‘Safe Steps’ Shines Light on Need for Better Sidewalks

Familiar sights in Jakarta — street vendors, motorcycles, parked cars and other obstructions make it impossible for pedestrians to walk. (JG Photo/Divya Pridhnani)

Familiar sights in Jakarta — street vendors, motorcycles, parked cars and other obstructions make it impossible for pedestrians to walk. (JG Photo/Divya Pridhnani)

Rows of cars, motorcycles and street vendors on the sidewalks regularly block pedestrians, and then, for good measure, more cars again. This is the everyday reality faced by people in Jakarta.

How to tackle the problem from the bottom up? Complaining without finding a solution is like swimming in honey. It just adds to a cycle of negativity.

Safe Steps, a new campaign journalism initiative by the Jakarta Globe, has been established to focus on the very important — yet unfortunately too often ignored — issue of the lack of safe sidewalks in the capital city.

One example of a pedestrian who has to face the dangers of Jakarta’s unsafe sidewalks every day, is 36-year-old Ningsih.

“I have been walking around Jakarta for the past 20 years and I feel disturbed every time because of reckless motorcyclists riding on sidewalks,” Ningsih said. “I have no other choice but to walk because buses are sometimes unavailable and I don’t own a motorbike to commute but I’m always in fear. I’ve fallen down a few times due to the potholes and lack of streetlights during my walks home at night. So I really feel uncomfortable.”

To take in consideration people like Ningsih and the many other pedestrians in Jakarta who have to face these obstacles daily, Safe Steps aims to shine a spotlight on the need for safer and more accessible sidewalks around town.

To start the campaign, the focus will be on the popular Kemang area in South Jakarta to attract the attention of members of the public and those in government.

Kemang is a vibrant and active area, with locals as well as expatriates residing in the neighborhood.

Yet, it seems obvious how uncontrolled traffic can block the narrow streets, which along with the lack of proper pavements, make it nearly impossible for people to walk safely.

The few existing sidewalks have been colonized by street vendors, motorbikes and parked cars.

This prompted the start of a petition directed to the rightful institutions to build safe sidewalks in Kemang.

This movement will hopefully lead to a start of the improvement of pavements in other areas around Jakarta too.

For this petition, Safe Steps is aiming to collect a minimum of 5,000 signatures, which, with the help of Change.Org, are directed to the people in charge of the matter.

Arief Aziz, the communication director at Change.org, believes in the importance of every single individual in making a meaningful change.

“If it’s not massive systemic changes, then it’s not worth doing” Arief said. “This can be a dangerous perspective and can lead to apathy and despair. What people don’t realize is that massive systemic changes start from small winnable ones. This campaign for better sidewalks in Jakarta is a perfect example of that. It’s local, it’s winnable, and ultimately can lead to happier pedestrians and less traffic problems.”

One of the main goals of Safe Steps is to make people understand that beside the health benefits people can derive from walking, better sidewalks can also result in a reduction of traffic on the roads. If more people are able to walk comfortably and safely, it would motivate them to stop using vehicles when not absolutely necessary, leading to less congested roads.

An example of someone who would prefer to walk if the proper means were in place, is 23-year-old Anushka Ramchandani.

“In Jakarta, sidewalks are almost non existent,” she said. “That is the main reason I drive instead of walk. In some parts of Jakarta, there may be sidewalks but they are dominated by motorbikes and street vendors — which is an unsafe environment for pedestrians. If some thing is done about these conditions, of course I would rather walk for short distances. Imagine the healthier lifestyle and traffic reduction everyone can benefit from.”

Word has reached various volunteers and communities around town on the efforts of Safe Steps.

An example is the Crossfit community, who has been very supportive of social causes.

“There is a big number of Crossfit members willing to participate in good causes,” said Ariavita Pumamasari, an active member of Crossfit Senayan. ”We can help Safe Steps by spreading news and updates to communities and members, via social media networks as well as to our family and friends.”

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Samrita Adwani emphasizes the importance of signing the petition to bring a better future for pedestrians.

“Currently, I wouldn’t walk on the streets in Jakarta,” Samrita said. “Not only is it unsafe, but there are no footpaths. But there is hope for change. I signed the petition for this reason.”

Follow @SafeStepsID on Twitter and go to safesteps.org to sign the petition.