Even though this is Jakarta, I cycle every day to work. Last week, I think it was Wednesday, I rode my usual route to the office where I work. I started in Kebayoran Baru, got into the traffic logged Antasari, then up to Senopati before getting on the footbridge at the Senayan Transjakarta bus station over Jalan Sudirman.
It takes me about 20 minutes to get to the office and I saw not one, but two other cyclists on their way to work. And guess what? Both were riding a Brompton as I do.
The first cyclist happened to follow my same route. I tailed him all the way until Senopati. He rode a red Brompton, full of accessories: front carrying bag, saddle pouch, retractable mirror fitted on the handlebar. He wore the compulsory helmet and anti-pollution mask.
I saw the second Brompton rider few minutes later as I was starting to push my bicycle up to the ramp of the Transjakarta footbridge. A light green Brompton, inconspicuous, with only basic accessories.
I do not know about you, but I have the impression, since I came back from the annual leave last July, that there are more people in the streets taking their bicycles to go to work. Don’t get me wrong. It is not that the streets are now flooded by bright colour bicycles. But from one cyclists I could spot every three weeks , I can now see three or four a week. Even, two on the same day as last Wednesday. Is something changing? Is this the beginning of a shift that will bring more people on their bicycles and less cars and motorbikes in the streets? Can we start to hope?
After all, Jakarta is among the top 10 cities with the worst traffic in the world. Traffic jams cost to the city economy an estimated $3b annually. In 1999, which is one of the most recent estimates, the health costs associated with air pollution in Jakarta were estimated at $220m.
The city administration is doing a lot for addressing its traffic problem. It has created the Transjakarta bus network system. It is building the first north -south MRT line with both above the road and underground segments. This is a massive investments that finally took off when, now President, Joko Widodo was elected Governor of the city back in 2012 .
These investments are attempts to address the traffic congestion problem and could be complemented by smaller investments to enable more environmental friendly ways to commute to work or go to the supermarket or the grocery store. These could be bicycle lines that are separated and protected from cars and motorbikes. Not everyone will be able to commute to work using their bicycle. Some, but not all, of my colleagues, for example, live too far to do that. The ones who live close enough I think they would commute with their bicycle if the right infrastructure would make it safe.
I see more cyclists in the streets lately. Maybe it is just my imagination or by chance, but hopefully we can really start to hope that cycling to work becomes more accepted and practiced.