Opinion: Towards a Pedestrian-Friendly City

by Erdira Wirengjurit
26th February 2020
The addition of sidewalks on Kemang Raya street means that Managing Editor Erdira Wirengjurit can reach her favourite fast food joint by foot in half the time it used to take her. But to every pedestrian, it also means being safe and sound in the busy streets of Jakarta, which was well due.

Walking the pedestrian walkway of Brooklyn Bridge in New York City back and forth or strolling down Orchard Road in Singapore closely amounts to the distance that sits between my workplace and McDonald’s Kemang, which is about 2,9KM. While the dissonance is unquestionably contextual, safety shouldn’t be. And sidewalks, proper ones with even flooring, tactile paving and stone pillars, can do a whole lot to address the dangers that engulf pedestrians in Jakarta.

The first time I walked to the fast food joint, a few years ago pre-sidewalk era, the experience brought to my attention the numerous risks Jakartan pedestrians submit themselves to for walking. Mind you, from our office building, the way is a flat trail via South Kemang street, a distance I deem feasible and leisurely given the 30 minute time stamp it was supposed to take me. In that span of a few kilometers, I tripped on the uneven terrain, got honked at, bumped into by running vehicles, and as a woman, repeatedly harassed during a stroll that ended up taking an entire hour, instead.

Naturally, I abandoned all ideas to do that trip by foot ever again. But when Kemang Raya street was finally bestowed with recently built pavements, I took it upon myself to see just how contrasting the experience would be as a pedestrian to walk on safe concrete sidewalks versus pseudo ones. To no one’s surprise, the trip was doable in mere 32 minutes where I didn’t have to clutch onto my belongings or fear being cat-called. It was a relief.

Despite being a bit late to the game, as a pedestrian, I am excited to see that Jakarta is being redesigned to be a friendlier metropolis for people like me, despite the odds (or arguably inaction). For a simple addition of safe pavements to walk on, I witnessed more and more people stepping out to run errands by foot and not fret over primitive concerns for deciding to do so.

While the construction in Kemang did cause a lot of commotion and graver-than-usual congestion, surrounding businesses who were once concerned with the effects seemed to have completely forgiven and forgotten their worries. As testified by a barista in the popular One Fifteenth Coffee in Kemang, business has ensued like usual, if not better since patrons and regulars now have easier access to the neighbourhood coffee shop without hassling about rides and parkings.

My only hope is for the city to keep up with the progress and maintain the up-keeps of existing pedestrian facilities. Sure, while many informal warungs and street food tents have been cleared from our sidewalks, my recent trip revealed that motorbike and car owners are really adamant to use the pedestrian space for parking. Nice. Alas, the cause isn’t lost. At least I hope so.