour are surely the main reasons Aren is in such a small minority (although yesterday, we spotted three more cyclists!). I will follow up with him on the particulars of his daily commute.

Greg Spencer said...

I can answer the most basic part of your question: Aren's based in Istanbul. I heard that even though Istanbul is several times as big as Ankara, Istanbul is the easier city to bike in.

Greg Spencer said...

Hey Bruno,

Eren described his commute to me in detail:

I am cycling from Ortaköy to Akatlar, it is around 5 km door to door. I pass through Ulus and Etiler, which might makes sense for your friend. I climb a very steep hill in the begining, and it is almost flat in the following rest. And ,n that steep part, I only can walk near my bike, which is 500 meters long and takes 11-12 minutes (I guess I climb 150-160 meters from sea level as height). In total I cycle in 30 minutes (generally a bit less), and on the way back around 25 mins. On the other hand, when I take a bus, where I need to walk some part of the path, which takes around 40 minutes. By car it is around 20 minutes under normal conditions. So, I enjoy cycling freely by depending on nothing(money, oil, bus, taxi, less trafic) with around 10 minutes trade-off.