Jakarta expands Car-Free Day scheme

Regulars at Central Jakarta’s Car-Free Day, when the main thoroughfares are closed to traffic from 6am to 11am, say they can breathe easy as the sky, sans pollution, reverts to its natural blue hue.
Regulars at Central Jakarta’s Car-Free Day, when the main thoroughfares are closed to traffic from 6am to 11am, say they can breathe easy as the sky, sans pollution, reverts to its natural blue hue. ST PHOTO: FRANCIS CHAN
More than 100,000 joggers, cyclists and pedestrians took over the 5km stretch of Jakarta’s main thoroughfare in Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Thamrin yesterday.
More than 100,000 joggers, cyclists and pedestrians took over the 5km stretch of Jakarta’s main thoroughfare in Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Thamrin yesterday.ST PHOTO: AHMAD ABIDIN

More roads in districts on city's outskirts to be closed on Sundays

Macet literally means jammed.

That is what Indonesians cry out, often in exasperation, when they are on the road in Jakarta, where motorcycles, cars and other vehicles are regularly stuck in the city's notorious bumper-to-bumper traffic.

The sky over the city also becomes murky and overcast on week days, mostly due to emissions from the millions of vehicles caught in gridlock for hours on end. This means pedestrians, commuters and bikers will never hit the roads without a face mask during peak hour.

But that all changes every Sunday when the capital's main thoroughfares, Jalan Sudirman and Jalan Thamrin, are closed to traffic from 6am to 11am for Car-Free Day.

That is when more than 100,000 people, from joggers and cyclists to children on skate scooters, buskers, and even street hawkers throng and take over the 5km stretch of road.

They can breathe easy as the sky, sans pollution, reverts to its natural blue hue, say regulars to the weekly event such as events organiser Eka, who like some Indonesians go by just one name. "Jakarta needs an open space for sporting activities, just like in New York where there's Central Park," he said. "Jakarta doesn't have one… the Central Park here is actually a mall."

In September, Jakarta will celebrate 10 years of going car-free on Sundays by expanding the initiative to other districts. Jakarta Transportation Agency chief Andri Yansyah told The Straits Times there are now plans to close roads in other parts of the capital regularly, so that more people can enjoy being out and about instead of just going to shopping malls.

For a start, the upcoming road closures for other Car-Free Day events outside of Central Jakarta will be held at various locations on different Sundays. These may include Kota Tua in the west, Jalan Pemuda in the east, Kelapa Gading in the north, and Lenteng Agung in the south.

"We expect to increase the implementation of CFD in the outskirts starting from every two weeks, and if it goes well like Sudirman-Thamrin, we will increase it to once a week," said Mr Andri, using the popular acronym for Car-Free Day.

There are 18.2 million vehicles registered in Jakarta, a city of 10 million people. And more than a million people travel daily to the capital from outside the city for work and business, many in their own cars or motorcycles.

In contrast, there are about 960,000 vehicles registered in Singapore, a country with a population of 5.7 million.

Singapore has its own car-free days, when roads in the Civic District and the Central Business District are closed to traffic, usually on the last Sunday of a certain month. The last time it was held was yesterday, and the next one is on Oct 29.

Jakarta has been trying to solve the problem of traffic congestion and vehicle overpopulation for years, to no avail. It is not just roads that are overcrowded but also sidewalks, where pedestrians find it hard to walk due to food carts hogging the space. Other "pavement pests" are motorcycles parked on these footpaths, or bikers who ride on sidewalks to beat the traffic.

Jakarta governor Djarot Saiful Hidayat has instructed his transportation agency to work with the police to act against vendors and motorcyclists who encroach on sidewalks. "The violators will be caught and fined directly at the location, their vehicles should also be seized," he had said.

Last Monday, Tempo reported Jakarta police nabbing more than 5,600 motorcyclists from July 17 to 21 riding on sidewalks.

The enforcement blitz to free up pavements for pedestrians came just days after the release of a Stanford University study that found Indonesia to be one of the world's laziest countries when it comes to walking. It was placed 46th, after Singapore at 9th and Hong Kong, which came in tops.

That is why Car-Free Day is such a welcome initiative for Jakarta residents like housewife Jessica Setiawan. "I just come to walk in the open, which is rare if you live in Jakarta, and usually, you can't even walk on the pavements because of the food carts and bikes that occupy them," she told The Straits Times last Sunday. "But on CFD, pedestrians own the roads!"

WATCH THE VIDEO

More than 100,000 people hit the streets on car-free Sundays. str.sg/carfree

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 31, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta expands Car-Free Day scheme'. Print Edition | Subscribe