Where Cyclists Dare: Riding the Streets of Istanbul
A group ride in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo via Bisikletliler Derneği.
Not long ago, a friend visiting from New York asked me if I ever saw anyone biking in Istanbul. My first instinct was to scoff, "Of course not! Haven't you seen the insane traffic around here?!? And there aren't even proper sidewalks to walk on, much less bike lanes!" But then I took a moment to think about it, and, other than little kids tooling around on the back streets, I could recall having seen exactly two bike riders in recent weeks… one of whom was narrowly evading a collision with a car.An article in the Turkish Daily News dubbed Istanbul a city where "bicycling is only for the brave," citing aggressive drivers, a lack of bike lanes--and benches, trashcans, and even barbecue grills cluttering the few that do exist--and only-in-Turkey hazards like "being hit on the head by a grocery basket thrown from a window" (a common way to get small deliveries from the local bakkal, or corner store). In 2004, the mayor of Istanbul promised that 630 kilometers of bike lanes would be built in the city. Since then, the paper reports, the plan "has been increased to 1,004 kilometers, but construction has yet to start." Current estimates call for the project to be completed by 2023. Breaths are not being held--though the pollution might make that advisable.
Despite the obstacles, the city has some avid bicycle commuters and advocates, including 45-year-old Murat Suyabatmaz, recently profiled by another local English-language paper, Today's Zaman. A former member of Turkey's national cycling team, he is now the "captain" of the İstanbul Cyclists’ Association, which is working with city officials to get bike racks on buses, build more bicycle parking, and develop bike paths--and bringing riders together on group excursions like the one pictured above.
Outside of Istanbul, biking may be safer, but it's still pretty unusual. This past summer, seven members of a Turkish cycling club used the novelty factor to their advantage, pedaling 700 kilometers down the Aegean and Mediterranean coast over ten days to raise awareness about global warming.
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