When you walk down the stairs into a metro station, most of the time you are focused on getting to your train quickly. You glance at the signs in unfamiliar places, fumble with your card at the meter, maybe load more money into it or stare at a passenger a few yards down the platform. Nothing about metro stations- save for some landmarks here and there- is ever special enough to notice.
Travel through the Gayrettepe Metro station on Istanbul’s M2, however, and you will notice something. Actually, a lot of somethings, as the area accessible to you is a mere fraction of the station’s actual size. There are roof tiles missing, staircases to seemingly nowhere, and errant signs pointing to walls.
Welcome to Istanbul’s future.
In the next decade, Gayrettepe will be transformed from a sleepy just-another-stop to one of the city’s busiest transportation hubs, with new lines connecting to it and millions of passengers transferring trains every year. It’s part of a multi-multi-billion dollar overhaul and expansion of the city’s infrastructure, including nearly doubling the metro reach (and number of stops), a third bridge and more highways, and building an entirely new, soon-to-be largest airport in the world.
As I’ve mentioned before, Istanbul is crowded and expanding fast. 18 million people call this city home, up from nine million in 2000. Its transportation system hasn’t managed to keep up, and traffic is a constant problem (it made me nearly 30 minutes late to class this morning).
Step one in fixing the problem is expanding the metro system to take cars off the road. The tunnel under the Bosphorus was completed recently, allowing the metro systems on either side to link. The new Marmaray line will continue to expand, wrapping around the coast in the outer suburbs of both continents (particularly on the Asian side, where commute options are limited). The M4, which begins in the hub of Kadikoy, will be lengthened to reach the small Sabiha Gokçen airport servicing many of the budget airlines, saving travelers a 40-lira taxi ride to the current end of the line. Residents of Besiktas will get some relief from the new M7, linking it and Kabatas to the outer suburbs, relieving traffic on Barbaros Boulevard (our neck of the woods). A new M5 will be constructed in Uskudar. The M3 will be lengthened to the Sea of Marmara, and two lines have yet to be named officially, but will intersect many of the others at mid-points.
Then, there is a to-be-designed line that will run from Gayrettepe to the brand new airport Istanbul is constructing. With more than double the capacity of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, it promises to be the biggest in the world, replacing the overcapacity Ataturk airport, where most planes don’t even get a gate. It’s being constructed on the Black Sea coast, far away from the city center, which could draw residents farther out and keep the city from becoming too crowded. Along with it will arrive a third bridge (almost completed), highways linking the airport with the rest of the area, and a new road tunnel under the Bosphorus to alieve traffic problems plaguing the lower bridge (cutting commutes from Sultanahmet from 100 minutes to 15).
Oh, and all of this will be completed by 2018, except for the final stages of the airport, due in 2023. Crazy, right? A project of this scale could never happen in Boston, but they’re completely on track right now, and the changes couldn’t come soon enough.