JAKARTA: The drug store where Yulianti Ningrum works is less than two kilometres away from her home, a mere 15-minute walk, but the young pharmacist prefers to take the ojek (motorcycle taxi).
“It’s just not safe to walk,” the 23-year-old told CNA. “I have to navigate tiny pavements encroached by vendors. Motorcyclists use the pavements as short-cuts during traffic (jams). There are no pedestrian bridges or crossings in my area.”
Then there are the risks of being catcalled or mugged on the poorly lit pavements in her West Jakarta neighbourhood if she walks home at night, Ms Ningrum continued.
“I have been saving to buy a motorbike,” she said. “I don’t want to add more traffic but considering the alternative, I think getting a motorcycle would be the best solution for me.”
Many other pedestrians like Ms Ningrum face similar challenges. Put simply, Jakarta is not really pedestrian-friendly.
For visually impaired pedestrians, the challenges they have to surmount are even more severe.
Ms Cheta Nilawati, who lost her eyesight three years ago due to diabetic retinopathy said: “Sometimes you are forced to walk on the road because there are no pavements."
"In areas where there are, you run the risk of falling into an open sewer, tripping on an uneven surface or hitting an electricity pole installed in the middle of the pavement,” the 36-year-old told CNA, recounting the numerous times when she fell, tripped or hit an obstacle.
“I rely on the kindness of strangers on the streets to help me. I wish I don’t have to. But that’s the only way I can get to places I need to be."
Disability rights activist Faisal Rusdi said the condition of the pavements marginalises physically-challenged Jakartans like himself.
“It stops children from going to school, it stops adults from finding work. It even stops us from venturing out of our homes, visit parks and recreational sites and interact with others,” said the wheelchair-bound activist.
Meanwhile, to address the problem of traffic congestion, the authorities have invested heavily in public transport. But without effectively tackling the issue of pedestrian safety, can people be persuaded to rely on public transport?
According to the Jakarta Statistics Agency, there are 18 million cars and motorcycles cramming the city’s streets, most of them coming in from nearby suburbs and towns where 20 million people live.
The crippling traffic situation costs the Greater Jakarta Area nearly US$5 billion a year in lost productivity, environmental degradation and fuel inefficiency, according to data from the Indonesian Transportation Ministry.
The government has been trying to combat Jakarta’s notorious traffic by introducing new bus routes, increasing the frequency of trains connecting the capital and its suburbs and even unveiling a new MRT system.
A light rail transit system which will connect the city centre to the nearby towns of Bekasi and Cibubur is also in the works.
"UNSAFE AND UNPLEASANT" PEDESTRIAN EXPERIENCE
Despite these initiatives, people are unlikely to switch to public transportation unless the challenges faced by pedestrians are addressed, said transportation analyst Ahmad Safrudin.
The expert pointed to data from Jakarta’s public works agency which shows that only 500km of Jakarta’s 7000km roads have pavements for pedestrians, while those that do are often poorly maintained, encroached by vendors and used as illegal parking spaces.
“It is unsafe and unpleasant,” Mr Safrudin told CNA of what it’s like to walk in Jakarta. “Because of the lack of infrastructure for pedestrians, the low quality of the pavements, the risk of being hit by a motorcycle which encroaches the footpaths, people still prefer to use personal transportation.”
In 2011, Mr Safrudin, who walks and cycles to work, founded the Pedestrian Coalition along with a number of activists in response to what he perceived as the government’s low attention towards pedestrians’ safety and comfort as well as people’s habit of encroaching pavements.
“We use social media to shame motorists who ride on pavements and vendors who occupy pavements,” the coalition’s chairman Alfred Sitorus told CNA, adding that conditions are not very different in other cities across the country.
“We also use social media to get the local government’s attention towards dilapidated pavements and foot bridges as well as push them to act on those encroaching pavements.”
The coalition now has volunteers in all major cities in Indonesia who feed their social media accounts with photos and data.
“Sometimes we hit the streets and do awareness campaigns armed with picket signs telling vendors and motorcyclists to stop encroaching spaces meant for pedestrians. But more often than not, it is them who get angry at us even though they are the ones breaking the law,” Mr Sitorus said.
“Unless city officials stop turning a blind eye to these vendors and motorists and enforce the regulations that they themselves enacted, things won’t change.”
In a 2017 study by researchers at Stanford University, Indonesia's pedestrians were ranked last in number of walking steps among the 46 countries and territories surveyed.
Indonesians only walked an average of 3,513 steps a day, the research said. In comparison, Singaporeans, which came in ninth, averaged 5,674 steps a day.
PEDESTRIANS TO BE "PRIORITY NUMBER ONE": JAKARTA GOVERNOR
Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan told local media last week that the government has earmarked 473 billion rupiah (US$33.8 million) this year to renovate and expand Jakarta’s pavements.
“Jakarta’s infrastructure development plan will put pedestrians as priority number one, bicycle and emission-free vehicles second, public transportation third and personal vehicles last,” he said at his office on Jul 22.
The governor highlighted plans to widen the pavements and eliminate on-street parking in historic area Cikini, in Central Jakarta and Kemang, South Jakarta where bars and restaurants popular with expatriates and the city’s youths are located.
“We want to encourage people to walk more which is why we are also renovating pavements in a number of major streets as well as building more pavements where they are absent,” the governor said.
However, university student Solawatul Furqoh was sceptical. “I have lived in Jakarta my whole life. Various governors have made similiar pledges but the quantity and quality of pavements in my North Jakarta neighbourhood remains the same,” she told CNA.
Ms Furqoh said the government is paying too much attention to Sudirman and Thamrin streets where government offices, multinational companies and embassies are located.
“They kept renovating and refurbishing pavements along Sudirman and Thamrin and neglecting everywhere else,” the 19-year-old said on her way to a shopping mall on Sudirman street. “Which is why I like to walk and use public transport when I’m in this area and take ojek elsewhere in the city.”