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Car-Free Sundays Give Glimpse of Jakarta's Potential

  • Brian Padden

Most days the main thoroughfare in central Jakarta, Indonesia is noisy, polluted and congested with cars and motorcycles, but two Sundays a month, people-powered vehicles own the road

Most days the main thoroughfare in central Jakarta, Indonesia is noisy, polluted and congested with cars and motorcycles, but two Sundays a month, people-powered vehicles own the road

Most days the main thoroughfare in central Jakarta is noisy, polluted and congested with cars and motorcycles. But two Sundays a month, people-powered vehicles own the road. A program called Car-Free Sunday is growing in popularity in Indonesia's sprawling capital because it shows what the city could be.

On a typical day, frustrated people stuck in traffic in Jakarta see the city for what it is, a chaotic mega-city. But on Car-Free Sundays the main street in center of the city becomes a people-friendly zone.

Here thousands of bike riders take over the road. Car-Free Sundays began in 2007 as a once a month environmental program to reduce pollution in Jakarta. Over the years, it has grown in popularity and frequency. It now happens twice a month and the idea has spread to other cities in Indonesia.

In Jakarta, Car-Free Sundays attract not just serious bikers but children learning to ride for the first time, fearless teenagers on spring-loaded stilts, roller skaters, and groups of people on four wheeled bikes or quadricycles. The only motor vehicles allowed on the road are city buses.

Car-Free Sunday has become a place to see and to be seen. Dian and her finance Rian came to get pre wedding pictures taken at this trendy location.

She says they don't want typical romantic pre-wedding pictures. They want something more fun.

Angki and other advocates for rights for the hearing impaired came to increase public awareness about their cause.

She says they chose to come on Car-Free Sunday so as not to cause another traffic jam in Indonesia during the workweek.

The growing popularity of Car-Free Sunday has actually discouraged some serious bike riders like Dida Sarkan.

"We cannot really bike some times [there are] a lot of crowded people and they not really disciplined," said Sarkan.

Jakarta officials have said the program reduces pollution, but urban planner Suryono Herlambang at Tarumanagara University doubts this claim.

He says Car-Free Sunday is an interesting idea, but it does not go far enough to make an impact in a mega city like Jakarta.

Closing one street twice a month, he says, cannot offset the pollution in a city where over a thousand new cars and motorcycles are registered every day. To do that, Herlambang says, the city needs to persuade more people to stop driving, and to rely on mass transit. But Jakarta, a city of over nine million people, currently has a dozen busway corridors with the combined capacity to serve only 500,000 passengers per day. A modern subway system for the city remains in the planning stages.

Car-Free Sunday, though, gives people like Mesa Zihni an idea of what Jakarta could be.

"This is what we are looking for, for the future. Jakarta which is better, no pollution, and more bicycles than cars," said Zihni.

For now this is just a short break from the seemingly constant traffic jam that is life in Jakarta.

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