(Reuters) – Car and motorbike sales in Indonesia’s chaotic capital far outpace the building of new roads, meaning traffic in Jakarta soon grinds to a halt – leaving motorists to battle it out among themselves for what few shortcuts can be found.
During rush hours especially, rules go out of the window as cars constantly beep horns and switch lanes. Motorbikes play a game of chicken with pedestrians on the crumbling pavements.
But one group of pedestrians has decided enough is enough.
Koalisi Pejalan Kaki, or Pedestrian Coalition, is a direct action group that was established last July in an attempt to reclaim sidewalks from motorbikes and street vendors.
“Our first action was inspired by my daughter, who asked me ‘why are the motorcyclists passing through the sidewalk, daddy?'” said group coordinator Anthony Ladjar. “I won’t let them negatively educate my daughter, so we started a movement.”
Each Friday, the group of 20 to 30 people picks an area in Jakarta where motorcyclists and food vendors can be seen using pavements and forcing pedestrians onto the roads.
For an hour they gather on a pavement to stage silent protests with placards reading “Sidewalks for pedestrians” or “Sidewalks are not for motorbikes.”
During the first protest in Jakarta’s Kota district, Ladjar blocked the pavement by lying on the ground.
“Some people said that I am a nut, but others said they respected my action,” he said. “Things are going all right and nobody seems to attack us.”
“We hope that thousands of motorcyclists and drivers see our action and become more educated and respect our rights.”
A long-awaited land acquisition law was passed by Indonesian lawmakers in December last year, allowing the country to accelerate road, port and airport projects.
But like Jakarta’s traffic, progress is slow. A planned monorail in the city isn’t set to be completed until late 2016.
In the meantime, the TransJakarta bus service, the city’s main bus service, suffers from limited routes and huge overcrowding at peak times, pushing more and more residents into buying motorbikes.
According to police and government figures, Jakarta’s 25 million residents are riding some 11.36 million vehicles, including more than 8 million motorbikes, and the love affair with transport continues unabated.
But the coalition has still achieved some modest success.
After similar action in Yogyakarta, Java’s cultural capital, the mayor signed a memorandum of understanding and agreed to work with authorities to become more pedestrian-friendly.
The coalition has also developed links with similar groups across the globe, including Germany’s Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities.
“This demonstration is a very good action,” said Yansen Sitorus, a 30-year old worker at an international oil company.
Not all observers are fans, though.
“These people are weird,” said Asep, a 50-year old street vendor who watched a Pedestrian Coalition demonstration. “They are not right in the head.”
But Ladjar remains undaunted, vowing to press on.
“We won’t stop until the city administration responds to our pleas,” he said.
(Reporting by Michael Taylor; Editing by Elaine Lies)