Bicycle Activism in Pontianak

*Tim Flicker, recently returned from Pontianak (a city of 600,000 residents in West Kalimantan),  writes on the intersection of promoting healthy leisure activities with promoting greener cities.

Car Free Day in Indonesia was originally established in 2002 in Jakarta. The main objective of Car Free Day is to socialise communities and reduce their dependence on motor vehicles (predominately cars and motorcycles). In Pontianak, Car Free Day was founded on 7 February 2010 and was officially launched by Sutarmidji, the current Mayor of Pontianak. Pontianak is the first city outside of Java to hold Car Free Day and it has been growing steadily over the past six years. In Pontianak, Car Free Day takes place between 6-9am on Sunday morning on one of the main streets (Jalan Jenderal Ahmad Yani) beginning in front Ayani Mega Mall and finishing just passed Mujahidin Mosque (Masjid Raya Mujahidin) stretching approximately two kilometres. During this time one side of the road is completely blocked off to all motor vehicles allowing many community groups to gather and promote their activities. For instance, there is aerobics, which is particularly popular amongst women, roller blading, skate boarding, jogging and even a beat boxing group. Although the street is somewhat crowded, especially as you get closer to the mosque, the atmosphere is vibrant and colourful with a wide variety of activities to choose from.

While doing an internship at Pontianak Post I was invited by a friend to go bike riding on Car Free Day. In addition to working at Pontianak Post my friend Rudy Agus Haryanto (42 years) is a bike riding enthusiast and organiser of Bike to Work Pontianak. What quickly became apparent to me was that bicycle riding is this man’s true passion in life. He would tell me about his dreams to go to Denmark or the Netherlands where riding bicycles is one of the main modes of private transport. While riding on Sunday mornings we would often chat about bike riding in Pontianak and he would tell me many stories about what is being done to encourage more cyclists. He insisted that Bike to Work is not a community, but rather a movement driven by the moral of reducing the use of motor vehicles and promoting an active lifestyle.

“Bike to Work is not actually a community, but a movement, it’s more focussed on morals, a movement to invite people to ride bicycles. To stress to the community, students to do every day activities by trying to use bicycles, to reduce their use of motor vehicles. So Bike to Work doesn’t only mean riding your bicycle to work, rather work means activity.”

Green City- Environmentally Conscious

Bike to Work focuses on being environmentally conscious and promoting a Green City and is supported by both local and national government. This environmental conservation is primarily achieved through two methods; firstly, by encouraging government to plant more trees throughout Pontianak. Besides the benefits to the environment it also is as a way to encourage more people to ride bikes as the increased shade means that riders can take their bikes out later in the day as the weather begins to heat up. Pak Rudy says already in the past six years Bike to Work has been able to make major strides in pressuring the government to plant more trees. Nevertheless, in September 2015 Car Free Day was banned was cancelled for two weeks due to the thick smog blanketing the city. The second way that Bike to Work promotes a greener city is through encouraging the community to ride bikes instead of using motor vehicles. Bike to Work does not only encourage people to ride to work, but also to use their bicycles in all their daily activities. Pak Rudy emphasises it also supports school students, university students and women (ibu-Ibu) to use their bicycles in daily activities such as going to school or the market for buying groceries. It is hoped that with more people using bicycles will help reduce pollution throughout Pontianak.

Bike to School and Encouraging Kids

Another objective of Bike to Work is to get school children and university students involved in cycling. For instance, last year Bike to Work launched the programs Bike to School and Bike to Campus. Whilst Bike to Campus has struggled to achieve success as many of the students already ride motorcycles, Bike to School has received far greater support. In fact, the Mayor of Pontianak was so impressed by the amount of students riding bicycles he bought 100 bicycles to give to disadvantage children in Pontianak. Now, Pak Rudy says it is common to see school children riding their bicycles on their way to school in the morning and in the afternoon on their way home.

Infrastructure Challenges- Bike to Work

That it is not to say there are not major challenges confronting Bike to Work. For instance, infrastructure is a major challenge. In 2015, after five years of government lobbying a bike path was finally constructed on the main street for cyclists in Pontianak. However, facilities such as places to shower, places to lock and store bikes as well as the need for more bike paths throughout the city are all barriers facing cyclists in Pontianak. Besides infrastructure the ever changing weather conditions of the city (Pontianak is located on the equator) also means that riders often must adjust their schedules to suit the conditions.

Pak Rudy says, “currently the challenge for those in offices is that after doing sport they want to have a shower. Especially on Friday for Muslims who have to pray, it makes it tough to ride your bike. There is no place to shower at work so they have to go back home. Parking is something we are hoping for in the future, the city government has invited offices, market, mall to build parking spaces. Lots of people actually want to go to the mall, to the park, by bike not by car but the problem is their bikes aren’t safe, there is no place to park.”

Government Support and Keeping the Moral Message

While government is supportive of their cause with limited funds available it may take some time until these issues are resolved. But, in the meantime Bike to Work is going to continue to promote their moral message and continue to encourage people to ride bicycles. Pak Rudy wants to expand Car Free Day so it is not only one street, but across different areas in Pontianak, including Siantan that is across the other side of the river. He emphasises the hope for the future and the resistance against the smoking and motorbike companies trying to entice young children to join them. Rather, by providing a platform for people of all abilities to ride bikes Bike to Work is providing hope for a cleaner, healthier and greener Indonesia.

Bike to Work Indonesia was established in 2004 as a national movement to try encourage people to ride bicycles. If you would like to know more about Bike to Work Indonesia please click here:

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