Traffic Report: Istanbul

How major cities throughout the world are coming to terms with traffic problems thanks to mobility concepts based on buses.

How major cities throughout the world are coming to terms with traffic problems thanks to mobility concepts based on buses.

8:00 a.m., Istanbul

The traffic banks up at the First Bosphorus Bridge. The air vibrates with the honking of horns, and pungent exhaust fumes are omnipresent. A heavy smog swirls under the bridge. Oil tankers pass along the Bosphorus far below, on their way from the ports of the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. To cross the bridge, the morning traffic heading for the European side has to narrow after the toll booths, which gives rise to long tailbacks. This spectacle is repeated at evening peak hour – only in the other direction.

Istanbul is the only city in the world that extends over two continents. Its location on the Bosphorus is both a blessing and a curse, since its two sides are only linked by two bridges. With 13 million inhabitants – some sources list as many as 15 million – Istanbul’s population is larger than those of 105 countries. More and more people are moving to Istanbul. According to some predictions 25 million people will be living in Istanbul by 2023, commuting between Asia and Europe, between home and the workplace.

Traffic jam in the direction of Europe

Traffic jam in the direction of Europe

And all this with only two bridges? Impossible, say city planners and transport researchers, who are feverishly developing schemes to prevent the traffic from coming to a complete standstill. Everyone wants to extend the rail network, but the construction of new lines would take years and would not be possible in some areas in view of Istanbul’s hilly topography. Nevertheless, a speedy solution to the traffic problem must be found.

“We need planning that suitably links all transport modes and makes more efficient use of existing roads,” says 36-year-old Selim Dallı, one of the commuters on the Bosphorus Bridge. He is sitting in a minibus that collects him and his colleagues from their homes in the Asian part of the city and conveys them to their workplace an hour’s drive to the west of the center, where the headquarters of Mercedes-Benz Türk are located.

City-Info Istanbul

Name: Istanbul
Status: Turkey’s largest city
Founded: May 11, 330 as Constantinople
Area: 1,830.92 km2
Population (city): 12,569,143 (2008)
Population density (city): 6,865 inhabitants per km2

Stone Age/Bronze Age First settlements on the Bosphorus.
685 BC Greek settlers establish a colony.
330 Constantine names the new capital of the united Roman Empire “Nova Roma”. Nonetheless, it becomes better known by the name Constantinople.
11–14th cent. Constantinople is repeatedly conquered and destroyed.
1918 French and British troops occupy the capital of the Ottoman Empire
1923 Foundation of the Republic of Turkey by Mustafa Kemal, known as Atatürk. Istanbul looses its status as capital to Ankara.

Selim Dallı is Mercedes-Benz Türk’s expert on so-called (BRT) systems, which provide dedicated traffic lanes for buses. With short departure intervals, barrier-free entrances at bus stops, pre-ticketing and traffic prioritization, BRT systems make for brief stopping times and smooth operation. Buses can therefore rush past the lines of cars and trucks uninterruptedly, thus significantly increasing the effective volume of the public transport system and reducing travel times and emissions.

BRT systems, a versatile transport solution for congested cities with a tight budget, are currently the focus of intensive discussions among market experts the world over. BRT is already in urban operation in practically every Latin American country. In particular, rapidly growing economies such as India are now considering in­tro­duction. Selim Dallı’s role is to act as a local contact for all in­quiries relating to BRT.

Within the space of just two years, the “Metrobüs” has been installed on one of five lanes of the E5 Highway leading from Europe through Istanbul to Ankara – with low investment costs compared to other systems worldwide and with a daily capacity of 715,000 passengers. Since it was not possible for a rail system to be built on the bridge, crossing it with the Metrobüs was the only alternative. The Metrobüs starts here, in the west of the city. The station looks more like a subway platform. The passengers pass through a turnstile and pay with an elec­tro­nic ticket that can be loaded at a machine. At 40-second inter­vals, two to three articulated Mercedes-Benz buses can dock at the stations. These so-called “CapaCity” buses from Mercedes-Benz are manufactured in Mannheim, and have four instead of three axles. The highway’s BRT lanes are separated from the other lanes of traffic by steel cables.In other cities, yellow lines on the road or a row of curbstones mark the BRT lanes. At an average speed of forty kilometers per hour, the buses roar past the lines of cars on either side, right across Istanbul and even over the Bosphorus Bridge to the Asian part of town. “It used to take me two hours to get to my lectures,” says a student passenger, “but now just one.” He is not alone: Over a third of Istanbul’s citizens spend more than two hours in city traffic.

8:55 a.m., city center

The BRT route continues on through the mirror-façade canyons of Mecidiyeköy and Zincirlikuyu. More and more men in suit and tie come aboard here, along with sprucely dressed businesswomen. The spacious air-conditioned buses reflect a different kind of bus transportation. “Istanbul is a city of the future,” says mayor and architect Kadir Topbas in his foreword to the new bus schedule. “80,000 people who used to drive to work every day now commute on the Metrobüs.” Since being put into operation, vehicles powered by engines complying with the Euro V emission standards – well in advance of mandatory installation – are used in line service, which shows the importance given to the environment.

What is behind the European emission standards?

The cradle of emissions legislation is California, where the first emission limits were established in the 1960s. In the European Community, the first standardized emissions regulations were ratified in 1970. The first European emission standard for commercial vehicles was defined in Directive 88/77/EEC and implemented in 1990. The next stages followed in 1996, 2000, 2005, and 2008 with the current Euro V standard. Further tightening of the standard is planned. In July 2009, the EU published parts of the Euro VI regulations scheduled to enter into force in 2013. The European emission standard establishes upper limits for the pollutant emissions. These limits are different for passenger cars and commercial vehicles, for gasoline and diesel engines. The Euro V emissions standard is currently in force. The standards for commercial vehicles generally use Roman numerals; Arabic numbers are used for passenger cars.

Although the system greatly enhances traffic flow, 500 new vehicle registrations daily create new challenges. Extensions of the BRT system are under consideration, and the rail network is also to be greatly expanded.What transport modes are best suited to the various parts of the city? Hayri Baracli, Istanbul Elektrik Tramvay ve Tünel Isletmeleri(IETT) General Manager: “We have installed Metrobüs on a route that is too hilly for a rail link.” On the other hand, Baracli concedes that the streets in many parts of the city would be too narrow for a dedicated bus lane. Here, the standard bus routes must serve as a feeder.

Traffic Report

BRT line

Selim Dallı works in close cooperation with his BRT colleagues from Daimler Buses headquarters, where a special BRT team has been established. This team coordinates the bus sector’s worldwide BRT activities and has competence in transport planning. Five transport planners and strategists in Stuttgart group together the experience of their colleagues, prepare this information for presentations and consultations, and develop specific BRT strategies for individual regions on this basis. The question arises, for example, as to whether BRT makes the air cleaner. The local BRT system brings about a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 623 tons per day in Istanbul.

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