Will Istanbul’s transport investments set it apart?


Haliç metro bridge under construction.


It has been about two weeks since Tokyo, Madrid, and Istanbul participated in the IOC’s official London 2012 Games debriefing in Rio de Janeiro. As these candidate cities return home to place the finishing touches on their bid books for the 2020 Games, the question is will they be able to match London’s successes and what will set them apart as the most promising candidate city to the IOC Evaluation Commission?

It should be no surprise to our readers that BID expects Istanbul’s significant transportation investments made over the course of its multiple Olympic bids, as well as the political will and resources these repeat bids have coalesced, to make it a standout candidate city in the eyes of the IOC. Hasan Arat, Istanbul’s bid champion and former vice-president of the National Olympic Committee of Turkey, has indicated that it is these strengths which will allow Istanbul 2020 to match the success and technical capability of the 2012 Games:

Istanbul is a bustling metropolis spanning two continents—but in 2020 we will still be able to offer athletes average travel times of 20 minutes or less […] These ambitious infrastructure developments show our country’s determination to deliver on all our promises to the Olympic family and match London’s organization excellence. The strength of Turkey’s economy and the committed support from all levels of government mean we are better placed than ever to realize our vision. (Hasan Arat)

If it turns out fifth time’s the charm for Istanbul, it will be exciting to see the trend of a truly global Games continue where emerging economies are actively pursing and playing host to the Olympics.  It will also be instructive to understand how decades of bidding will ultimately shape their Olympic Games.

BID expects Istanbul’s impressive mega-event resume and smart infrastructure investments to pay dividends in terms of their ability to buck the trend of net economic losses from hosting the Games.  Goldman Sachs economist Jose Ursua’s August report on “The Economy of the Olympics” seems to support this point of view. Ursua explains that while “the potential for economic benefits from hosting the Olympics is obviously country-specific […] a country with a better physical infrastructure […] will likely be in a better position to minimize the costs and maximize the benefits associated with the Games.”

During the past seven years alone, Istanbul has invested on average of $1.2 billion each year upgrading its transportation infrastructure. Here is a short list of the major transport investments we can expect to see just in the next three years:

  • 2013: Haliç metro will open across the Golden Horn with a capacity of one million passengers daily.
  • 2014: Istanbul’s third airport will open with a capacity to move 150 million passengers annually.
  • 2015: Work will begin on a third bridge to ease downtown traffic.

These three mega-projects, combined with almost two decades of foundational and aspirational transportation development are game-changers regardless of the outcome of the 2020 bid.  The IOC will announce their choice for the 2020 Olympics on September 7, 2013, and then the world will see if pricey infrastructure investments equate to Olympic Gold.


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