A walker’s paradise: Pedestrianising Istanbul’s ancient streets (Turkey)

By News Editor / Updated: 17 May 2016

In 2010 Istanbul embarked on an ambitious pedestrianisation project to create more accessible streets in the ancient city’s Historic Peninsula and turn the area into a space for people, not cars.

Since then, Istanbul has pedestrianised 295 streets, benefiting the 2.5 million people - including residents, public and private workers and tourists - that walk the streets of the peninsula each day. Locals are pleased with the results, particularly the increased road safety and more attractive streets – and recent studies have shown that the air in many places is considerably cleaner than before.


Istanbul’s Historic Peninsula has been at the centre of the 8500-year-old capital city through the Byzantine and Ottoman empires and modern times. Its streets boast rich historical and cultural heritage. During the 1950s and 1960s, rapid urbanisation, industrial growth, immigration and illegal construction made it nearly impossible to create holistic plans for the area. Traffic volume was high, especially on the roads along the coastline and surrounding the peninsula, and parking spaces are in serious demand. The area is also home to around 3 500 businesses.

The peninsula’s daytime population and traffic flow was a significant cause for concern and careful transport and urban planning was required. The Ragıp Gümüşpala Street underpass, for example, is busier than sidewalks found in London and New York. In 2011 the Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board warned that vibrations by heavy vehicle traffic were damaging the ancient Basilica Cistern.

In action 

In 2010 Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, in co-operation with urban-planning and mobility experts EMBARQ Turkey and global urban-research and design consultancy GEHL Architects, produced a report, Istanbul Public Spaces and Public Life. This study looked into various perspectives concerning public spaces on the peninsula and the interactions between vehicles and pedestrians. It mapped the current problems and potential of the peninsula, and presented a framework for a more people-orientated planning approach.

Thanks to the information provided by the report, Istanbul started pedestrian-only transformation projects. First, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality began work at Sultanahmet Square in 2010. This was followed by the pedestrianisation of 295 streets by the Fatih Municipality and Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality between 2010-2012 in Eminönü, Tahtakale, Beyazıt, Laleli, Gedikpaşa, and Hocapaşa. The municipality also repaved the newly pedestrianised streets with granite pavestones, updated signalisation and reorganised waste management services. Hydraulic vehicle-stopping barriers were installed, and streets lights and waste containers were renewed. New car parks were also built for tourist buses (each with 150-160 capacity).

Istanbul also introduced a number of general rules to be followed for the new streets:

  • During daytime hours (10:00 – 18:00), the streets and roads are accessible to pedestrians only. During the rest of the day, vehicular traffic is limited;
  • Only official vehicles, such as embassy, police, postal service, bank, fire service and hospital vehicles are allowed access during daytime hours;
  • Vehicles with commercial licenses are allowed access for loading/unloading outside the hours of 10:00-18:00;
  • Street vendors are prohibited from accessing some streets and roads;
  • Inspections and enforcement are conducted by the municipal police forces of Fatih Municipality;
  • Tourist buses will use only specially designated routes and stops.

The costs of the works are as follows: Eminönü (90 streets), 3 350 000 TRY (€ 1.01m); Laleli (30 streets), 11 955 000 TRY € 3.62m); and Hocapaşa (15 streets) 2 990 000  TRY € 907 000).


Three surveys – one each for residents, students and local businesses - were conducted following the completion of the pedestrianisation project. Half of local businesses said that the pedestrianisations benefitted their delivery and collection activities, although 37 per cent disagreed. The increase in street dealers after the pedestrianisation was a significant cause of concern, with 77 per cent of businesses expressing their displeasure.

Seventy-six per cent of total respondents felt that the pedestrianisation had a positive impact on road safety. Residents said they were pleased with the increased visual quality (58 per cent), strengthened attraction of historical buildings (56 per cent) and improved walkability (52 per cent).

There have also been considerable positive changes in the area’s air quality. NO2 levels have decreased by 42 per cent, while SO2 levels have reached negligible levels and have fallen below urban baseline levels. The average SO2 levels are reduced by 80 per cent across the peninsula. They comply with the urban ambient air quality background measurements in İstanbul and also show parallels with European cities.

However, while NO2 levels show similarities with the pollution profiles of cities like Barcelona, NH3 levels are fourfold of European urban air pollution levels. Moreover, the car density in the area is less than those European cities like Barcelona. This finding suggests that there may be a high concentration of vehicles and public buses with older diesel engines.

The Mayor of Fatih Municipality, Fatih Demir, said that pedestrianisation projects have boosted the local economy and developed the historic peninsula’s tourist and commercial activities.

Challenges, opportunities and transferability 

Some of the survey results highlighted some key areas for improvement, which will be valuable for local authorities to get a grasp on current concerns of the locals and their expectations.

Residents were expecting better landscape-planning as part of the pedestrianisation project (e.g. more public benches, plants and flowers, infrastructure improvements for pavements, etc.). However, there were no changes on pedestrianised streets apart from physical barriers to prevent motor vehicles from entering. Therefore, streetscapes should be improved on pedestrianised streets.

There are also significant concerns over the imposed difficulties with deliveries to the shops. Further investigations are required to understand business concerns in the area, and whether changes to hours or special permit provisions are required to improve perceptions. These concerns might decline over time, as businesses are more familiar with new requirements and adapt their business operations accordingly.

Decline in sales volumes is another common concern. Respondents are worried that restricted vehicle access on their streets might discourage their customers; 42 per cent of respondents believe that there is a need for increased parking spaces to meet the demand. However, EMBARQ Turkey reports that there has been no decline in sales volumes.

Furthermore, GEHL Architects reports that current car parks are already located on the roadside and, inappropriately, next to monuments. It is therefore important to improve public transportation services in the area. If more people shift to alternative modes, demand for car parks will decrease. This will also improve streetscapes.

In Depth 

Image copyright: Kids biking and playing, Historic Peninsula, Istanbul, Turkey (image on Flickr) by "EMBARQ Sustainable Urban Mobility by WRI" (Credit: Benoit Colin/WRI), licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Walking and cycling
Pinar Kose/WRI Turkey Sustainable Cities
News Editor
21 Aug 2015
17 May 2016