Researchers from Stanford University dubbed Indonesian as the world’s laziest walkers, coming in last among 46 countries with an average of only 3,513 steps taken a day. A huge contrast to Hong Kong on the other hand of the spectrum with 6,880 steps a day.
The research depicts the walking culture in Indonesia perfectly as there is basically,
Meet Gabby, an Indonesian banker.
Every day she would commute to her office that is located in the heart of Jakarta –the capital city of Indonesia– using her car. The ride should have taken at least 10 minutes from her home but being the most populated city in the country, the ride could take up to one hour because of the heavy traffic. By walking, it should have taken a mere 20 minutes from her house.
But a year ago, the thought of walking would not have crossed Gabby’s mind at all.
Gabby’s reluctance in choosing walking over driving is not without reason. Unlike other countries that uphold the culture of walking, in Indonesia, the said culture tends to be pushed aside.
Furthermore, sidewalks in Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia have often not been used the way it should be by its citizens. Instead, it is used for illegal food stalls, alternative roads for motorbikes during traffic jams, and even parking lots. These actions often resulted in holes, cracked, and uneven pavement.
“You’ll often see people covering the holes in the pavement with logs to help others cross over safely.”
Gabby also could not bear the stifling heat of her tropical country or the air pollution caused by the vehicles. Safety reasons such as fear of pickpockets and the lack of lights at night that clearly could endanger pedestrians also adds to the list of why Indonesians prefer to use their own vehicles.
To put it simply, Indonesia is not exactly a pedestrian-friendly country.
There is also a prestige issue. Walking is often frowned upon in Indonesia as it is often associated with being in the ‘lower’ class. This element of prestige inevitably influences human behavior. Gabby shares how she has several colleagues that live about 300 meters away from the office but would always take a taxi or online car service to go home just for the sake of not being seen walking.
“Walking is just not an option,” she said.
But Gabby is not the only one that tossed off walking from her commute options.
Every day there are up to three and a half million people that commute into the hot and humid Jakarta by car or motorbikes. An estimated 70% of the city’s air pollution comes from vehicles, which is not a surprise. Another reason Indonesians prefer to use private vehicles is the ease of buying them with cheap credit. People can even buy a used motorbike without the legal documents.
Jakarta’s awful infrastructure has been a long-running issue in Indonesia. It is not until a few years ago that the government finally made efforts to improve accessibility. The country finally announced the renovation of sidewalks in the main roads of Jakarta to provide better facilities for pedestrians of all ages and abilities.
The government made the sidewalks wider by expanding it about three times its original size and installed many bollards to prevent motorbikes from entering the sidewalks. They also installed more lights and CCTV in the more hollow neighborhood areas so people would feel safer when walking at night.
The regulations of illegal street vendors have been reinforced ever since the renovation. Gabby would often see police officers standing by at some points of the roads to ensure the road is used the way it should be.
People in Indonesia are quick to follow trends. Therefore, the government partnered up with influencers that often set the trends as an act to encourage citizens to walk more. These people are paid to promote walking culture by taking pictures in the newly renovated sidewalks. The government hopes to see the trend gradually turn into a habit.
In Gabby’s opinion, this has been by far the most effective way of encouraging people –especially teenagers– to walk, as Indonesians would do anything for a single post on Instagram.
A policy of odd-even numbers was also introduced. The rule applies to the main roads during rush hour: vehicles with odd-numbered plates are allowed on odd dates, with even plates on even dates. The policy was meant to reduce car use and encourage a walking culture.