Traveling the cities of Turkey

The end of June and beginning of July I was in Turkey. My family and I went to Istanbul, Kalkan, Antalya, Ankara, Eskisehir, and Izmir. (Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir being Turkey’s three largest cities, in that order) In Istanbul we didn’t have a car, and didn’t need one. Cabs aren’t outrageously expensive, so if you need to go without a bus, they are a feasible option, but mostly I got around on the busses and trains. on the first day I was there, I walked with my parents on the Sahil Yolu (The road that follows the Bosporus on the European side) for about 25 minutes, then I got in a cab to go the short distance up the hill to Haciosman Istasyonu. I rode the metro 735892_10151232539642798_133156164_o

to Mecidiyekoy, where I met my friend Ayse, and we got back on the metro and went to Halic (which is a station that is in the middle of a bridge over the golden horn)tn_tr-istanbul-m2-goldenhorn-bridge.

It made very little sense to me to have a train station in the middle of the waterway, I would have built two stations, one on either side a little set back from the water for the purpose of being actually useful to walk to somewhere from them, but I didn’t design it, so that’s ok. From there we walked to Eminonu and had some soft drinks before getting on the T1 (tram)_mg_3443

up the hill to near Aksaray. From there we walked along a very large and busy street to a little Cafe, where my friend Ayse had once worked, and where she met her boyfriend. We played Backgammon and checkers for a while before resuming our walk through the city. We wandered down the main street until we got to a small very busy street in an area that was pedestrianized. It was a really neat little area, there was a park a ways down the little street with every bench full of people. A nice water fountain in the middle. we bought a little cake thing and ate it, then walked back to the tram line on the major street we had been on, and took the tram to the metro bus line, which even on the sunday we were there ran a single-bendy bus every 20 seconds in both directionsmetrobus

(On weekdays they run double-bendies every 14 seconds). This bus took us straight back to the metro station that I had met her at, and we parted ways at the subway station737462_10151232539892798_842639984_o.

From there I took the metro to Darussafaka Station, and proceeded to walk about 2 miles down the hill to Istinye, which is a little waterfront village/district of Istanbul.

All of the trains we were on were very busy, despite it being Sunday. Istanbul is a large extremely dense city (the districts I was in are considerably denser than Manhattan in most cases). They were late to the game on building transit systems to move around the city. They’ve had busses and minibuses and cabs for a long time, but what they have not had before 2000 was a subway, (and their trams were built in the late 80’s). This very young subway now carries thousands upon thousands of people. The train cars are about 11 feet wide and have all aisle-facing seats, meaning when you’re on a crowded 8-car Istanbul Subway Train, you’re on a train with about 2400 other people. The trains have video-advertising in them, a line map that has lights indicating directionality and location, system maps near the doors, ample places to grab hold, and the train is articulated, meaning that there are no doors between cars for each 4-car train set. (meaning you can walk about 350 feet unimpeded from one end of the train to the other). Each car has 4 doors, and the doors are almost as wide as most airport subway automated train doors(abnormally wide due to constant crush-loads needing to disembark, and embark quickly). The tram is more like a cross between a Seattle Light Rail car and a CTA L Car. It has the capacity of the L, with the built-car-style of the Link Light Rail (and all the squeaking and bumping that comes with the L). It (400,000/day) however carries 1.5 times as many people as the busiest L line(250,000/day – red) and over less distance. On Sunday, the trains were total crush load, one after another (running about every 1-2 minutes). Mind, they can only run 2-car train sets on this line(equivalent to a 2-Car Seattle Trainset, or a 4-car Chicago Trainset), meaning they have to have them coming one after another to handle demand. The line has a few break points (places where service ends mid-line in order to heavily serve high demand corridors). When we rode the first train the passengers turned over about 2.5 times over about 1.5 miles. (turning over meaning that the train did the equivalent of filling up and emptying 2.5 times). The tram line reminded me of Muni Metro in San Francisco, just with a million more rail cars and people. The bus line is in the middle of the D100 expressway and runs busses at insane frequencies to handle its normal 750,000/day. This is perhaps one of the best candidate locations for a legitimate subway I’ve ever seen in my life. The corridor usage on this line is absolutely insane. Mind, the line is about 50 miles long, and broken into multiple pieces, but, that’s 15,000 people per mile still, which is absolutely insane. For perspective, Seattle’s busiest transit line carries around 4000/mile. Chicago’s Busiest carries about 10,000/mile.  Not to mention, fares are only like $.75-1.50 (though, there doesn’t seem to be free transfer credit in Istanbul…

The downsides: The design of all the systems are not ideal. Istanbul gets so many riders because it is just such an insanely dense place. Had they designed it better, they would probably have 1.5 times as many people riding it I think. I’ll start with the Metro (subway). The Metro’s stations are absolute labyrinths. The stations are 50-100 feet underground740282_10151231752222798_850951043_o,

and they make you run a maze of escalators and stairs to get down to the platform. The five minute walk shed from the train is literally the top of the stairs out of the station in many cases. The signage is good to get you around them, but they are just too big, and too deep. Then there’s the placement of the Halic station on the Golden Horn Metro Bridge. The station is placed in the middle of the bridge, such that the 8 minute walk shed is simply land from that stop. there is very little in the 10 minute walk from the train and the 15 is where it finally starts to see some utility.  The Tram: The tram’s platforms are too short. they need to be double long so that longer trains can be run. It would lower operating costs and significantly boost capacity, which the line honestly seems a bit constrained by. This line could use subway service, not tram service. The pinpoint stations (where trains turn back mid line) need more platforms because currently they dump people out onto the opposing track at times due to A) Being over capacity, and B) Needing to quickly empty to get out of the way of the next train. These stations are also in the center of what at times is a 4 lane in each direction boulevard that is a nightmare to cross on foot. taking a lane of cars away just for the sake of getting rid of it wouldn’t go amiss here. Widen the sidewalk, or the platforms, or both, add a bike lane? (never going to happen in Istanbul though…) Do something else with the space, there’s too many cars to try to dodge to get to and from the stations. And lastly the busses, and I really can only say, this needs to be converted to 12-car subway trains. (cap 3600 ppl/train). The sheer volume of people riding along this line is astounding and it needs a capacity upgrade, and lower operating costs. they could redeploy those busses all over Istanbul and greatly improve mobility city wide. The median stations where the freeway is elevated are actually fantastic, because it is easy to get out of the station and into the city, the distance isn’t so bad.

The second place we went was Kalkan, a seaside tourist village on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey just about directly south of Istanbul. It is a place that one can walk across inside an hour, and it has all the life of the city, with the “form” of the suburbs. Kalkan pulls it off though because it is primarily a tourist place, so the people coming are wealthy enough to support a wide variety of restaurants and bars that in fact spill out of the town center and down some of the main roads to the edges of town. The old village center is pedestrian only, and it is really a tangled web of alleys, staircases, courtyards, and the like. You really can hardly tell if you’re on public or private property for most of it. Down the hill is the harbor, where there’s a dense line-up of restaurants on two decks at the water’s edge. My parents went into town each day by car, and I chose to walk. I could get small groceries and what not at the convenience stores on the route to downtown. They had grocery stores, produce specific stores, convenience stores, and generally a lot of tiny shops that were specialized in one area of grocery. It was very pleasant walking down the street on my way home each night, picking up things I needed here and there on my way. it did not feel like it took any longer or was any less convenient than going to a super-grocer. I gave serious thought to quitting life and going to live in the village doing something boring but easy. Life there seems stress free, most people get around on little scooters, sit by the beach when they’re off work, have easy service jobs, it really seems like an easy and pleasant life.IMG_9392

We then went to Antalya for lunch with some friends from one of the Turkish Robotics Teams. Antalya is a city of 1 million people in the winter, and 2.5 million in the summer. (it is a beach town where tons of Turks have summer homes). The city has a large pedestrianized area in the old center, with a tram running up to the edge of it IMG_9428,

and generally seems like a huge nice place. I liked it there, but we really only stopped for lunch, so we didn’t see a ton.

We then drove to Ankara, via Konya. Ankara is a city of 4.5 million people – putting it on par with the Detroit metro area. Konya has a population of 1 million. Konya is a flat highly religious city on the Anatolian plateau. Konya is interesting because it has bike lanes all over it, and its bike lanes are mostly on the sidewalks, and not on the street. Bike lanes in Turkey are blue, and not green, which is also interesting, and different. Ankara is a humungous dense city, like Istanbul, but not as big. It is the capital city of Turkey, and honest to god I see no reason whatsoever anyone would ever build a city there, but clearly I’m not the decider of such things. Ankara has an old downtown, Kizilay that is full of 9 story buildings and people and life and wide sidewalks. It has a new rising downtown along the brand new M3 line that is full of sparkling skyscrapers and devoid of street life. I however do not blame the high-rises for the lack of street-life. The design of Turkish high-rise districts is just appallingly bad. It is truly unbelievably bad. There are no sidewalks, there are hardly even roads in these districts. they are incredibly hard to find your way around if you are not on the singular 8-lane highway that typically runs through them.IMG_9502


Ankara is a large and easy to get around place. Cabs aren’t too expensive, like Istanbul, and the city isn’t so big you ever really have to go very far in a cab, and outside of that there’s 4 subway lines – 2 of them new since I had last been there 1.5 years ago, and a bus system that I don’t know much about except that the street my hotel was on had a bus about every 5 minutes. Ankara’s Metro is far more practical in its station design than Istanbul’s, with the exception of the central station. Kizilay (central station) is a bit of a messy web of underground shops, concourses, fare payment areas, and platforms. Also, this is where all of the train lines meet. (M1/2, M3, and A lines). M1/2 and M3 meet on parallel platforms on the same level, and A1 meets them perpendicularly underneath them. In order to get from M3 to A1 you have to walk around through some bare concourses and down some stairs. My dad and I did not realize that you could go to the A1 line from both the M1/2 and M3 platforms, so instead of going straight to M3 from A1 we proceeded to walk from A1, through a standing M1/2 train to the M3 train. (The M trains have platforms on both sides of them at Kizilay – there are two tracks, 1 track is the M1/2, and 1 track is the M3 and there are three platforms, an island platform between the trains, and a side platform outside each train. There are stairs over the tracks, but really its easiest to just walk through standing trains, we weren’t the only ones doing it. All of the other stations we encountered were very straightforward two-level stations, one level for fare payment, and one for trains, unlike Istanbul’s deep stations with stairs and concourses that go on for a couple hundred meters in places. The trains are fast and very spacious on the M lines. they’re very wide, with all aisle facing seats to maximize useful space. They’re also long articulated trains that you can walk from end-to-end on.  On our way back from the end of the M3 line, when the train stopped at MTA station (near their new downtown), my dad and I witnessed the invasion of the suits. There were about 150 people in suits that all got on the train at one station. there was maybe one non-suit at the station, it was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen. At any rate, clearly wealthy people are not afraid of the subway like they are in many places in America. Also, it was here that my dad and I figured out how to purchase a smart card for their system without being able to speak Turkish to the station agent. That was a fun game of charades, but it worked out, and we learned that we could easily pass our fare card back so both of us could board with one card.

Ankara has some neat design elements here and there. There are many intersections where one road goes under the intersection and does not have to stop, which seems to make getting around a little easier for carsIMG_9486

– these roads however are very wide, and I don’t think I’d ever try to cross them without a pedestrian bridge – which leads me to my next design feature. In Kizilay, there are many pedestrian bridges over the main road, and sidewalks are about 30 feet wide, so walking here is easy, and safe. The street is bustling with people and business, and there are many busses running on the main road. Ankara also has a neat aesthetic element in its street lamps. They are all a single arc beam that arcs out over the roads, and they are set even with each other across the street in such a way as to frame the space of the street. And in places of high pedestrian traffic they have little abutments over the sidewalk that light the sidewalk as well. They could be improved in my opinion however by being turned around – and having them create the space of the sidewalk and face their backs/abutments at the street in a way of saying: Pedestrians are who we are creating space for, rather than cars. But despite that, they do make beautiful space/enclosure on the roads. There are also many colored lights in public spaces at night in Ankara, making it feel more cared for and lively.

Ankara is the center of Turkey’s small, but useful High Speed Rail system (Yuksek Hizli TrenIMG_9477).

While I was in Turkey the trains went from Ankara to Konya and Eskisehir, and from Konya to Eskisehir. A couple days after my return to the U.S. the line was completed to the outer districts of Istanbul from Eskisehir. This train leaves from Ankara’s Main Train station a few blocks off the main street through Kizilay – the old and very busy downtown. The trains move at 155 mph (250 kph) and make the trip to Eskisehir with a couple stops in 1:18-1:30(depending on # of stops). The trains are very smooth, very comfortable, more spacious than airplanes, and they have TVs in them that tell you how fast you’re going and have some ads on loop in Turkish (no sound). We used the train to get to Eskisehir for a meeting and dinner, we left Ankara at 3:30 PM, and returned by 10:15. It was a fantastic, easy experience. Trains run every ~1:30 from about 6 am to 9 pm. Our trains were reasonably full. In Eskisehir, we found a city that had 4 tram lines in a city that only takes up as much space as 2 Ohare Airports( ), with the population of the city of Seattle (~650,000). Their downtown is pedestrian/tram onlyIMG_9463IMG_9466,

and just full of people on a nice evening. There’s a river running through town that they cleaned up and made into an asset of their city, rather than a wasteland. The city has a really progressive mayor who we got to sit and talk to for a couple hours (about robotics, not city planning), and he is this 70-some year old guy, who is full of life and ideas and is striving to do everything he can to make his city better, and he’s done such a good job that they nearly had him run for president. (his age and health I think are why they ended up going with someone else). Ankara was a really neat city that I very much enjoyed.

Our next stop was Izmir, this is a large city of 3.5 million people (Turkey’s third largest, and almost exactly equivalent to Seattle and its surrounding sprawl population wise). It’s often called Turkey’s most european city because someone put at least a little bit of forethought into where to put the roads in town, making it a little more organized than the typical Turkish City. The extent of their planning however only seems to cover about 1 square mile, to be honest. Our arrival involved me directing my dad to drive up through the gecekondus (slums) and then back into town because my GPS put the hotel in a very incorrect location. But we got to see the incredibly messy weblike streets of the slums, which are barely wider than the car, and full of people. I felt like we were interrupting their day, but it was a neat ride through something I don’t see every day. We then proceeded to our hotel, which was in the small highly planned district. Izmir generally has the typical urban Turkish form, 6-12 story buildings for miles, though it doesn’t really have any major highways in the city, and it also doesn’t have a high-rise section in the city either, it simply has a few tall buildings spread about the city here and there. Izmir also has an enormous pedestrian only section of town that is one giant market. It is much like pike place in Seattle except it sprawls rather than goes up 6 floors. Izmir has a beautiful boardwalk along the Agean Sea/ Izmir’s Bay and this was the first Turkish city I had been to that had a bike-share system! The bike share was entirely limited to the sea-boardwalk however. The boardwalk had blue bike lanes that were at a different level than the walkways for people, and next to them was a one-way road to serve the hundreds of sidewalk restaurants that spread out into the large open space between the buildings and the water.IMG_9545     

 One evening we were sitting near the edge of a restaurant, eating, and people selling things would come by now and then and offer them as they went by, food, trinkets, rabbit fortunes… (one guy had a rabbit who he would let you pet, and the rabbit would pick a fortune for you for a fee). Izmir seemed to have a right-sized subway system for its needs, though, since I was there on a Sunday, I don’t know. The sunday frequency on the subway was a train every 3 minutesIMG_9574,

so they must just run longer trains during the weekdays. At any rate, my dad and I walked into a station, played charades to get a transit card, and proceeded to ride around the bay to look back at the city from another equally dense and far more convoluted part of the city that we had been looking at from where we already were. We took a subway, and then a commuter train, which honestly wasn’t appreciably different than the subway, except I guess it ran less often? The interchange station was a big, open place where you walked up and over and re-tapped in to change trains, but it didn’t charge us more IIRCIMG_9588.

So we got to the other side, and wound up in another pedestrian only district teeming with people and performers, and life.IMG_9626

We walked down the street from the train station to the waterfront to look back at the city, and enjoyed our view. The train station we got off at happened to be named for the ferry terminal we now found ourselves next to, and the boardwalk had seemed to have continued all the way around the bay because we were now on it again.IMG_9606

Izmir was a very well-planned city it seemed, as far as Turkish cities go. It was full of life, and built gorgeously, and it had palm treesIMG_9568,

which I’ve always enjoyed. I very much enjoyed my time in Izmir wandering around with my parents.

My trip to Turkey was a lot of fun, and full of new things to see, and new urbanisms to explore. I saw quite a few new subway lines that are not what I’m used to in the U.S. and I enjoyed walking around huge dense, lively cities. I visited with old friends who I don’t see too often, and did some good relaxing. I was really impressed by how many places in Turkey have pedestrian only areas, and those areas aren’t even small. They’re large sections of the cities, and they add so much to the life and culture of the city. I hope that one day the U.S. will start to see the value in these things more and more, and to that point, my next post will be on Denver, which actually does have that kind of area, and its magnificent!            

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