Posts Tagged ‘traffic jam’

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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)

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How to Fix Bali’s Parking Chaos

June 16, 2010

So there I am, trapped for more than ten long minutes in a huge gridlock in Eat Street, with traffic banked up to Ku De Ta in one direction and Jalan Drupadi in the other. Everyone’s patience is wearing thin, and a cacophony of shrill beeps breaks out every sixty seconds before fading away in helpless despair. When I finally arrive at the source of the blockage, I see an over-sized people-mover parked by the side of the road, directly opposite a construction truck full of gravel on the other side. The remaining traffic lane has been reduced to slightly more than the width of a Suzuki Terimun. Nothing can get through without enormous difficulty.

There is ample room for the van to have been parked ten metres further along, where in fact it could have pulled over closer to the kerb. But no, it has not only has been left in the only spot guaranteed to cause maximum disruption, it has been moronically positioned about half a metre away from the kerb. And not only have its side mirrors been left extended, the steering wheel has been left on full right lock, so that the protruding front wheel now blocks any chance for motorcyclists to squeeze through.

As I finally reach this this incredible example of thoughtless parking, the driver emerges from the Circle K across the road, bearing one small plastic bag containing her ‘shopping’. She imperiously holds up her hand, stopping a car whose driver has waited interminably for the chance to slip past the blockade. No way now. As soon as he stops, a swarm of motorbikes seize the opportunity to get through the gap.  She walks into the stream of moving bikes, causing them to brake suddenly, and pushes past me, rudely knocking my mirror askew. She tries to open her door, which is difficult with the crush of vehicles trying to get past. I’ve stayed relatively patient up to now, but I have reached my limit.

“Excuse me”, I say. She glares at me, her short blonde hair bristling. “Why didn’t you park over there, where you wouldn’t hold up traffic?” Her face screws up in annoyance. “Because I was doing my shopping here, IF you don’t mind”, she says petulantly, as if to a backward child. I do mind, actually. She goes on: “What, you expect me to walk in this heat?” Mmm. Ten metres is tough alright. I open my mouth to continue my carefully reasoned argument, but she snarls an anatomically impossible suggestion at me, gets in the car and drives off, nearly sideswiping a passing car. I suspect that she’s not all that creative, because she spits exactly the same obscenity at the other driver too. Nice lady.

Of course, she is not the only one in Bali who is utterly incapable of seeing the consequences of her parking choices. Locals and expats alike park cars and motorbikes here without any regard for anyone else. I have seen cars parked on blind corners, left at strange angles in parallel parking spots and abandoned parked and locked for hours across lane entrances and driveways. Then there is that nasty little T-junction in Jl. Double Six, where West-bound cars turning left into Jl. Werkudara must swing wide to the right before making the tight left turn. Naturally, every idiot in Bali feels compelled to park in precisely the spot that turning cars need to negotiate the turn. Result? Cars back and fill to make the turn, causing delays and chewing up the cobbled road surface. Chaos. And this parking madness is everywhere you look in Bali.

So what’s the solution? A zoned parking strategy might theoretically work, but not in Bali. Everyone would just ignore it. Parking inspectors? Yeah, right. No, the solution is to make it so embarrassing and inconvenient to park badly that very few would willingly do it. The technique was used on me once and I have never forgotten it.

A long time ago, when I was a callow student at an Australian university, street parking was expensive, limited to one hour, and for a young man in a hurry, simply inconvenient. Within the grounds of the institution was a car park reserved for professors, which I noticed was rarely full. I thought that the “No Parking for Students” sign surely couldn’t mean me, so I parked my little car there and left it for the day. I mean, what harm could it possibly do?

After lectures, I returned to find a very large notice stuck to my windscreen. It first informed me that I was an idiot, then politely rambled on about the inadvisability of ignoring my civic responsibilities. It was exactly in my line of vision when behind the wheel, making it impossible to drive. And when I say, stuck, I mean stuck. Here’s a tip: don’t mess with chemistry professors. The glue was some concoction which had set harder than expoxy resin and could probably have been used to glue planets together. It took a full three hours of scraping and cleaning before I could see enough to drive. I never parked there again.

I propose something similar for Bali. A large sticker saying “THIS CAR APPEARS TO HAVE BEEN PARKED BY A THOUGHTLESS MORON” could be slapped on offending vehicles when they have been stupidly left in a position which causes distress to other road users. Before long, this Adlerian solution would improve traffic flow immensely, without recourse to regulations that would be ignored anyway.

But who would be responsible for sticking these notices on offenders’ cars? Well, maybe we all should. The Bali Times could provide an insert of ten stickers per issue, which would fix the distribution problem. Just be careful how you park your own car while you’re stickering those of others. Someone may be watching.