Getting people out of their cars

The Jakarta Post

Teguh Utomo Atmoko, Jakarta

There is a tremendous effort by the city administration to make people shift from private vehicles to public transit in order to ease traffic jams and to avoid wasting time and money. Yet, in a city with a population of over 12 million by day and close to 10 million by night, set in the middle of an urbanized region of about 25 million, most people still rely on private vehicles to get around. Grand efforts are underway to ease transportation problems in the metropolis. These include busways, a monorail, subways and commuter trains. Will this make people shift to public transport? It depends.

There is a trend toward people moving back into the center of the city and living in apartment buildings. More and more apartment buildings are being constructed in the inner city area and more and more units are owner occupied. Ideally, these inner city apartment dwellers would be within walking distance of their places of work and other frequent destinations. In reality, however, not everybody is so conveniently located to these everyday destinations; therefore, they need some form of transportation to these places.

Transporting people is not just about moving them from one station, terminal or bus stop to another. It is about transporting people from their original location, such as a home, shop or office, to their final destination. On top of that, there is a need to provide a service for those who have multiple destinations.

Melbourne and Miami, for example, each have a free local public transit system that covers their rather large but compact downtown areas. Melbourne is famous for its free street car downtown shuttles. Miami downtowners are free to use the monorail within the downtown area. In the case of larger downtown areas like Manhattan, New York, the famous yellow cabs are happy to serve downtowners. Moving them around the island for a price, they are rather reluctant to take you to the suburbs during busy hours. In Sydney the daily, weekly and monthly mass transit ticket is the solution for the journey between home and work as well as for moving about within the city center.

So far the grand design of the Greater Jakarta public transit system (if there is any) appears only to address transporting people from one point to another and not from the person's place of origin to their final destination. The abysmal condition of the city's existing sidewalks is clear evidence of this. Poor urban design also aggravates the situation.

The majority of buildings in Jakarta are not pedestrian friendly and are very poorly related to sidewalks. People need to ride in vehicles from one building entrance to another, as if they were in the suburbs. Buildings are situated like villas, only now the lot size is drastically reduced. Even a shop-house is required to be set back from the road and sidewalks. Large buildings like shopping plazas, such as Plaza Indonesia, often are turned away from the sidewalks. Perhaps Jakarta is the only world class city that has this kind of urban design. If, in the 1970s, Jakarta's nickname was "the big village", perhaps today it should be "the big, overcrowded and congested suburb".

To seduce people into leaving their vehicles at home and use public transportation is not just a matter of building a public transit system. There is a need to provide ways for people to travel around within an urban area too large to navigate solely by walking. In addition to the provision of good sidewalks, the city's urban design, especially near the centers of urban activities, should be pedestrian friendly with buildings open to and facing the sidewalks. Sidewalks need to be changed and improved to be on par with other world class cities that have sidewalks which function well, and are clean, and safe. It's equally important that sidewalks be well connected to people's place of origin and destination.

This task does not just fall on the people responsible for transportation provision. Other related city agencies, and not just the city transportation agency, must contribute their efforts and expertise, especially the town planning office, the urban design issues agency (Dinas Tata Kota), and the city parks agency which is responsible for parks and sidewalks. Otherwise people will always stays in their vehicles, and money spent for development of public transit will be wasted. So, Jakartans, prepare to pay for the shortfall of monorail development.

The writer is a lecturer at the Department of Architecture, Engineering School, University of Indonesia.
He can be reached at tiua@eng.ui.ac.id.

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