Good and Bad Transit Planning

I’ve been around the world a bit lately, seen different places, ridden different trains, and even just within my own city, İstanbul, lately, I’ve seen some interesting tidbits. There’s a lot that goes into making a big city work. Goods, people, utilities, services all have to be moved about the city quickly and efficiently. I tend to focus most of my time considering how people move about a city.


Recently I travelled to the Northern part of İstanbul because I wanted to try out the new line F3 (Funicular line 3, 3rd after the Tünel, and the Kabataş Funicular train lines). For starters, I though it was a monorail, because the Turkish word for monorail is ambiguous. In Turkish, usually monorails are referred to as HavaRay – or Air-train – which as it turns out, simply means elevated train. Anyways, I had gone to breakfast in Karaköy, walked back to Mecidiyeköy, and then took M2 up towards Sanayi Mah. and Vadi İstanbul, where F3 was located. To get to Vadi İstanbul from Mecidiyeköy you must take three trains. M2, M2-Seyrantepe, and F3. M2-Seyrantepe is a two-stop one-track line between Sanayi Mahallesi and Seyrantepe/TT Stadium. It comes every 9 minutes and has a journey time of about 2 minutes. From there one must walk out of the station across a plaza, and onto the platform for F3, another one-track, two-stop line that comes about every 9 minutes.

F3 goes from the top of a hill to the bottom of a valley, and thus is an elevated cable car, however, the experience of getting from anywhere of consequence to Vadi İstanbul by transit is not good. You have a minimum of two transfers, and a minimum journey time of 30 minutes (that’s to travel 5km). Contrast that to where I live, I can get from my apartment to the north end of town in 20 minutes, or to Fatih in 15. (~8-10 km in each direction) With no transfers. On top of all of this, F3 is, as cable cars tend to be, slow. So it’s 750m journey takes about 2,5 minutes. This in my mind is bad transit planning. I believe they should have planned this system far better, and extended M2Seyrantepe (M2S) out, on a viaduct over the valley, along side the freeway it runs beneath, and built an elevated station with high speed elevators to the valley floor. This may have been more expensive, but it would save ~13 minutes per journey for passengers. No transfer, no long wait for a second train, just M2S from Vadi İstanbul to Sanayi Mah. (or to the stadium if that’s where the person was actually trying to go). They could then also perhaps extend M2S to become its own independent line, serving points such as Alibeyköy’s satellite bus garage (intercity) on one side, with connections to M7, and T5, and on to Istinye Park Mall, Istinye, Tarabya, and Sariyer in the other direction, providing metro access to places with high traffic, but only busses stuck in traffic service today.

Ekran Resmi 2018-02-02 01.59.02
It could have been so much more useful…

Another issue with this set-up is the transfer at Seyrantepe. You must descend multiple stair sets, walk through a long tunnel, out of the station, out across a plaza, and then into another station and down some more stairs to transfer between F3 and M2S. Even this could be better, as the train lines could have at least met in the same building/station structure, rather than requiring a 5 minute walk between the two (and a confusing one at that as the signage is lacking and your orientation is hard to gather there). There are other good examples in İstanbul, such as the T1-F1 transfer, M2-F1 transfer, or the M1-M2-Marmaray transfer in Yenikapi. These were all sensibly built transfer stations that do not require excess walking to get between trains. It’s < 3 minutes between trains in these places. Personally, I frequently take 3 trains to get to Eminonu or Karakoy because the transfers are quick and easy, and I never really wait more than 3 minutes for any one vehicle on the line. M2 runs every 2-6 minutes, F2 is every 5, and T1 is every 30-240 seconds. Alternatively I could take one train, and walk like 10 minutes, but its just as easy and fast to take three trains due to good station/transfer design and train frequency.

There are some other terrible examples in this city of bad transfers – Uzuncayir-Unalan and Zincirlikuyu-Gayretepe, – where the stations are far enough apart to have separate names, yet they are probably in the top 5 transfer points in the entire city. (I’d assume that it goes something like: (Disclaimer, I do not know for sure, this is just my educated guess)

  1. Yenikapı (I don’t think I’ve ever seen less than a thousand people in any single one of my short walks through that station)
  2. Mecidiyeköy-Şişli/Mecidiyeköy
  3. Zincirlikuyu-Gayretepe

  4. Zeytinburnu
  5. Uzuncayir-Ünalan
  6. Ayrilikcesmesi
  7. Topkapı
  8. Üsküdar(ferry-M5-marmaray)
  9. Eminönü (Ferry-T1)
  10. Kadiköy (ferry-M4)
  11. Şirinevler-Ataköy
  12. Sirkeci
  13. Taksim-Kabataş

    Mkoy MEtrobus.jpg
    Mecidiyeköy Metrobüs
  14. Edirnekapı-Şehitler
  15. Kirazlı
  16. Vatan-Topkapı/Ulubatlı
  17. Merter
  18. Levent
  19. Otogar
  20. Sanayi Mah.

Mecidiyeköy suffers from similar bad planning though the stations at least have the same name. It’s a 5 minute walk between stations. And to make that transfer better, while there used to be a tunnel from metrobüs to metro, now it is under construction so you must surface and deal with the maddening Merkez Cd. and Büyükdere Cd. Crossings, and woefully inadequate 15 meter wide sidewalks.

Traffic on the sidewalk between Metro, Surface Busses, and Metrobüs in Mecidiyeköy

When I have to make some of these transfers, are some of the few times I miss Chicago. Train transfers there were so easy. The worst transfer in Chicago was either the Jackson Tunnel (because of the smell, not the distance) or the Clark Transfer because it was double the normal amount of stairs (from elevated to subway). Most transfers in the CTA system require you to simply exit your train, and wait for the next one on the same platform, and while, I understand why we need multiple platforms here in İstanbul, due to high train frequencies on every line, the platforms can be closer to each other, or adjacent even. There are a few places like this – Ataköy Şirinevler, you simply walk up, over half the freeway, and back down into the other station. Yenikapı is another good example, all the platforms are very near to each other, it’s a quick jaunt between the three train lines there.

An easy transfer between 5 trains on the same platform in Chicago

Transfers are only one element though – though the one I most frequently experience stress with here in İstanbul. Thankfully most of the train lines run more often than every 5 minutes, so train waits aren’t long, but walks are. There is also train frequency, which is ridiculously high here in İstanbul, and every time I leave İstanbul, I am astonished at how long I have to wait for a train, even in other huge cities, like Chicago, Seattle, Rome, Frankfurt, etc. In İstanbul we’re absolutely spoiled by how frequently our trains show up, however, it’s because we need it – we actually need either longer trains or more frequent service to handle our passenger loads.

Line No. 2 4 Metro-büs 3 1 T1 T4
Length (km) 23,5 26,5 52 15,9 26,1 18,5 15,3
Stations 16 19 44 11 23 31 22
Train-cars 124 144 460 80 105 92 78
Train-sets (4 car metro, 3 or 2-car tram) 31 36 20 26 46 26
Journey Time (mins) 33 38,5 83 20 35 65 42
Hours 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00 24 hour 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00 6:00-0:00
Peak Frequency 02:45 03:53 00:14 06:40 02:30 00:45 05:00
Average Frequency 04:30 05:00 1 9 3/6 3 08:00
Daily Ridership 480.000 283.000 850.000 55.000 400.000 350.000 115.000
Trains Frequently Arrive in İstanbul (Train in 2 and 5 minutes approaching)

Stop spacing is another issue, and this is another one I think İstanbul excels at. Stops are >1km, but < 2km apart normally. This means that coverage (the amount of people able to access the train line) is maximized, while also maximizing speed (every stop slows the line down by a minute). This has been really well done with one notable exception – Haliç Station, sitting on a bridge in the middle of a body of water.It requires a minimum 5 minute walk to anything (just to get off the bridge and across the large streets on either side). It’s a gorgeous view, but I sincerely believe that station should have been split into two – one on either side of the golden horn. This is something that Chicago spaced too tightly, Seattle too loosely, and İstanbul generally hits the sweet spot (It notably does this with its bus system too, which is a huge departure from American bus systems, that stop every block or two).

Ekran Resmi 2018-01-31 21.33.43 (2)
Metro Schematic
Ekran Resmi 2018-01-31 21.33.43
Metro Stops/Lines Geographic


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s