Whereas cities like Vancouver, or at least the central one-tenth of Metro Vancouver, have moved toward a bicycle culture, fast-paced Asian megacities like Jakarta have eliminated human-powered transport from the landscape. The consequences are seen in Jakarta (pop. 10+ million in the midst of the second-largest urban agglomeration in the world, officially known as Jabodetabek with a population of about 35 million – the same as Canada’s), with air the colour and taste of old soup. The photos below look grey and cool but the temperature was in the 30s with humidity near 100%.
At first blush, Jakarta and other Indonesian cities are further evidence of the planet being ruined by small Japanese motorbikes, their noise and stink eliminating any pleasure there might be in street life. But cities are utilitarian places and Indonesians have used their modest prosperity to increase their personal mobility. I can hear PT readers (& editors) tut-tutting about “motordom” because everyone’s gone out and bought motorbikes, giving them economic opportunities never possible before.
Jakarta’s gridlocked traffic of taxis, delivery vehicles and private cars is like a reef through which the motorbikes flow like schools of fish. There are an extraordinary number of ride-share bikes, mainly using Go-Jek and Grab apps although you do see the occasional Uber vest.
If you want to get somewhere you go by motorbike, hanging on tight and wearing your driver’s spare helmet.
Go-Jek drivers in Jakarta checking their phones for the next client.
New development in Jakarta appears to be mainly the mall/highrise condo/office tower combo, some of which may, in the future, be linked by rail with other parts of the city. These kinds of complexes, we were told by a friend who’s lived there for 29 years, are a kind of all-purpose live-work-shop-eat pod from which few venture.
La Ville Radieuse lives! It’s hard to define anything that looks like a Central Business District a.k.a a walkable destination.
According to Wikipedia, there were 160,000 becaks (pedicabs) in Jakarta before they were banned in 1971. Becaks are still a significant part of the transportation system in smaller Indonesian cities such as Yogyakarta (below, as seen from a becak) and Malang, although about half of them have been motorized.
Bali’s slower pace (in the photo below) doesn’t mean there are any fewer motorbikes or any more bicycles. The intriguing thing is how many are used for family transportation, with very small helmet-less children standing between the knees of the driver and others clinging on behind – a hair-raising lack of safety compared with First-World Nannystates like Canada. But who can afford helmets for rapidly growing heads, or cars for that matter?
The push-back by locals against the ride-share apps is visible in a few places, such as this sign in Ubud, Bali. We were told by a local travel agent that thugs monitor the Uber app and hail a ride with a new driver out to a lonely spot where the driver is beaten up and told to consider another line of work. True? Who knows?
It is interesting to return to Central Vancouver where the slow pace and mature, prosperous economy lends itself to a sentimental attachment to bicycles. We do have the luxury here to return to the streetcar-and-bicycle era of 1900. I wonder if Asian cities will ever make that step backwards (for them) into their past.


  1. Good story Michael. I particularly liked that line about sentimentality.
    Interesting that 58% of all the motorbikes in the worlds are in Asia. China growth is +22 million units per year!
    These unregulated bikes are also, as Mother Jones and other scholarly journals tell us, are far more polluting than modern cars.
    It’s estimated that there are 5 million motorbikes in Hanoi alone. In Indonesia there are over 80 million motorbikes representing around 80% of all registered vehicles.

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