Pedal Magic on the Bosphorus (a photo essay from rainy Istanbul)

As some of you know I am attending and working at the Ecocity City World Summit in Istanbul this week. Running concurrently to the climate summit in Copenhagen we are trying to come up with concrete plans and solutions to meet any targets that will be agreed upon. With more than 50% of the world’s population living in cities (set to reach 60% by 2030), it is those built environments that offer the biggest opportunities to make significant dents in CO2 emissions. What better way to start the conference than with a bicycle tour in the pouring rain led by the fabulous İstanbul Cyclists’ Association and its intrepid captain, Murat Suyabatmaz.

When we left our hostel in the Beyoglu district we had no idea if the planned tour would actually take place. I had serious doubts about whether our Turkish hosts would want to ride in the pouring rain, and so I was secretly hoping the tour would be canceled. Naturally, those fantasies were dashed the moment we arrived at our meeting place in front of Hagia Sophia where a group of yellow-clad cyclists was drawing a lot of attention from curious passers-bys:

Ok, so it became clear right away that these guys are determined to make bicycling an EVERYDAY reality in Istanbul, obviously aware that ecocities aren’t for fair weather friends…

Not only did they have bikes ready for us, but the local police was ready to escort us through town.

They know bicycles are the mode of transportation of the future, so they stay involved with what’s going on in the streets. Murat had a few words with them scouting out our route…

Gotta have your helmet…

I can think of worse places to start your bike tour from…

And off we go…

Our tour guides were unfazed by the rain and determined to give us the full scoop on Ottoman history and byzantine architecture…

Look who’s having a good old time! (yup, that’s me)

Then we’re off trying to cover some ground. Not the best views but nobody seemed to care…

Back up into the old Sultanahmet district…

Istanbul is a city of over 15 million people, adding almost 1/2 million every year. There are obviously huge traffic and congestion problems, but it is very encouraging to see what Murat, Cetin, B and the gang have accomplished so far. They have car free Sundays, critical mass, tons of new bike lanes, and most encouraging, they have set up branches of their bicycle association in 20 smaller Turkish cities. This afternoon I had the great honor to interview Cetin and Murat, and once I get the transcripts edited I’ll follow up with a more in depth report on their work. We talked a lot about Copenhagen and how the top-down discussions need to be accompanied by bottoms-up movements such as the Istanbul bicycle association. 10 years ago there were close to zero cyclists in Istanbul, and today there are over 3000 members and growing. Once people start to see that it’s possible to move around on bikes no matter what the conditions, there’s a momentum in the right direction. Visionaries like Murat and Cetin are the vital links in connecting the numbers talk in Copenhagen with actual change on the ground.

That’s it for today from Istanbul, I’ll be reporting more from Ecocity World Summit 2009 in the coming days.

Check out more great pics on Berk’s blog.

10 responses to “Pedal Magic on the Bosphorus (a photo essay from rainy Istanbul)

  1. Sven,
    I don’t know if you realize how much you do–how your sincerity and commitment shine forth in your words. And you don’t just talk about stuff–you go and do. What would the world do without your loving energy? I hope we don’t have to find out for about another 90 years. :)

    • Ok, I would be 132 years by then, I imagine I would be one of those cute old guys sitting in one of those awesome Istanbul cafes with backgammon boards on the table. Seriously Pam, your comment is so touching, I’m having a little moment here in the press room at the conference. I’m a lucky guy, not only to be blessed to go and do but to be connected to such kindred spirits such as yourself. That’s what it’s ultimately all about for me, being in company of deep soul and great spirit, experiencing truth, love and learning new things about this great gig in the sky we get to play in!

  2. Thanks a lot Sven. You are welcome any time in Istanbul, tomorrow, after tomorrow or when you become 132 years doesn’t mater:))
    Just two weeks ago our Cyclist Association had general kongres wher we vot for new members of board and i thing now we becom strongly and ready to built green healtly ecologikal life in Istanbul and World:)

    • I’ll be back in Istanbul before I turn 132, you can count on it! I also hope that you will be able to come to San Francisco before you’re 132 :-). The Istanbul Cyclist Association is a true inspiration to all those who say things can never change. What you have accomplished in Istanbul is amazing, and I look forward to seeing all the great things you will do in the future. A lot more to come.

      peace and blessings!

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