Busway, pinnacle of sustainable environmental degradation

The Jakarta Post

Nirwono Joga,
Chairman, Indonesian Landscape Architecture Study Group, Jakarta

The current debate about the busway project has dealt with the muddled transportation system and worsening traffic. Its impact on environmental degradation, however, has escaped our attention. Jakarta's arbitrary urban management makes its concept of sustainable urban development mere rhetoric, triggering an environmental crisis and leads to ecological suicide.

The Jakarta provincial administration has introduced various environmental conservation programs, beginning with its 1970 urban regreening drive to its Green Jakarta Program last year. What has come of these schemes?

In fact, a complicated procedure is required for the felling of a single tree in the city. Based on Article 8 of Regional Regulation No. 11/1988 on public order within Jakarta city limits, offenders are liable to three months in prison or a Rp 50,000 fine, besides millions to billions of rupiah of law enforcement fees, as in the case of tree felling on Bank Indonesia premises. What, then, if trees are cut down by the Jakarta administration?

In the 2000-2010 Jakarta Spatial Master Plan, the city government calculates that Jakarta still needs to plant 6,202,816 trees out of the 2010 target of 10,812,500. Meanwhile, the daily felling rate of 10 trees remains uncontrolled and without significant punitive measures.

The city's regreening program is not supported by professional tree management activities. As a component of green spaces, trees obviously need serious maintenance instead of frequent neglect, and this effort should be thoroughly planned. The city administrations of Boston, New York, Melbourne and Sydney allocate 85 percent of their annual budget for 3 to 5 years' maintenance of trees, with the remaining 15 percent used for planning and construction.

The busway system, which cost Rp 118 billion last year, plus another Rp 120 billion this year and Rp 15 billion for the road widening project has obviously affected the median strip with its shady trees.

Why do trees deserve protection and conservation in a city? Trees constitute long-term and potential assets and investment of a city, while at the same time they possess economic, ecological, educational and certainly esthetic values.

Trees are capable of holding underground water deposits at a rate of 20 liters daily, whereas men need two liters of water daily. At a price of Rp 400 per liter of water, a single tree saves water costs by Rp 800 a day, Rp 24,000 a month or Rp 292,000 a year per person.

As a producer of oxygen (O2), trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and air pollutant gases, a function that is as yet irreplaceable. Every hour, a hectare of green foliage can absorb 8kg of CO2, equivalent to the amount of CO2 exhaled by around 200 men within the same time span. A 1,600m2 plot can produce 14,000 liters of oxygen per person. If one liter of oxygen costs Rp 10, a tree has again saved oxygen costs by Rp 140,000 a day, Rp 4.2 million a month or Rp 51.1 million a year.

What does the busway system have to do with the environment? The absence of accurate planning is apparent in the construction of bus shelters and pedestrian bridges. Dozens of trees were sacrificed for these structures and the ongoing road widening project has also destroyed the median strip. Latest reports say at least 10 trees have been felled for the road widening.

The busway project has thus considerably degraded the quality of air from the Sudirman-Thamrin corridor, alternative lanes, to the extended 3-in-1 zones.

Jakarta's environmental management agency reported in 2003 that Pondok Indah, Gelora Bung Karno (GBK) Senayan and Jl. Casablanca topped the ranks in air pollution. The three areas actually retain green spaces and sufficient numbers of trees, but have now been incorporated into the busway route, as in the case of the GBK, and three-in-one alternative roads, as with Pondok Indah and Casablanca.

Thirty vulnerable points of congestion and limited capacity alternative lanes have experienced an increase in jams, causing traffic to be stagnant long enough to emit air pollutants to adjacent locations that are anyway dry and hot without adequate greenbelt corridors. The air quality of alternative roads like Kota, Grogol, Slipi, Tanah Abang, Warung Buncit, Fatmawati, Pasar Minggu and Lebak Bulus is predicted to be worsening.

Apart from the increasingly congested traffic, the declining number of trees reduces their capacity to absorb and process carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and lead (Pb), which comprise 80 percent of Jakarta's air pollutants.

To a certain extent, air pollution can cause infertility, upper respiratory infections, nausea, vomiting, headaches and skin cancer.

From 1965 to the present, various regional policies have slashed open targeted green spaces, felling hundreds of thousands of trees. From the 37.2 percent green space target in Jakarta's 1965-1985 Master Plan, the figures have declined to 25.85 percent in the 1985-2005 Master Plan and even further to 13.94 percent, or a mere 9,545ha in the 2000-2010 scheme. In actuality, open spaces constitute only 9.04 percent, or 6,190ha of the 66,152ha city area.

Compared to the planned 7.81m2 of open space per person, a 2003 study by the Landscape Development Institute, School of Landscape Architecture and Environment Technology, Trisakti University, calculated the city's need for open space to control air quality through CO2 and pollutant absorption at 23,500ha, or 36 percent. As the target for 2010 is set at only 13.94 percent, this means that Jakarta can only survive with half of the open space requirement or, in physiological terms, akin to a person surviving with only one lung.

Meanwhile, the School of Forestry at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture, in a 2003 study that calculated planted open spaces as water catchment areas, determined that Jakarta needs 15,897ha, or 21.45 percent, of such areas. Based on the 2010 Master Plan target of 13.94 percent, the water resorption capacity will only reach about 54 percent and the remaining unabsorbed water will flood the city.

Regional Regulations No. 11/1988 on public order and No. 9/1999 on environmental preservation and cultural heritage conservation thus need to be improved. The provincial administration can also formulate a regulation on urban landscape conservation to protect the continuity of open spaces as Jakarta's long-term and potential asset and investment.

With the "success" of the controversial transportation and other urban projects so far, the one-way concept of city development will remain a trademark of the Jakarta administration, brushing aside for management and control programs for natural disasters and environmental crises like floods, clean water shortage, contaminated air and water, neighborhood sanitary problems and garbage management issues.