Traffic is a common problem for anyone living in Istanbul or visiting Turkey’s busiest city of over 15 million people. The city heaved a collective sigh of relief when there were fewer vehicles on the roads during the coronavirus pandemic. But two years later, Istanbul is worse in terms of traffic levels.
For some reason, traffic has been worse in recent weeks, especially during peak hours, with traffic levels in the evening at a disappointing 70%. This is long after thousands of school buses have finished their daily shift.
Professor Mustafa Ilikali, a traffic expert, said it was partly related to the swelling number of motor vehicles, while environmental expert Professor Mustafa Ozturk pointed to a risk to air quality. “If you drive slowly at 10 kilometers per hour you will spend half or more fuel. This means more air pollution,” he warns.
An annual report by an automotive navigation system producer ranked the Turkish city at the top of dozens of cities with the worst traffic congestion. According to a report compiled by TomTom for 2021, traffic levels are gradually returning to pre-pandemic levels as countries lift restrictions after the number of cases declines. Another report published in 2020 by researchers at Yeditep University in Istanbul found that residents of the metropolis lose 70 minutes a day due to the city’s high traffic density. The report, which monitored traffic data on 5,000 kilometers (3,107 miles) of road in Istanbul for a year, found that it can take 50 minutes to travel a distance that normally takes only 15 minutes.
Professor Selahtin İncecik, head of the International Union of Air Pollution Prevention Associations (IUAPPA), said that pollution from traffic particularly affects some districts of Istanbul, citing “high particle pollution in Basilar and nearby districts”, suburbs where thousands of people travel every day. European side. On the Asian side, Maltepe and Kartal districts are at risk of pollution. Traffic is one of the primary causes of pollution in the world and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) around 7 million people in the world die prematurely due to pollution.
According to official figures from the Turkish Statistical Institute (Turkstat), as of August, there were more than 4.5 million vehicles in Istanbul, but experts say the number is increasing daily.
Prof. Ilikale, head of the Transportation Center at Istanbul Ticaret University, told Demireren News Agency (DHA) in a recent interview that the number of motor vehicles in Istanbul corresponds to “one-fifth of all vehicles in Turkey.” “Traffic consumes more time and consumes more fuel. So, it is not just about a simple traffic jam,” he said. Istanbul traffic used to be “peak hours”, “between 8 am and 11 am and between 8 pm and 9 pm. Now, every hour is like a peak hour. People should drive slowly. We need urgent measures,” he said. According to Ilıcalı, on two-lane roads, one lane is reserved exclusively for public transport vehicles, from buses and minibuses to taxis.
Ilıcalı also highlights the need to diversify modes of transport, especially sea transport. “We need new measures where sea transport has a greater share of mass transportation and is linked with other modes of transport. We need metro lines with more passenger capacity,” he said. “Another important measure is gradual working hours. People are traveling at the same time. If this cannot be changed, the traffic will become worse,” he warned.
İncecik warns of the dangers of pollution from traffic and recommends people, especially those waiting at bus stops, to wear protective masks. “People have to inhale the emissions from the buses whenever the bus departs. Vehicular emissions have returned to pre-pandemic levels,” he told DHA.
Pollution affects some districts more than others, he said, adding that districts near the Bosporus are less at risk because of the “natural ventilation” that windward areas provide.
Prof. Ozturk said that in 2019 pollution from transport and traffic accounted for about 40%, and nowadays it has increased to 45%. “Istanbul is at a higher risk of pollution from traffic than other cities. Therefore, we need to promote public transport more. We need to speed up investments,” Öztürk said. Öztürk warned motorists to ventilate their vehicles properly. Make sure that the air circulates properly.”