Crossing streets and backing up

Istanbul has a lot of quirks; they measure in the millions.  One of them is backing up: going in reverse.  I’m talking about driving, not dancing, for what its worth.  Driving in Istanbul is an adventure.  Walking isn’t really safe; and bicycling is out of the question. One of the many reasons for this is whoever’s brilliant idea it was to install a reverse gear in automobiles.

Every day here I see cars going in reverse for reasons that are beyond my comprehension. Once a week or so I’m nearly killed by a car going in reverse.

Whereas in the US, the reverse gear has a number of limited and specific uses, ie getting out of your suburban driveway, extracting your ride from parking spots, doing a 3-point turn on the drivers ed test, etc., the use of the reverse gear in Turkey knows no bounds.  It’s a way of getting around, a solution to problems, a form of entertainment, a method of taking shortcuts, and, quite frankly, some Istanbullus might just be such bad drivers they are doing it by accident — as in “oh crap the car is going backwards not forwards, whatever I’ll just go with it.”

A few illustrative examples:

One way streets are particularly laughable in this city.  Driving rule #1 in Istanbul is that the signs are wrong: there is no such thing as a one way street.  Sometimes drivers fit 3 lanes of traffic – all traveling in opposite directions  in a one-lane alley not fit for a single American SUV.

However, surprising as it may seem, there are a minority of drivers here who seem to feel uncomfortable blatantly ignoring the rarely respected ‘tek yön’ one way signs.  Lucky for them, cars have a reverse gear.

Apparently in Istanbul, as long as your car is facing in the right direction, moving the wrong way on a one way street – even for hundreds of meters – is perfectly legal.  My neighbors are particular believers in and adherents to this form of interpretative driving.

That’s why when crossing the street here, even “one way” streets, one always needs to look both directions, for cars moving forwards and backwards.

No left turn – you think a little obstacle like a concrete barricade can stop people from going in that direction?  That’s because you don’t know how to use reverse.  A common solution for “road doesn’t go that way” is to  merge into traffic in the reverse gear in order to change directions or make illegal left turns.

The tried and true method of “3 right turns” I learned as a young driver in the US is no longer in vogue here in Istanbul.  It’s much too costly in both time and resources for Istanbul, a place where gas costs something like $12.74 a gallon.  Time-pressed and highly evolved Istanbul commuters and taxi drivers often execute the 2-point-turn-reverse-merge in order to save the time and trouble of a journey around the block.

You’ve never been really been cut off in traffic before until  a car has cut you off from the side while traveling in reverse.

Perhaps Istanbul drivers’ talent, creativity, and proclivity in utilizing the reverse gear is not only practical but philosophical in nature.  It makes me wonder whether, as an American, I may be hindered with a simpleton ‘forward-looking’ outlook and perhaps missing out on opportunities awaiting me behind me.  Say what you may about the drivers, those adept at identifying and seizing opportunities both ahead of them and behind them are certainly not close-minded.

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2 responses to “Crossing streets and backing up

  1. Catalog of things that almost hit me on the way home from work today: 3 dolmuslar, 2 stray dogs, 1 cat being chased by said dogs, 5 pedestrians, 7 dudes on bikes, 1 ambulance, 3 city busses, and the gate at work that controls access to the parking lot. Only the last of these was actually my fault – everything else charged at me with reckless abandon.

    I <3 Turkey.

  2. Matthew Hicks

    When I arrived at my current residence I was briefed (I kid you not) that Waza Khwa was “motorcycle madness,” and it hasn’t failed to live up to that coinage. Think like Mad Max except with motorcycle’s & abayas.

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