The trafik chess game

Kâmil Koç

Kâmil Koç

I’ve been impressed by the public transport in Turkey.

Turkish Airlines was named the Best Airline in Europe for the third year in a row by customers in the 2013 World Airline Awards. That’s not surprising. The first thing I noticed was that I could fit my knees in.

Don't be a traffic monster

Don’t be a traffic monster

If you’re not 6’4″ you may not appreciate the difference between having 90% of the space you need and 100+%, but believe me, not having room for 10% of your thighs is a problem. In addition to that 10%, the airline offered drinks, snacks, and a good meal, even on the short flight from Bucharest to İstanbul.

Chessboard

Chessboard

The buses are also very good. City buses run frequently, are clean and comfortable. We’ve been using a bus to the suburban area which takes about 40 minutes. It’s always on schedule and easy to use. The long-distance bus from İstanbul to Çanakkale includes a ferry ride. It has snack service, comfortable seating, even wifi and on-demand movies.

A line of black pawns

A line of black pawns

Two white rooks, standing guard

Two white rooks, standing guard

However, I’m not a fan of the street trafik (traffic), especially not as a pedestrian. Motorcycles are a special nuisance, going without regard for walkers or cars, or even the street/sidewalk distinction. There are signs telling people, “Don’t be a ‘traffic monster,” but the monsters are illiterate, so that doesn’t help much.

A commercialized bishop

A commercialized bishop

There may be a solution. The key was seeing the giant chess boards outside our apartment in Dardanos. They’re tiled spaces big enough for a person on each square. Then, I saw the bollards, which discourage at least the larger cars and trucks from driving on the sidewalks.

I began to study the bollards first as a survival skill.  Before long, I realized they were all chess pieces and that I was immersed in a giant chess game. There were the familiar pieces, such as pawns, bishops, and rooks, but in addition, the traffic monsters, and the targets, otherwise known as people.

Kordon horse, from the movie

Kordon horse, from the movie

Çanakkale is not far from Troy. So, one of its attractions is a Trojan horse, which stands guard along along the kordon (beach front). The Çanakkale horse is all the more famous because it was the one used in the movie Troy. Brad Pitt, a lead actor, donated it to the town after the movie was filmed. Perhaps my chess game against the trafik could be aided by a knight on that horse.

The goal of this game is to stay alive, fighting the odds for this technique of population control. This means relying whenever possible on the chess pieces. Unfortunately in Çanakkale, it also means being careful about where and when to stop to view the beautiful Dardanelles, the flowers, and the fascinating life on the kordon.

Shops along the kordon

Shops along the kordon

Enjoying the kordon

Enjoying the kordon

İstanbul Trafik

Admittedly, we hadn’t slept, had been traveling for more than 24 hours, and were  jet-lagged (have I mentioned the ingenious two-year-old the next seat over on the plane who demonstrated that the call button could be pushed any time–and many times–of the night?). That surely led us to miss many nuances, but our introduction to İstanbul trafik was nevertheless superb.

We took a taxi from the airport and felt a fresh appreciation for the signs urging people “Don’t be a traffic monster!”

It helped that this was during rush hour with a heavy rain, and growing dark.

Our driver was quite friendly, eager to teach us Turkish. He used gestures, often with both hands, and frequently turned to the back seat to make sure we understood. I would have felt uncomfortable driving at the speed he did, even on a deserted road. Of course, with the heavy traffic he could attain this speed only in spurts, frequently coming to a complete stop, honking, and searching for a lane change that could allow the greatest resumption of speed.

There were other features: My window was open a crack, so the friendly driver had to reach into the back seat to make sure there wasn’t a rain leak. That was while he was following the next vehicle with, generously speaking, a ten foot gap. We ran a couple of red lights and made some impressive cutoffs of other drivers. The driver didn’t have to view all of this, since he was often referring to the paper map showing the way to our hotel.

One question came up a couple of times: Aside from legalities, if you run headlong into someone going the wrong way on a one way street , is that better or worse than doing so when you’re the one going the wrong way?

It soon became clear that my only option was to close my eyes. That worked for a while until I recognized the unmistakeable international register of cell phone talk, in this case, the driver’s. But why should I worry about that with everything else that was going on? I managed to relax a little, and so did the driver.

Then he turned on the car television.

Yandex Probki

Keith Gessen has an interesting article about Moscow’s horrible traffic, Letter from Moscow, “Stuck,” in The New Yorker (August 2, 2010, p. 24).

Among other things, he describes Yandex Probki (Яндекс.Карты), an excellent example of a user-created map, which shows Moscow traffic patterns in real time. The site’s content comes, not from webcams or pavement sensors, neither of which would both practical there, but from GPS-enabled smartphones. Users send in descriptions from their own situations.

You can get a sense of the site from this video below, but you can also explore the map itself and get a sense of the enormity of the traffic jams, even if you don’t read Russian.