İstanbul’s traffic problems careening beyond city limits

İstanbul’s traffic problems careening beyond city limits

A long queue of vehicles forms on İstanbul’s Bosporus Bridge during rush hour every day.

March 10, 2013, Sunday/ 14:43:00

İstanbul’s monumental traffic problems have begun to spread to the surrounding areas just outside city limits. And in the meantime, the İstanbul population and number of vehicle owners are increasing daily -- new skyscrapers are rising in the city center as well as towards the city limits, not to mention new shopping centers and malls going up everywhere.

However, the city’s transportation substructure is not developing quickly enough to keep pace with this growth.

Insufficient and inadequate roads mean that traffic congestion occurs throughout the city, even affecting the flow of cars trying to leave the city limits. Cargo companies and bus companies, which are severely affected by the traffic, believe the solution lies in a new transportation infrastructure. Sector representatives assert that İstanbul needs an integrated capacity transportation web that will help support its vision of becoming a leading world city and which will shoulder the enormous amount of traffic in the city. There is a call for a renewal of the existing infrastructure.

İstanbul has a transportation system based on an east-west grid, with the bulk of its heavy traffic shouldered by the E-5 and TEM highways. These large highways do not ease the growing traffic transportation problems. When heading from İstanbul towards either Kocaeli-Sakarya or Thrace, one often encounters large traffic jams on the roads, especially during holidays or bad weather.

Experts also point out that in the case of a disaster, such as an earthquake, the current situation would be untenable.

İmran Okumuş, the general manager of Ulusoy Travel Transport and head of the International Passenger Transportation Association (UYTAD), notes that traffic has recently made it more difficult than ever to actually get out of İstanbul. He draws attention to delays, saying: “In our sector, keeping your promise regarding time is the most important rule. For any bus company, keeping on schedule when it comes to departure and arrival times and instilling confidence in passengers regarding this are essential. It takes a total of five hours to get from İstanbul to Ankara. Buses spend a full three-and-a-half hours of this time just trying to get out of and into İstanbul.”

Okumuş also touches on the problems with heavy traffic on the roads that connect İstanbul to other cities. He notes that with many plans already in place to develop İstanbul, the current transportation infrastructure will not be able to shoulder the volume of traffic in the future, and that the economic and social losses caused by traffic will only increase if things continue as they are. Okumuş warns: “The sheer amount of time spent in traffic is costing people so much, whether you are talking about fuel burnt or just the wear and tear on the cars themselves. We are also looking at time stolen from people, as well as damage to health.”

In the near future, he states, the volume of İstanbul traffic needs to be borne by mass transportation vehicles as well as rail lines.

Okumuş adds: “The share of traffic volume shouldered by sea transportation has to be increased. More buses and trucks need to use the sea routes to reach the Anatolian side of the city.”

Okumuş notes that bus companies are definitely not opposed to the development of more rail transit infrastructure in İstanbul. He says the current bus stations that serve Europe and Thrace should function more with smaller, “pocket” terminals, and the Bayrampaşa Bus Station should be moved to the Asian side of the city.

Necmi Mert, the transportation manager for Sürat Kargo, shares his ideas on the basic problems facing İstanbul: “After traffic passes Sakarya heading straight east, there is no problem. The current divided highways can bear the volume of traffic. And to the west of İstanbul, after passing Çatalca, there are also no problems. But the real problem lies between these points. Traffic is like the flow of water. You have to guide it yourself.”

Mert notes that when the highways were first built, from the toll gates at Çamlıca on the Asian side to the Mahmutbey toll gates, there were no auxiliary roads. He says many of the auxiliary roads were built on the basis of need, adding: “We are a country surrounded on all sides by sea, but we do not use the sea properly. In the same way, we are not using our railways correctly. In many spots throughout Europe, cargo transport is done not by car or truck, but on railways.”

Mert notes that on the trip from İstanbul to Anatolia, there are just the E5 and the TEM highways available as alternatives -- no other options exist. He says that various projects examining the effects of a third bridge over the Bosporus have highlighted that the new bridge won’t really decrease the traffic load on the city and its entrances and exits. He insists that without a modernized rail infrastructure, there can be no permanent solution to the huge traffic problems that plague the city. He states: “For transit over the Bosporus, we need to have sufficient ferryboats that can carry trade vehicles, as well as ports for these ferryboats. If the number of boats heading into the Marmara decreases after the Kanal İstanbul project is opened, there will be more ferryboats for sea transport, and this could help decrease the volume on the roads.”

‘Even traffic headed west is now encountering problems’

Sürat Kargo’s Necmi Mert says there has been a recent and very serious increase in traffic starting from the Mahmutbey part of the highway and going as far as Selimpaşa. He says that new summer homes as well as new mass housing projects in this direction of the city have turned the traffic flowing west -- which used to be less constricted -- into a problem area, too. “What we need is a new road coming over Arnavutköy a little to the north of Sazlıdere, heading straight into Çatalca. When the TEM road was first built, you would enter through the Mahmutbey toll gates, and the first exit was at Hadımköy. Now there are two more exits between these original points, one being Bahçeşehir and the other being Avcılar. These have had a terrible effect on the flow of traffic. Since mass housing has been built in that direction, there needs to have been some thought given to how people get to these places.”

He offers a suggestion for the cargo sector, which is a frequent user of this route. “There should be an exit made from the highway to Küçükçekmece Lake, with a new port built there to allow direct access to the Marmara Sea. Goods from many of the industries located in the north of İstanbul could be transported from here, by sea, to the Asian side. This would relieve traffic congestion and would also allow greater economic gains. It would definitely cost less than opening up a new canal in the Silivri area.”

The head of the İstanbul Cargo Transporters Association, Ahmed Kocin, notes that his group supports the government’s plans for a third bridge over the Bosporus. He says that divided highways built throughout Anatolia have reinvigorated inter-city travel and transport. Koçin states: “A third bridge, in addition to other transportation investment, will make it much easier for trucks and other larger vehicles. But in addition to new roads meant to ease İstanbul’s traffic, there is a need for city planning that includes parking and other facilities for cars. The larger cargo vehicles that cause so many problems for İstanbul’s traffic need to be parked in appropriate spots inside and outside the city. And of course these spots need facilities that will allow drivers to keep up with work, or to eat and rest.”

Koçin also talks about the importance of building some logistical centers, saying: “In the coming years, we need logistic centers that will meet İstanbul’s needs for the Hadımköy-Ambarlı TEM highway and near the third Bosporus bridge because today we see trucks and large cargo vehicles just parking haphazardly in places such as Eminönü, Zeytinburnu, İkitelli and Bayrampaşa. These are places where some 20,000-30,000 cars head out into traffic daily, despite the fact that they may not even have any business to take care of. Daily delivery trucks bringing in things like fruits and vegetables head around looking for work, so that they don’t have to return empty from the center of İstanbul. This of course adds even more confusion to the traffic.”

Koçin highlights Ambarlar in Zeytinburnu, noting: “Merchants and industrialists from both sides of İstanbul use Ambarlar as a depot spot.” He says lack of planning is wasting both fuel and time, as well as causing increasingly worse traffic jams. He says the fuel waste alone is at least $300 million a year. “The officials who are involved in planning transportation networks for İstanbul ought to be in constant contact with the trade and professional chambers that are directly affected by and involved daily with these problems.” İstanbul Sunday’s Zaman

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