I've been to Jakarta, and I can't imagine riding a bike on the streets there. It was scary enough riding in a taxi or one of the Bejaj that roam the streets. But since the air pollution and congestion are so bad there (and it really is awful) the city is trying to help the bike culture grow. One thing they're doing is banning cars in downtown on every other Sunday.
On those days, Sudirman Street and its circular fountain are lined with bike-repair tents, pop singers and food vendors. Bike-club members in colorful jerseys roam the streets or show off the custom jobs popular among the young and hip - the single-speed "fixies," with color-coordinated wheels and chains, or the chopper-style lowriders.
This is a total reversal, since in 1994 Jakarta banned pedicabs (becak) in downtown, blaming them for causing traffic jams and claiming the work of driving one was demeaning. The tranistion away from bicycles (or ojek sepeda) is not going well.
Jakarta is not the only city in the region with traffic woes. The decline of the bike is a long-standing fact in Asia's hubs, whose residents abandon that healthy, pollution-free habit for the speed and status of a car or motorcycle as incomes rise.
As with any technological change, the shift brings unintended consequences - probable billions in lost productivity, hours a day stolen from leisure time and mounting anger. A heavy rainstorm here last month led to a traffic jam apparently epic even by Jakarta standards. Public interest groups are threatening to sue the government
So it's good to see that there is an official push in the other direction.
In that context, the efforts of Bike to Work Indonesia are certainly uphill. The group counts a few thousand members, but director Tense Manalu estimates that no more than a few hundred brave the capital's streets for their daily commute. She is one of them but acknowledges it can be harrowing.
"Stay to the left, and watch out," she advises about navigating the city's right-hand drive traffic on a bicycle.
Photo by TeeJe