Last week, the Jakarta Globe reported on the ongoing construction work of two elevated roads: 5.5 kilometers from Jalan Antasari to Blok M and 2.3 kilometers from Jalan Casablanca to Jalan Sudirman. City officials said the work could be completed as early as August and the roads were expected to ease traffic density in the area by half.
Really? No. Elevating roads is no long-term solution to traffic woes and will only make affected areas less attractive to live in.
Traffic congestion in Jakarta can’t be separated from the high growth rate of vehicle ownership (9 to 11 percent per year), which is not supported by the growth of road development (less than 1 percent a year). The development of new roads will never catch up to the growth rate of vehicle ownership. A new highway or a widened road only alleviates traffic congestion for a short period of time.
After a few years, any new or widened highway fills with traffic that would not have existed if the highway had not been built, a phenomenon called induced demand. Because of induced demand, neither building new roads nor widening existing roads are viable long-term solutions to traffic congestion.
The new roads will also undermine the efforts to develop a mass transportation system in Jakarta. The main idea of developing a mass transportation system, including the TransJakarta busway and the monorail and Mass Rapid Transit projects, is to reduce the number of motorists and motorcyclists on Jakarta’s streets. Drivers would be expected to use the mass transportation and reduce traffic, but new roads would only attract more motorists.
Not only would elevated roads stimulate induced demand and thus worsen traffic congestion, they could also jeopardize the livability of neighborhoods along them.
In many cities in other countries, such as Seoul, New Orleans, San Francisco and New York City, elevated freeways have negatively affected livability. At the same time, in many developed countries, we have seen a shift in urban planning from enhancing mobility toward promoting livability.
The Cheonggyecheon freeway was completed in 1977 and was seen a as a symbol of modernization and industrialization in South Korea after the war with the North. This elevated freeway was built above a 5.8-kilometer stream flowing through downtown Seoul. By 2000, the area was considered the most crowded and noisy part of the city and became an eyesore for residents.
In July 2003, the then-mayor of Seoul and the current president of South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, launched a project to tear down the Cheonggyecheon freeway and revitalize the surrounding area. During the demolition process, the city administration developed public transportation systems, including Bus Rapid Transit lines. Today, the Cheonggyecheon area has been revitalized and is one of Seoul’s main tourist areas.
In 1973, New York City’s West Side elevated highway collapsed and was replaced by a surface boulevard, West Avenue. Similarly, two elevated freeways in San Francisco were badly damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The San Francisco city administration decided not to rebuild the elevated freeways, but replaced them with surface boulevards instead.
The conversion of elevated freeways in both New York City and San Francisco did not cause traffic mayhem. The traffic switched to the boulevards, nearby streets or mass transit, studies have shown.
Furthermore, a team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that the conversion of the elevated roads to a boulevard stimulated reinvestment in the neighborhoods along the freeways without seriously sacrificing transportation performance.
More recently, the residents of New Orleans decided not to rebuild the elevated expressway damaged by Hurricane Katrina, but replaced it with an oak-lined boulevard.
The conversion of elevated freeways to surface boulevards is evidence of a paradigm shift from a focus on expediting the movement of automobiles to a focus on increasing the livability of neighborhoods. The livability of neighborhoods should be prioritized over an increase in mobility.
Jakarta needs to learn from what has happened in other cities with their elevated freeways. Elevated roads are not the solution for the traffic congestion in Jakarta and are likely to undermine livability in the neighborhoods they pass through.
In order to alleviate transportation problems in Jakarta, the city administration should focus its efforts on the completion of the Mass Rapid Transit system. Jakarta is the largest city in the world without a metro or MRT. Major cities in Southeast Asia that have smaller populations than Jakarta have had metro systems for years, including Manila (1984), Singapore (1987), Kuala Lumpur (1995) and Bangkok (2004).
The MRT would be the most expensive public project in Jakarta’s history, but it is the only way to ease the capital’s traffic jams. Drivers of cars and motorcycles should be pushed to use public transportation, not to use new elevated roads.
Deden Rukmana is an assistant professor and coordinator of the urban studies and planning program at Savannah State University in the United States.