Whatever means of transportation you choose to reach your hotel, if it has inflatable tires, chances are very likely you’ll be confronted with one of the biggest problems Istanbul has to cope with: traffic! Of course, Istanbul is not the only metropolis in the world suffering from clogged streets. But the massive proportions of these traffic jams, the way they deal with them and the way they create them is rather unique.
Istanbul has been around for centuries. Sure, it has changed its name a few times over the years, but the location has always been the same. And in those years, there was no need at all for wide lanes. The word rush hour wasn’t even invented yet. The only traffic was an occasional horse-drawn carriage. And since mankind is (luckily) a bit nostalgic by nature, hence wants to preserve these memories of the old days, the result is that the city center consists of very narrow streets.
It goes without saying that all the action (night-life, tourist attractions, financial district, etc.) is located in the city center, making people commute daily between their homes in the suburbs and their offices downtown Istanbul.
In addition, the city of Istanbul is not only surrounded by water, it is also twice divided by it. There is of course the Bosphorus, splitting it into a European and Asian part, on top of that the Golden Horn splits up the old and new Istanbul on the European side. The only way to get from one shore to the other is of course through bridges. And as with all bridges, they tend to get stuck easily.
This all results in massive traffic jams. On a normal dry day, morning rush hour starts as early as 7 a.m. and lasts until around 10 a.m. After a small cool-off period, traffic again starts peaking from 4 p.m (when schools are out) to 9.30 pm. Unfortunately, rush-hours lasting from the break of dawn all the way to end of the day are no exception, certainly not if a few accidents happened along the way.
How Istanbulites Deal With Traffic Jams
Survival of the fittest seems to be the best way to describe it. As soon as traffic jams start building up, they try to find alternative roads. And once found, they race through them trying to catch up on time already lost. But with little of these available since they all lead to the previously described bottlenecks, this is to little avail. So they immediately switch to plan B.
Make the most use of the road at hand. Lanes painted on the surface must be for decorative purposes, since you would be surprised how easily they can transform a three lane road into a five lane one. On highways, they confiscate the emergency lanes too, because if them getting late is not an emergency, then what is! And of course, horn as much as possible. Not that it would make things go smoother, but at least you release some stress. Turkey is the first country where I’ve seen people even honking at the police if they get in their way.
How Istanbulites Create Traffic Jams
In all fairness, I have to admit that the city’s municipality and the Turkish government are putting in huge efforts nowadays to cope with these problems. Extra tunnels, subways, tramways and bus-only lanes have been made available or are under construction. Also big investments were made to install Electronic Detection Systems (EDS) to automatically detect and fine drivers who abuse the emergency lanes or drive through red traffic lights.
And although Turkish drivers are certainly not among the worst in the world, by neglecting basic traffic rules, squeezing themselves into the smallest space available, swerving across the roads, blocking emergency lanes and thus delaying the cause of the traffic jam to be dealt with, they are also part of the problem.