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In traffic-choked Jakarta, pedestrians aim to reclaim the footpaths

Thursday, September 14, 2017
dpa


JAKARTA - Two motorcyclists flew into a rage recently when they were stopped from riding on a footpath by a group of pedestrians in Indonesia's capital.

"If I had a knife I would stab you," one of the riders shouted in a video posted by a pedestrian activist group on YouTube. The motorcyclists had been attempting to bypass a traffic jam.

The scene, which went viral online, highlights the challenges that Jakarta authorities face in trying to solve a problem that partly explains why so few people want to walk in the city.

"I rarely walk even though the school where I work is not far from my house," said Susilowati, a teacher in Jakarta who uses only one name.

"The pavement is very bad, and when it's not occupied by street vendors it's invaded by motorcycle drivers," she said.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford University in the US revealed that average Indonesians take only 3,513 walking steps a day, ranking Indonesia at the bottom among the 46 countries and territories surveyed.

Hong Kongers came out on top, with 6,880 steps.

The study used data consisting of 68 million days of physical activity for 717,527 people who use a step-tracking app on their smartphones.

Jakarta, a megacity of 10 million people, is struggling with an inadequate public transport system and dilapidated infrastructure.

Only 7 per cent of the capital's 7,000 kilometres of roads have footpaths, according to government data, and many of them are narrow and in a state of disrepair, with gaping holes a common sight.

In many places, cars and motorcycles can be seen parking on walkways, while in other locations they are totally blocked by food carts and roadside eateries.

The impediments force pedestrians to walk into the streets to get around them, endangering themselves in the process.

But the city government is aware of the problems and has started to build more footpaths, with plans to involve the private sector to add 2,600 kilometres in the coming years.

Work is underway in several locations to widen and beautify existing sidewalks - undertakings that have worsened the city's already notorious traffic jams.

In August, the city administration launched the so-called Orderly Pavement Month, during which more than 8,000 motorists who used footpaths at the expense of pedestrians were ticketed.

"Violators will be fine or imprisoned; it's in the law," Jakarta Governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat warned.

"We want people to understand that pavements are for pedestrians," he said.

Activists, like Alfred Sitorus from the Pedestrian Coalition, have also stepped up their campaigns to keep motorists off sidewalks, despite resistance from motorcycle drivers as the video posted on YouTube showed.

Their efforts have won support from members of the public, with more and more people standing up to motorcycle riders and reclaiming their rights to pavements.

“People in Jakarta now walk with their fingers,” said Sitorus, alluding to the ubiquitous use of smartphone-based motorcycle taxi services, known locally as ojek.

“For just a short trip of a few hundred metres, they take ojek, because walking isn't practical and safe,” he said.

For some women, persistent cat-calls discourages them from walking.

A group of feminists have set up a website, jakarta.ihollaback.org, where victims of sexual harassment on the streets can share their stories and organize.

"I'd still walk even if the roads were bad. I don't walk because I fear harassment," said Dea Safira Basori, a 24-year-old trainee dentist in Jakarta.

"I've often experienced being cat-called or leered at, and that makes me reluctant to walk," she said. "I feel more safe driving or taking an Uber."

Urban planning expert Elisa Sutanudjaja is one of the few who make it a habit to walk despite the odds.

"I have to walk because I don't have the luxury of time to go to the gym, which usually takes two hours a session," she said.

She blamed a combination of factors including poor spatial planning and the hot climate for people's reluctance to walk and their dependence on motor vehicles.

"In many places there's a lack of shading for pedestrians and accessibility is a problem because buildings aren't designed to make it easy for people to move freely," she said.

"Many people also live far from their work and school, so they use public transport or drive instead of walking."

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