Addressing traffic congestion requires a human-centred approach, with a better understanding of local culture, challenges, stakeholders, and behaviours.

City with 10 million+ residents

World Design Talks Traffic Congestion - Istanbul Report

Fuelled by the desire for a better quality of life (whether due to poverty, rural unemployment, conflict), people are flooding into urban areas at an unprecedented rate. Rapid urbanization may help lift standards of living, but it also puts a tremendous strain on city services, such as housing, education, health care and transportation.

One of the fastest growing cities in the world with a population of 14 million, Istanbul was not created with modern transport in mind, and its infrastructure is unable to keep up with the demands of a growing population, estimated to reach an unsustainable 20-22 million by 2020. This megacity is the third most congested, after Mexico and Bangkok, with a 50% increase in travel times when compared to free flow traffic (TomTom’s 2016 Traffic Index).

The causes of traffic congestion in Istanbul are numerous and include poorly planned roadways and transportation systems, poorly timed traffic signals, insufficient traffic system coordination, traffic accidents, special events (ex: concerts, festivals), and the unexploited use of Istanbul’s seaways and sea transportation.

According to Prof. Dr. Murat Çelik of Istanbul Technical University, traffic congestion costs Istanbul more than 3 billion Turkish Liras per year due to loss of labour and excess fuel consumption, just about equal to Turkey’s GDP.

Reducing traffic congestion would address various targets set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve air quality, a major health problem in most megacities.

Transport related targets are included in eight out of the seventeen proposed SDGs

World Design Talks Traffic Congestion in Istanbul

Forty participants including local academics, industrial designers, architects, and representatives from non-governmental organizations gathered in Istanbul on 24 June 2016 for World Design Talks Traffic Congestion. Using a design perspective, they addressed the crux of the problem in the short, mid- and long-term. They explored sustainable and public transportation alternatives, including improvements to the dolmuş (pronounced “dole-moosh”), a responsive mini bus, which is locally generated, flexible, and demand-driven. They discussed behaviour changing campaigns, digital technologies and signage to better navigate traffic, as well as improved use of the seaways, pedestrian accommodations, and bicycle systems.

Reducing traffic congestion: short, mid and long term solutions

Short-term solutions

  1. Encourage sustainable transportation through public transportation, and incentivize people to use public transportation with economical fares that are socially equitable and accessible for all. Public transport improvements would also include automatic vehicle licensing and real time arrival information.
  2. Implement congestion pricing; price according to the number of people in a car and the time of day (toll for people who travel to town during high peak times; high parking fares can discourage people from using their cars downtown)

Mid-term solutions

  1. Facilitate travel demand management by:
    1. Stuttering travel times
    2. Encouraging businesses to adopt telecommuting (working from home)
    3. Encouraging car-free zones, pedestrians, bicycle use and better pedestrian/bicycle connections
    4. Improving land use through smart growth policies (non-dense settlements and exclusive zoning)
    5. Designing transit strategies that encourage people to use high occupancy vehicles and public transportation.
  2. Use technology (such as GPS, digital maps) to help educate citizens and help them make better transportation choices. Digital platforms (apps) can also help to better integrate the transportation system so that citizens can plan their trips in real time.
  3. Transform culture, attitudes, and behaviours with regard to transportation.
  4. Pedestrianize the inner city to transform the human experience in downtown Istanbul and improve quality of life.
  5. Incorporate intelligent route finding to free up urban space for such activities as strolling around and communication.
  6. Add electronic or hybrid cars to the fleet of dolmuş to help alleviate greenhouse gas emissions.

Long-term solutions

  1. Link rail, road and water transport on the one hand and public and private means of transport on the other.
  2. Create a sea dolmuş
  3. Improve roadway security design; barriers on shoulders, curbs, roundabouts, advanced signal systems, lane restrictions for high occupancy vehicles (ex: bus lanes) and changeable lane allocation can help calm and manage traffic.

Involve designers in the management and planning of an integrated transportation system. Designers have a unique mindset for solving problems that is distinct from traditional methods of urban planning, industrial design places the needs and experiences of human beings first when designing out traffic congestion.

Top 3 Questions

  1. How do we change behaviours? For example, encouraging carpooling and use of public transport.
  2. How has technology transformed traffic in your city?
  3. Are there other design innovations in other megacities that Istanbul can learn from to better deal with traffic congestion?

What’s Next? What YOU can do

We are looking to a wider design community and other likeminded organizations concerned with this issue to help us tackle this problem as World Design Talks Traffic Congestion goes online. We welcome your research, experience, insights and ideas.

  • Join the World Design Organization group on LinkedIn
  • Answer our Top 3 Questions
  • Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn
  • Participate in a World Design Talks near you


Dr. H. Murat Celik
Izmir Institute of Technology

Ms. Arzu H. Toker Özkurt
Otokar A.Ş.

Selva Gürdoğan Thomsen


World Design Talks is grateful for the support of the Turkish Federation of Furniture Business Associations (MOSFED). We also acknowledge and appreciate the expertise shared by our featured guest speakers Prof. Dr. Murat Çelik of Istanbul Technical University; Ms. Arzu H. Toker Özkurt, Senior Industrial Design Expert at Otokar Otomotiv; and Ms. Selva Gürdoğan Thomsen of Superpool. Thanks to ATÖLYE, a creative co-working space in Istanbul that helped to fuel the creativity of our 40 participants. Special thanks to Icsid board member Alpay Er, Head of the Industrial Design Department at Istanbul’s Ozyeğin University/Istanbul Institute of Design, who hosted and organized the day-long World Design Talks.



World Design Talks Traffic Congestion Report
Istanbul, Turkey | 24 June 2016 | 11 pages | PDF – 1.9MB

World Design Talks Traffic Congestion – 12 Solutions for Designing Out Traffic – At a Glance
Istanbul, Turkey | 24 October 2016 | 5 pages | PDF – 2.9MB