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The Path to a Bike-able Istanbul: Current Progress and Obstacles

Consistently biking uphill, with the added risk of being hit by a car? Sounds like a nightmare, right? Me and many locals would agree that Istanbul is not the ideal location for bicycling. Istanbul is referred to as the City on the Seven Hills and safety is a large obstacle for bicyclists; in a culture that nurtures automobile over pedestrian right-of-way.

According to Murat Suyabatmaz, President of the Istanbul Cyclists Association (Bisikletliler Derne?i), the major obstacles for bicycling in Istanbul are that there "are no safe bike lanes available and the awareness is very low within [the] community." Bicycles, as a mode of transportation, are not readily thought of as an option. In general, the culture of biking in Istanbul is weak. While we all know that biking is great for communities, health, and socialization, not to mention reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by vehicles, bicycling can also be extremely dangerous in Istanbul. According to Murat, to counter these obstacles the "municipality should start building bike lanes and launch campaigns to increase [bicycling] awareness."

Sometime in the 1980s, the first bike lanes were installed in Istanbul, but there hasn't been much progress since then. According to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Street Project (Bisiklet ve Yaya Yollari Projeleri), released in 2008 by the Istanbul Municipality (Istanbul Buyuksehir Belediyesi), the master plan includes 1,004km of proposed bicycle and pedestrian paths. On the European side of Istanbul, there are 641km planned and on the Asian side, 363km. However, since 2008 little progress has been made in completing the master plan. In fact, almost five-years in the making, the first bike lanes, totalling 40km, are currently being built.  One of the largest stretches of bike lanes were recently opened on the Asian side of Istanbul, on Ba?dat Cadessi. Below, you can view two films. One in which the bicycle plans were released on YouTube by Metropol Kentsel Tasar?m, in April 2012, and the first ride on that same path on November 17, 2012.

 While there isn't a bike route map available for the residents and tourists of Istanbul to access, Murat has provided the most extensive list of bike paths available in Istanbul. If you are a resident of Istanbul, or find yourself traveling here, be sure to visit the less-populated Asian side to venture onto one of the following bike paths:

  • Ata?ehirde entegre yol ( Dicle Cd. - Meriç Cad. - Ata?ehir Bulv ) 7,75 km
  • Ata?ehir Bat? (new section/yeni k?s?m) 3 km
  • Kad?köy - Moda sahili 1,3 km
  • Bostanc? - Caddebostan ( coastal path/sahil yolu ) 2,85 km
  • Bostanc? - Pendik ( coastal path/sahil yolu - karayolu kenar? ) 15,25 km
  • Bostanc? sahil ( coastal path/sahil yolu - deniz kenar? ) 1,4 km
  • Göztepe - Ba?dat Caddesi aras? 3 km
  • Fenerbahçe ( orduevi - Ba?dat Cad aras?) 3 km
  • Kurtköy toplu konutlar ( Ak?emsettin Cd. ) 2 km

According to Murat, the most popular routes are those on the islands, car-less Büyükada for example, the Belgrad Forest, coastline tours along the Bosphorus, and the Bostanci-Tuzla coastline. If you would like to know more about an area before you venture out, you can also always refer to a series of videos produced from bicycle tours completed around Istanbul. They are located geographically for convenience through Google Maps.

Although there are bike lanes currently being built and utilized, additional obstacles come in the form of education. Many individuals in Istanbul do not know about bike lanes and misuse them or try to obstruct their use. So, the few bike lanes that have been established can often become an inconvenience to use. This can be seen in the videos below where a business would not allow bicyclists to pass (left) and another instance where the bike lanes were consumed by parked vehicles (right). In both these instances it was necessary to call the police to resolve the situation. So, one can see that it is not necessarily only facilities that are creating obstacles, but also the culture and people of Istanbul who are not familiar with bicycling as a form of multi-modal transportation.

And although the municipality is not taking great strides in increasing bicycle education, organizations are. In September 2012, The Bicycle Film Festival came to Istanbul. The program lasted three days, in association with the Netherlands Consulate General, featuring talks, music, art, tours of Büyükada, and films related to bicycling. Istanbul's strongest opponent for bicycling, the Cyclists Association, is a member of the European Cyclists Federation and is continually working in partnership with exemplary European bike communities to increase awareness and access to bicycling in Istanbul. For more information, or to find out how you can join the Istanbul bike movement, join Bisikletliler Dernegi on Facebook or visit their website.

What are your thoughts regarding bikeability in Istanbul? What could the municipality and people be doing better to increase bike use? How does culture influence bike use?