2012-12-31

Cities look to biking for sustainable transportation

Some European cities and Turkish cities like Eskisehir can provide a model for integrating biking into sustainable transportation projects.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 31/12/12

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Turkey is not known for its bike culture, but the country is taking initial steps to create a more bicycle-friendly environment with infrastructure projects to boost sustainable transportation along European models.

  • Cyclists ride on Eskisehir's 16 kilometres of  bike lanes. [Eskisehir Municipality]

    Cyclists ride on Eskisehir's 16 kilometres of bike lanes. [Eskisehir Municipality]

While bustling Istanbul -- known for its so-called "traffic monsters" -- make even the bravest cyclists quiver, Central Anatolian cities like Eskisehir and Kutahya, as well as Sakarya in the Marmara region, are setting an example for other cities to follow.

Eskisehir, with a population of 700,000, has 16 kilometres of bike lanes, parking areas at schools, universities and shopping malls, and the municipality is working to integrate biking with other means of transportation and make citizens more aware of cyclists.

"With its favorable geographic conditions, Eskisehir is one most advantageous cities for developing a biking culture," Gokay Konuk, captain of Eskisehir-based Esbike Mountainbike Team, told SES Türkiye.

Still, Turkish cities have a long way to go before being fully bike-friendly.

"For the moment, the share of bike use in Turkish urban transportation is below 5 percent, requiring an increase in both Eskisehir and all other cities having a favorable infrastructure," Umit Guney, head of Transportation Department in Eskisehir Municipality, told SES Türkiye.

Bringing such sustainable transportation options to a metropolis like Istanbul will be a challenge, but the municipality and state ministries are intent on expanding the use of bikes as well.

Under the umbrella of the Bikelab Istanbul initiative launched in December, several Turkish and European counterparts will prepare guidelines for the city to design more secure bike lanes and sustainable transportation.

One backer of the initiative is Turkey's Sustainable Transportation Association, or EMBARQ-Turkey, a branch of a global network pushing for environmentally and financially sustainable transportation solutions to improve quality of life in cities.

"We're aiming to make biking safer in Istanbul and integrate it as an alternative way of travelling. With the guidance of local administrators and data analyses, we will establish a pilot zone for bike traffic," EMBARQ Turkey Director Arzu Tekir told SES Türkiye.

"Our objective is to work in order to contribute to the sustainability of urban transportation and urban planning in line with international standards, and to establish 'cities focused on people' while generating sustainable solutions to urban transportation problems that threaten the environment and human health," Tekir explained.

Gerbrand Bas, chairman of Dutch Yard9, another supporter of the initiative, noted that bikes are a proven solution for short-range travel, but there is also a need for adequate infrastructure for bicycling and a bike friendly attitude from all involved parties, including policy-makers.

One of the most immediate challenges for biking in Istanbul is that the city has poor bike infrastructure and inattentive drivers. Many Istanbul commuters are still not familiar with bike lanes as a form of transportation, and sometimes try to obstruct their use.

There is also a lack of integrating transportation infrastructure to include bikes. Building bike lanes and public bike lockers, providing people with safety awareness, as well as providing public transport vehicles with equipment for carrying bikes are considered very critical to encourage biking culture among commuters.

Throughout Istanbul there are 60 free parking spaces with 450 bikes capacity for each. This year, the city added 36 kilometres of bike lanes as part of a project carried out by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality’s Transportation Co-ordination Administration.

In an ambitious project, the city aims to build 1,004 kilometres of bike lanes by 2023.

Co-operation with European cities with longer histories of integrating biking into public transportation has been a key element of developing and planning Turkey's biking infrastructure.

With over 40 years of experience creating bike-friendly cities and 400 kilometres of bike lanes, the Netherlands became a partner of Bikelab Istanbul initiative to find tailor-made solutions for Istanbul.

"As some may say that 'Dutch are born on two wheels,' we might be in the unique position to contribute to sustainable mobility for Istanbul," Bas told SES Türkiye.

However, for Bas, as long as Turkish people consider their cars as a status symbol and the only and means of transport, even for very short-range mobility, things are not going to change.

"Probably one solution might be to attach the same or even higher status to public transport, bike sharing and alike," he said. "In our vision Turkey and especially Istanbul with its young and well-educated population is a unique adaptive society open to this approach."

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