It’s Monday morning in February. Thousands of people are getting off the commuter train at Kota Station in North Jakarta. Braving the rain, many hold bags over their heads as they amble down the narrow sidewalk to catch a bus or bolt into an office building.
Reta, a 30-year-old private company worker, is one of those negotiating her way along a narrow, uneven and slippery sidewalk. At some points, she must step onto the road to avoid pedestrians, trees or kiosks. Others wear masks to keep the exhaust from fumes out.
Reta recalls that sidewalks were in much better shape in years past.
“Now, there are many holes thanks to poor maintenance,” said the woman in high heels as she rushed to catch a bus.
Walking in Jakarta is not only hazardous. It can also be deadly.
In January 2012, nine people were killed when a speeding car veered onto an elevated sidewalk and struck a group of pedestrians opposite the Farmers’ Monument (Tugu Tani) near Gambir train station.
Teguh Hadi Purnomo of Jepara, Central Java, was on holiday in Jakarta on that Sunday morning, and had just visited the National Monument (Monas) with family. He survived the collision with bruises and his wife with broken bones, but he lost his two-and-a-half-year-old son and three other relatives in the accident.
The driver of the vehicle was sentenced to 19 years in prison: 15 for reckless driving and four for drug abuse.
In 2014, 806 out of the 5,427 total road accidents involved pedestrians, resulting in 65 deaths and 431 severe injuries, according to police.
“Almost all traffic accidents resulted from people breaking laws,” Jakarta Police spokesman Snr. Comr. Martinus Sitompul, told The Jakarta Post.
Part of the problem is bad sidewalks. Only 6 percent of all 7,000 kilometers roads in Jakarta have sidewalks, and where they do exist, only 20 percent are passable, according to the Pedestrian Coalition.
Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama acknowledged that people have trouble getting around on foot.
“The infrastructure is inadequate,” he said, saying promised to pay more attention in the future.
At Tanah Abang train station in Central Jakarta, sidewalks are dotted by damaged concrete blocks and occupied by kiosks selling drinks, snacks and cigarettes. A parked truck divides one sidewalk down the middle.
Given the disorder, pedestrians prefer to use the streets, which they share with motorists at risk to life and limb.
Good sidewalks in Jakarta are a rarity. They can be found along the main thoroughfares of Jl. Thamrin, Jl. Sudirman, Jl. Gatot Subroto and Jl. Rasuna Said, but not many other places.
A 1993 decree by the Transportation Minister mandates a minimum sidewalk-width of four meters in shopping districts and three meters in business districts.
According to the Jakarta Public Works Agency, pedestrian walkways must be between 15 to 20 centimeters from the road. Meanwhile, the 2009 law on traffic and transportation says that misuse of sidewalks is punishable by up to one year in jail and Rp 24 million (US$2,000) in fines.
Violations, however, are commonplace.
Police have largely given up enforcing the law when it comes to dealing with sidewalk-use infractions like kiosks, parked cars and motorcycle-driving.
“We can ticket them, but there is no deterrent effect,” Sitompul, the said. “It’s like playing a game of cat and mouse.”
Some say Jakarta was not built for walking in the first place, which has discouraged people from even trying. Vendors contacted by the Post decline to take the blame, however, saying they provide valuable services to the public.
“Pedestrians turn to us for food and drinks. Sometimes even for directions,” said Bastian, a 45-year-old who sells snacks and soft drinks in front of the Bank Indonesia Museum in Kota.
Kevin, who peddles bread outside Kota train station, said that sidewalk vendors also helped keep crime down.
“If we weren’t around, thieves would steal purses and jewelry without fear,” he said.
Urban experts say the biggest problem is the attitudes of those setting city policies.
Ahok, who assumed his post in October, was angry to learn that sidewalk-management fell under the authority of the Public Parks and Cemetery Agency, a body more concerned with appearance than functionality.
In January, the portfolio was transferred to the Public Works Agency.
The problem, however, goes deeper than bureaucracy.
A 1993 decree from the Transportation Ministry said that problems with roadways should take priority over problems with sidewalks, turning pedestrian issues into an afterthought.
A representative of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) said sidewalks are treated as supporting infrastructure rather than a standalone priority.
“That is the mindset that needs changing,” ITDP country director Yoga Adiwinarto told The Post.
Yoga, who is a consultant to the city government, agreed that sidewalk vendors provided important services.
“But they have to be managed better,” he said.
Nirwono Joga, an urban expert from Trisakti University in Jakarta, said pedestrian issues are low-priority for the government, unlike countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Singapore, where pedestrian comfort comes first.
“Here, sidewalks are poorly maintained, while the government offers generous financial incentives to build and develop highways,” Nirwono said.
The Central Statistics Agency (BPS) notes that between 2007 and 2012, no additions were made to the city’s 540 kilometers of sidewalks. It is not clear how much has been added since.
Abimantra Pradhana, an urban planning architect at the Tarumanegara University in Jakarta, said people were likely to develop good walking habits if there was adequate infrastructure in place.
Sidewalks “must be safe, comfortable and there must be alternatives available,” he said.
The Jakarta Public Works Agency said that with the plan to launch the mass rapid transit (MRT) in 2018, the city administration was paying more attention to pedestrian needs.
“This is the era of moving people in large numbers,” agency head Yusmada Faizal said. “Governor Ahok wants more pedestrian facilities built to support the mass transportation system.”
To widen existing sidewalks, however, the government may have to narrow the roads, Yusmada cautioned.
In 2004, the introduction of designated bus lanes in Jakarta was denounced by drivers who feared worse congestion.
Eventually, however, motorists will have to cede some ground to the needs of pedestrians.
That’s easier said than done. Whereas motorists are well-represented by big automakers lobbying for more roads, who is speaking for pedestrians? Indeed, the “Bike to Work” movement has been far more effective lobbying for bike lanes than any pedestrian counterpart has been in getting more and better sidewalks.
The Road Safety Association (RSA) Indonesia and the Coalition of Pedestrians are trying to fill the void, but their voice is still largely unheard. Each Jan. 22, the two groups join hands to mark National Pedestrian Day.
So far, they have focused campaigns on proper sidewalk use. On some occasions, their efforts to block motorcycles from using sidewalks to get around traffic have precipitated heated confrontations with motorists.
Small though they may be, they are on the right track.
Agnes Anya, Alin Almanar, Farida Susanty, Indra Mauraga, Nurul Fitri Ramadhani, Prima Wirayani, Safrin La Batu and Stefani Ribka, The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Sun, February 22 2015, 7:10 AM