How To Stave Off Total Gridlock In Bali

June 29, 2011

Recent visitors to Bali who have returned after an absence of several years are shocked at the current chaos on the roads. Traffic here is like a turgid flow of molasses at the best of times. But during peak hours, it congeals in the streets into an immobile, impenetrable grout, filling the skinny spaces between the mosaic of shops and warungs on each side. Motorbikes fill every available niche between cars, mounting footpaths in their efforts to slip past immediate blockages, only to be caught in total gridlock a few metres further on. And it’s like that every afternoon. Well, that I know of anyway. I’m rarely up early enough to report on any earlier peaks.

It’s not just the sheer number of cars, or the huge number of motorbikes that is the problem either.  It’s also the anarchic behaviour, lack of spatial awareness and absence of any road-craft skills on the part of those who are in charge of these vehicles.  Nor is it the roads themselves, those weird emergent artefacts of ad hoc development which have no chance of ever having their capacity increased without tricky land acquisitions and compensation for disenfranchised business owners.

These are very real problems, and they need both strategic long-term and short-term tactical solutions. Considerate road use should be taught as part of  driver education and driver training programs. Learning to ride a bike at eight years of age – by borrowing the family rocket to zip around the back streets – might be a way (for those who survive) to discover how to keep the thing reasonably upright, but is not the way to develop road-craft. Publicising the traffic regulations might be useful too. I’m sure that a free rules booklet given out at registration renewal time would really surprise most drivers here, if only for the astonishing fact that the place actually does have rules.

We also know that big cars cause big problems in little Bali, so how about instituting a hefty annual road-use levy for anything bigger than a Karimun? A sliding scale based on size means the local government could charge an absolute fortune for those oversized 4WD monstrosities that clog up the streets, and hopefully discourage their ownership.

But no-one seems to want to address the real issue with traffic congestion here. The roads might be narrow, but their effective width has been so reduced by the insane parking practices here that most roads might as well be bike paths. Drivers park anywhere they want, unwilling to walk twenty metres after leaving their cars somewhere that will not impede traffic. Motorcyclists park nose-in to the kerb anywhere convenient for them, or on the apex of blind corners, despite enormous disruptions to the traffic flow. Cars are parked haphazardly with rear ends sticking out into traffic lanes. Often, only a single lane is left free in a busy street, one that then has to be shared by vehicles travelling on both directions. The resultant atherosclerosis chokes all movement and as a side-effect, asphyxiates road-side business.

Parking practices in Bali are so out of control that immediate action is necessary. This is something that can be done immediately to give this place some breathing space. Analyse the problem at the local level. Identify trouble spots where bad parking causes congestion. Paint the kerbs red where there is to be strictly no parking. Where parking is to be tolerated on certain sections of road, paint a white line – at a distance from the kerb equal to the width of a small car. Do this so there is enough room for two lanes of cars to pass in the road adjacent.  Issue a hefty fine for any car not parked completely within the defined space. Through the local Banjar, appoint local staff (Jakarta-style) to monitor parked cars and issue tickets. Make the fine 200k, and pay the parking boys 10% commission. Where a car is left badly-parked in non-controlled areas, and is causing traffic mayhem, glue an A4-sized sticker to the windscreen with non-removable glue. It could read, in big letters, “This Car Has Been Parked Here By A Complete Moron”. As an added extra, it could also say: “Feel free to remove hubcaps, wing mirrors and other accessories without penalty”.

Even the little dead-end street that leads to my gang is almost impassable now. A year ago, it had two cars regularly parked there. Now there are twenty-four, their proud owners draping their treasures with opaque car covers and parking in staggered formation on both sides of the narrow street. The cover means that you can’t see past them, and even on a motorbike, navigating these chicanes is stressful and dangerous. It’s almost impossible in a car. Maybe it’s time to tie car registrations to proof of availability of off-street parking. If we don’t, soon there will be no roads to actually use, except as elongated car parks.

Then, of course, there is the road layout. A perfectly good, wide road runs along the beach between Jalan Melasti and Jalan Double Six. It could do wonders to relieve the pressure on Jl. Legian, Jl. Melasti, Jl. Padma and Jl. Double Six. But it’s closed, and has been since it was built years ago. Open it. Yes, you’ll upset the beach hotels along that strip. So what? Bali’s roads are bursting – relieve the strain in any way you can.

But this is Bali, so nothing will be done. And in the meantime, every afternoon, we will continue to experience the glutinous mess of Legian Street, the disaster that is Jalan Padma and its tributaries Padma Utara and Garlic Lane. The maxed-out Rum Jungle Road, the dreaded Jalan Double Six macet, and the frustrating nightmare of Jalan Laksmana, where expats joust with locals for every square metre of road space, will keep us fuming, and late for everything. And that’s just in the Legian/Seminyak precinct.

I’d love to write about the congestion in other areas of Greater Kuta – but unfortunately, I’ve never actually been able to reach them in our traffic.

Related Post: How to Fix Bali’s Parking Chaos (from 16 June 2010)


  1. You nailed it.. the absolute idiocy of peoples parking decisions leaves me boggled.
    This past weekend I had the task of driving from my place in Sesetan to Tulamben, and opted to go over the mountains rather than along the coast candidasa way.
    FYI- this phenomena of parking in the most ridiculous places is widespread.

    • Sounds like a Bali-wide cultural thing. But then again, when i was in Jakarta, it was much the same 😉

  2. sounds like any normal day in Lithuania

    • I noticed! 😉
      In fact, I felt quite at home in Vilnius. The traffic and parking was … er, normal.

  3. I feel(as a regular bali traveler) that parking in the main streets ie: jalan legian should be totally curtailed from jalan padmar to jalan pantai NO parking on either side of the street, especially staff motor bikes, which could/should be either left at home or parked in back streets or behind the work places, the only vehicles allowed in these designated no parking streets would be supply/bemos/taxis etc and only allowed to drop off passengers and supplies, no touting for business in these areas, major taxi ranks positioned at each end of these roads, and I agree that the beach roads between melasti st/padma street and double six street should always be open with same above rules, and no double parking anywhere especially the ocean roads.

    • I wish, I wish … but do you think it will ever happen?

  4. Hi Vyt,
    I’ve noticed a significant increase in traffic since even 12 months ago when I was last here! My family and I have moved here only 10 days ago and after spending this time living just off Jl. Legian we have decided to move a little further north to avoid the daily madness!!!!
    Have really enjoyed your posts over the past year as we’ve planned our move, really useful and informative – thank you! We have a mutual friend – Glenn Mafodda.

  5. The business owners will never allow parking to be banned, or rules enforced. Some businesses on the busy streets that had one or two parking spots now have enlarged the place on that parking area.

    Some foreigners don’t care either. In Canggu there are many villas and villa complexes with only space for only one car. The other cars are parked on the street.

    • To effect change, there must be a willingness to change. And you are right – that is sadly lacking in Bali.

  6. It would be better for their business if the parking ban was enforced with a possible tow away impounding maybe that would help.

    • Except that the tow-trucks would block the road 😉
      But wheel-clamping might work, especially with a 500,000 “release fee”.

  7. Good post, though think the Legian Beach road should stay closed. In fact they should close Kuta Beach rd too but can’t see that happening. Knocking parking on the head would be a good start.

  8. Agree totally. I see no realistic efforts to address the situation – maybe never will. There WAS an “attempt” to discourage illegal parking (whatever that is) in the main Jl Legian part a few years ago.

    Not wheel-clamping. The air was let out of offending vehicles’ tyres. That didn’t work too well.

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