Posts Tagged ‘indonesia traffic’

Jakarta Day 5: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

View from hotel

View from the Le Meridien Hotel looking down on traffic on Jalan Jend. Sudirman and Jalan Kh. Mas Mansyur. This is around noon and the traffic is rather light compared to normal.

As we were traveling today in our Whitehorse tourist bus, we had to make our way through some very narrow streets in a crowded area of Jakarta, and we got to see how Indonesian traffic works in great detail.

I’ve heard it said that Jakarta’s traffic is among the most snarled in the world, and I can see how it has that reputation. But I want to say at the outset that after over three weeks in Indonesia, and seeing all sorts of crazy driving and jammed streets, I never did see any accidents or dented cars or motorcycles or even people yelling at each other over traffic frustration. No road rage. So even though I don’t know how, it somehow works.

Directing traffic

The man in grey is stepping out to direct traffic through a turn around opening. The light blue van by him is a bemo, or taxi van.

On our way to the public high school this morning, we had to travel for a distance in the opposite direction as the school in order to find a break in the wall between the lanes of traffic. You see, the two directions usually have some barrier between them inside towns or cities. This prevents head on collisions, but there are not very many lights at intersections (at least in Jakarta) so to go one direction, you sometimes have to travel the opposite way until you come to a break that allows you to do a U-turn and go back the way you need to.

Since there are no turn lanes, any cars or motorcycles, Gojeks, and bemos trying to do the same as you have to stop in the fast lane to make the turn, backing up traffic for blocks and also blocking the oncoming traffic. This would create hopeless bottlenecks except that volunteers step forward, sometimes wearing safety vests, to direct traffic through the U-turn breaks for a small fee. These volunteers actually make their living accepting the coins and bills that drivers hand them for their services. You see the same thing in parking lots where people need to back up and there isn’t much room – someone will step forward to help direct drivers and get small tips for their efforts. Drivers keep a pile of loose change for this purpose. The road systems in Jakarta seem oddly designed at first – this is partly because they drive on the left, so it always seems that things are backwards. The local streets are on ground level, and the faster expressways are elevated but have only limited access and egress points, so it can take some slow driving locally to get to an on-ramp to a toll road where traffic moves much faster.

Gojek drivers

Gojek drivers waiting for fares. These are like Uber but on motorcycles.

Everything is complicated by the large numbers of motorcycles. I saw no bicycles in Jakarta, but quite a few in other places in Indonesia. The motorcycle drivers are very bold and will squeeze through the smallest spaces, suddenly accelerating to get around slower cars and intertwining through all the other traffic. The roads have lane markers but they seem to be basically ignored as motorcycles weave across the lanes. A larger vehicle like our small tour bus has a hard time making it through all of this. I was certain I would see squished motorcyclists everywhere we went, but never saw even one accident or injury.

Blue bemos

Blue bemo vans, which are shared ride taxis with benches in back.

This would not work in the United States because we are not used to motorcycles. We don’t know how to look out for them or keep an eye out for their independent and unpredictable behavior. I remember living in Taiwan in the southern city of Kaohsiung, where there were several traffic circles. There were many motorcycles, Vespas carrying whole families, three-wheeled motorcarts, ox carts, overloaded bicycles, taxis, and assorted other vehicles. Throw in a couple of Mormon missionaries on oversized bicycles with ridiculous yellow signs and it was like Chinese roulette: let’s see who gets out alive! I had a few close calls and a sprained ankle or two, but somehow we survived. It is a different style of driving.

Doug with spinner

Doug with a fidget spinner he bought from a street vendor while we were stuck in traffic.

Jakarta doesn’t have much room for sidewalks. Businesses grow up along old roadways, but with more vehicles every year, the roadways need to be expanded leaving no room for sidewalks or much for parking in front of the businesses. Sometimes cars have to park in the slow lane to go into a business, causing more snarls. This is complicated by the many stalls and mobile carts along the sides of the roads selling food, souvenirs, toys, and everything else you can name from bakso to satay to nasi goreng. Drivers stop to buy their wares where there isn’t enough room for the food cart let alone a parked car or motorcycle. And wherever the traffic jams up, vendors jump into the snarls with bags of goodies on their heads to sell to the backed up drivers, everything from fidget spinners to newspapers to amplang fish crackers.

Moped mobility

Motorcycles are the most common type of vehicle. They weave in and out of traffic and basically ignore traffic lanes.

Wherever there is a little bit of room or a quiet corner, food carts congregate and men are parked playing chess or waiting for customers. Many of these are Gojek drivers, which is like Uber but on motorcycles. They wear bright green jackets, and they are much more common than taxis now. Getting around is much faster on a motorcycle since they are more maneuverable, so people prefer Gojeks to taxis. I think it would scare me to death, and we were told on no account to use their services.

Loaded cart

A loaded hand cart full of house wares to sell. These carts add to the complexity of Jakarta’s traffic.

So on our way to the school this morning I tried photographing some of this and captured a few videos. My sense of direction is messed up, and I’ve never figured out which way we’re going or much of how we got there; I’m just glad someone else was driving all the time. I think we traveled about three-four miles in an hour. Maybe less.


Vegetables for sale in an open market we passed through.

After we finally got onto the expressway, we traveled a few miles and exited back to the surface streets. The driver was trying to find the way to the school, and had to go around in a loop a few times until he found the narrow alley through which he squeezed the bus. Around the circuit we passed another school, a bunch of bemos parked awaiting customers, Gojek drivers hanging out, Gado Gado Boplo food joints, and a sign for a Wong Solo restaurant. It became a running joke: that Wong Solo must be Han Solo’s long lost brother.

Trinket cart

A cart full of trinkets and toys to sell, being pulled by hand through the open market.

Once we found the alleyway we had to move slowly, because there was not room for a bus and a car to both squeeze through except in a few spots. We passed an area of an open market, a few neighborhood mosques, and then entered a slightly larger road that twisted its way until we crossed some railroad tracks and found the entrance to the school. We exited the bus and walked down a side street a short distance and entered the school itself.

Open market

Open air market. All the motorcycles parking here on these narrow streets with stalls selling food makes for a bottle neck every morning.

Early morning architecture

High rise buildings are becoming more common in Jakarta, but they don’t always have adequate parking planned with them and therefore add to the problem. Jakarta has no room to grow sideways inside the city, so it has to grow up.

Cartoon cop

There are occasional clashes between the police (polisi) and citizens in Indonesia, and the people don’t have much confidence in their police, because of bribery, kickbacks, protection rackets and other factors. One of those factors could be that they represent themselves as cartoons.

Office supply district

Businesses tend to cluster in districts. This is a shop in the office furniture district.

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