Is Istanbul an Olympic city or a traffic disaster?


Istanbul has been rated the Most Congested City in Europe. What could this mean for the city’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics? When people talk about the Olympics, transportation is typically the farthest topic from their minds. And yet transportation is absolutely critical to smooth operations. Consider that during the most recent Olympics, London’s Underground had to accommodate 8.8 million ticket holders attending the Games, 21,000 reporters broadcasting the Games, and another 21,000 athletes and Games officials actually participating, in addition to the regular London commuters.

As the IOC considers Tokyo, Madrid, and Istanbul as hosts of the 2020 Olympics, the cities are striving to demonstrate that they have a capacity for smooth transportation operations during the Games. Many of the concerns and challenges cities must address are exemplified in previous Games:

Now participating in its fifth bid, Istanbul faces serious concerns about transportation. After the first bid for the 2000 Olympics, submitted in 1993, IOC officials told Istanbul’s organizing committee that they “were concerned at [Istanbul’s] general lack of infrastructure at the time.” In the bids for the 2004, 2008, 2012 Games, Istanbul’s transportation vision has gradually become clear.


Istanbul had the perfect storm of identified needs and disparate resources that are the preconditions for using the bid process to accelerate transportation development. As one of the largest cities in Europe, Istanbul has seen tremendous economic growth even during the global recession. In this bid, Istanbul is able to clearly demonstrate previous investment in transportation infrastructure, and show the numerous construction projects already underway to relieve congestion:

All of these projects stem from previous planning and feedback from prior bids. Istanbul is an impressive example of how the bid process can work in tandem with a city’s needs and goals. WhileTokyo is using the bid to recover from last year’s tsunami and the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years and Madrid is hoping its bid will save the city from the global recession, Istanbul has used the bid process to transform its infrastructure in an attempt to keep pace with a vibrant but complex emerging economy. The question the IOC is asking this time is if Istanbul’s infrastructure is finally ready to host the Olympics, or if the city will be benched for another season.