Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sixteen - writing for DOT-Way

Here is the article I wrote for the City of San Jose DOT Newsletter...

It is nice to have an editor - whew!

Transportation in Istanbul (not Constantinople)
William Harmon - Geographic Systems Specialist

Many people have asked me why I traveled to Istanbul on a recent vacation.

In short, I have a goal to travel to a different and unique place - someplace I’ve never been - every year for the rest of my life. Istanbul and the Republic of Turkey was a place on my list.

Istanbul is a lively city that continues to build upon itself and its several thousand year history straddling the Bosporus Straights - one-half in Europe and the other half in Asia. Islam is practiced there, but during the last century it has been tempered somewhat to encourage modernization and enable Turkey to become more contemporary. They have been negotiating, unsuccessfully, to become part of the European Union for decades. None-the-less, Islam is still a major part of their culture, with the call-to-prayer broadcast over loud-speakers throughout the city five times a day.

I found out by visiting there that while some customs may be quaint; hospitality abounds and Istanbul has a very modern infrastructure - particularly their public transportation system.

While sitting in airport traffic during the first part of my visit, I looked up and saw a billboard for the 2009 Intertraffic Conference:

I later found out that it was not only happening close to where I was staying and at the same time, but that it was free! So I decided to go.
The first presentation, I somehow managed to understand, was a Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat (SWOT) analysis for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) projects – this despite not being able to understand the Turkish language at all. Let’s hear it for effective Power Point slides!

I then retrieved a headset for Turkish to English translation and watched a presentation by a traffic engineer from the Istanbul Electric Tramway and Tunnel ( The IETT and its partner agencies are equivalent to our local VTA.

Despite issues with language translation, I could appreciate the challenges of a traffic engineer for a city of 15 million people (and a population density three to four times greater than the City of San Jose).[1] In one example, he described the ratio of signal devices operated per population, and then compared these figures to other metropolitan areas of the world. The ratio is something like 1: 3,000 for Istanbul (1 signal for every 3,000 persons); compared to 1: 1,000 for large cities in the U.S., like Los Angeles. San Jose, by comparison, has roughly 900 traffic signals for a population of about 900,000.

Next, he went on to admit another challenge: Regardless of how many signals and other safety devices there are in the city, they are largely violated or ignored by the motorists. (What did I find particularly un-nerving during my visit? Here, the motorists have countdown signals!)
Expansion and improvement of the public transportation system, according to the speaker, was the best solution. He explained that the construction of public transportation in the city has grown at a rate of about 75% since the year 2000. In fact, right in front of the Istanbul Expo Center, where the conference took place, they were excavating bedrock to build an additional line to their Metro system.

To augment growth of the public transportation system the speaker also cited the need for more Otoparks – an equivalent to our Park and Ride lots, but more like multi-story parking garages placed at key transit hubs.
After the speaker session, I went on the conference floor and checked out different vendor booths and activities. I noticed immediately, as with most of the transportation conferences I have attended throughout my career, GIS as a tool to better manage traffic was absent; except in sophisticated ITS software - which only comprised about one-quarter of the floor displays.
The majority of the vendors, it appeared, were focused on advanced signage, with state-of-the-art composition, reflective materials, and solar power and LED for street and signal lighting. Vendors were also displaying sophisticated road materials and markings application devices. Safety seemed to be a huge concern. I think they are already pretty green.
Outside, there were displays of hulking road construction, paving and striping trucks. Mercedes Benz also displayed several municipal buses that are apparently a standard brand in many European cities. Let me say that I did not ask any of the prices of these vehicles.
In my travels, I did have some thoughts on transportation at large in the city too. I really appreciate how they were able to implement and then integrate such large scale transportation projects and systems. According to the IETT website there are 16 different types of public transportation available in the city. I lost count at the six different modes I used on my trip - from ferry boat, to subway, to the famous dolmuş (shared city buses that stop anywhere along a fixed route and are usually stuffed with people – and yes, analogous to the Greek food with the same name). Not to mention, I did a lot of walking.

My other thoughts were about how amazing it is that they have the will as a society to be able to get things done. Like the previously described rail and subway expansions, or better yet, a tunnel that crosses under the Straights of Bosporus.
This conference was a memorable addition to a wonderful trip to another part of the world. Certainly things are different there than they are here in the Bay Area, but it is interesting to find the similarities. Next year the Intertraffic conference takes place in Amsterdam, where they have multi-story parking for bicycles - and other interesting things to check out.
Again, I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and wanted to describe this facet of it to you. If you are interested in hearing more about this travel, please feel free to contact me.
[1] Comparison figures are derived from While published figures show Istanbul at a population of nine to ten million; estimates among conference speakers and attendees, local media, and residents cite a population closer to 15,000,000.


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