Take a Walk on the Mild SideJanuary 17, 2010
There are some pedestrians in Bali who choose to walk on the road. They eschew the footpath, apparently so oblivious to what is happening around them that their life expectancy can be measured in minutes. Watching them is like performing some sort of macabre countdown to a gory fate. Almost without exception, they are non-locals, seemingly treating any area where they wish to walk as their own personal fiefdom and believing themselves to be surrounded by a magical bubble of invulnerability that not only protects them, but somehow repels traffic from their sacred space.
So there I am on my motorbike again one evening, gently burbling down a typical narrow Bali street. Cars are parked to my right, reducing the already inadequate space for oncoming cars. There is perhaps a car width available for them, plus just enough room for my bike to pass them. I have maybe ten centimetres clearance on each side of my handlebars, but in Bali, you quickly learn that that is normal. There are bikes behind me, also threading their way through the tiny traffic channels with more skill, aplomb and daring than I am able to muster. Some even overtake me using non-existent gaps – an endless source of wonder and excitement. The system is flawed, but it works – as long as pedestrians stay off the road.
Suddenly, immediately ahead, a large Bintang-singleted visitor carrying a half-finished beer decides that it is too tiring, or inconvenient - or sane - to walk on the otherwise empty footpath, and steps out right in front of my bike. Even as he is doing this, I give the obligatory courtesy beep on the horn to warn him of his folly. He ignores both this and my headlight now brightly illuminating him, plants himself in front of me and slows down to a deliberate amble. His right hand creeps around his hip to the small of his back and closes into a fist – except for the middle finger, which he extends fully in the universal symbol of derision. I am two metres behind him, and doing 15 kph.
Under the circumstances, I do the only thing possible – twist the throttle to full and ride straight into him, flipping him onto the footpath where he belongs, catching a quick and gratifying glimpse of flying beer bottle and flailing pedestrian as he cartwheels away. Oh well. Next. Not 200 metres up the road, a vapid pair of self-absorbed girls, whose high heels are no match for Bali footpaths, are walking two abreast on the road. They not only block traffic behind them, but force oncoming cars to stop and give way to them as they giggle. As before, the footpath is virtually empty. Of course, I accelerate and barrel between them, laughing maniacally, watching my mirrors as they spin away and crash to the road. Heh heh!
I am in the groove now, my psychotic road rage buiding as I look for the next opportunity to give a salutary lesson to more people who have no idea of responsibility or consequences, but who know all about their inalienable rights to disrupt everyone around them for their own selfish ends. And there it is! A whole group spilling out of a restaurant, over the footpath and into the middle of the busy street, milling like a herd of wildebeest, but without the benefit of their keen intelligence. Perfect! I open the throttle wide …
Of course, none of these events occurred. But the description of what each of these lunatic pedestrians did is not only accurate, but actually happened in a single night recently. The scenes of devastation wreaked by a crazed motorcycle vigilante are fictional – no pedestrians were actually harmed in the writing of this article. But the thing is, it could easily have happened, with appalling consequences. Substitute normal (ha!) motorbike riders in Bali for the fictional maniac above, and what do you have? You have 12 year-old school kids with no licence. You have riders whose focus is not on the traffic, but on texting. You have guys on big heavy bikes speeding in testosterone-induced displays of bravado. And you have potholes, manhole covers, white lines, cars and other obstacles that bikes must dodge – which makes them erratic, unpredictable and dangerous. You have real maniacs too – it wasn’t that long ago that a drunken visitor purloined a car and drove at high speed for several kilometres down the main street of Legian at night. He hit multiple cars and bikes and killed a pedestrian.
As a pedestrian, do you really want to become yet another ingredient in the chaotic stew of Bali road traffic? Yes, the footpaths are awkward and fatiguing to walk on. But they are the mild side of Bali traffic, and they are more comfortable than being in traction in a Bali hospital. The roads are the wild side – please leave them for us mad motorists and riders. You might even get to stay safe and injury-free as an added bonus.