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Sidewalk adventures… stumbling to work?

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Warning! This post has an utterly ordinary topic – the humble sidewalk. What could be simpler than walking on a sidewalk? After all, that is its purpose – correct? A foot path on the side of the main road… meant for walking… Right?

Growing up in Canada, sidewalks were a place to stroll, skip, walk the dog or jog in the summer. In winters, not only are the road plowed but the sidewalks are also. A good thing too! You try walking in -40’c completely bundled up with fogged-up frozen glasses tramping through unplowed sidewalks. You’d walk on the road and likely get accidentally shmucked by a car unable to stop, tire wheels screaming while sliding into the hapless road walker! Sidewalks are clearly the smart way to go.

One of my favourite things about Singapore are the sidewalks – you can actually WALK on them. I think people are crazy taking cabs for distances of only a couple of kilometres… unless its pissing rain, why not enjoy being able to walk? Because, you see, sidewalks that people actually WALK on can be a precious commodity in Asia!

Outside my door aka why sidewalks aren't for walking...

Outside my door – used more for trash than walking – today the rubbish was just picked up!

Sidewalk, spot to hang out, park a bike or.... walk??

Sidewalk, park a bike, sell stuff, sit or…. walk??

In Mumbai, sidewalks (or footpaths as they are somewhat erroneously called in India) are often taken over by hawkers or become the outdoor living room, kitchen, washroom, garbage bin of every day life. When nearly 50% of a city’s population lives in slums or the streets, sidewalks become homes and businesses. Add to this their often decrepit condition, it is no wonder that most people would rather dodge traffic than dare walk on a ‘footpath.’ I mean, come on, its rude stumbling through someone’s ahem “living” room…

Jakarta streets

Downtown Jakarta – a little music anyone?

In Jakarta, “street” living seems less yet sidewalks are much more than simply a place to walk. They too are a place of commerce and entertainment. Some are even in great condition – especially downtown – whereas others are a disaster.

Until a curious thing started to happen… sidewalks became a focus point for civic improvement. See “The Long Path to Success for Jakarta’s Sidewalks” And hence the obstacle course between hotel and office was born!

Collage of chaos - sand, bricks, holes...

Collage of chaos – sand, bricks, holes…

I’ve bitched about the hotel I usually stay at in Jakarta however it does have one major redeeming feature – one can walk to the office. However as you can see from the pics, the walk is more of an obstacle course than easy stroll as this stretch is an example of the ‘improvement’ efforts. So my experience was more of stumbling rather than strolling…



A few things I noted about Jakarta sidewalks on the walk to the office:

  1. There is a flat strip in the centre seemingly intended for wheels not feet. Also found in the over-passes too. Just picture a motorcycle doing an “Evel Knievel” dare-devil number zipping past your efforts to hike up the overpass! Or “Watch out! Skateboarder on the loose!”

    Jakarta overpass - note the centre flat part - motorcycles can and do use this!

    Jakarta overpass – note the centre flat part – motorcycles can and do use this!

  2. The height of the sidewalk raised well over a foot from road. I’m just speculating here, but could this perhaps be a way to avoid wading in water for at least part of the walk during the rainy season?
  3. Reasonable efficiency in getting completed. Every day there was progress. Now, why is that surprising? Let’s just say that wouldn’t necessarily be the case in Mumbai.


Any sidewalk stories to share? Anywhere in the world?

PS To avoid any confusion I’m actually back in Mumbai, just writing a few posts about the time in Jakarta 🙂

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  1. Sidewalks? Oh, lap of luxury! In Toledo old town, the streets are so narrow that you have to take refuge in a doorway every time a car passes, it can take 15 minutes just to walk 400 yards, I kid you not! ‘Tis a sidewalk free zone.

    • Haha! Ah… lovely old Europe… I totally get the narrowness of streets. Was just walking in the market and had to keep scooting into doorways and shops when vehicles pushed past. 15 mins for 400 yards, yup, sounds about right! 🙂

      Lovely sidewalks for walking is definitely NOT a universal phenomenon. However rather welcome when find ones that are walkable!

  2. Karolyn Cooper says:

    Sidewalks in Bangalore are made for the local Evel Knievels to ride their motorbikes and leap over the sleeping dogs.

    • Haha! Good to hear that Evel Knievel is alive and well and leaping over sleeping dogs in Bangalore!

      Can imagine you don’t miss the dare devil bikers but must be missing all the perpetual summer green?

      • Karolyn Cooper says:

        Advice to other expats: don’t go home at the darkest time of year.
        It was good for my soul to wake up to sunshine every morning in India. Now I’m distressed when the day is over at 4.30pm, and doesn’t get light again until nearly 8am. Still, I’m finding plenty of Christmas lights in London to cheer me up.

  3. pollyheath says:

    Russian sidewalks are terrible and uneven! Instead of the Evil Knievel ramp, we have two narrow metal strips that go down the side of stairs for strollers, wheelchairs, or a particularly daring biker!

    • Now that is a discovery to me! Two narrow metal strips, huh? And what happens in winter? In Winnipeg after plowing in that in between period, would use salt n sand to make it possible to walk and not slip n slide… however can’t imagine metal would go well with that… Now I’m rather curious…

  4. You just opened the closed doors of my memory .. Sidewalks or footpaths of India. :).. Living in usa, one forgets the complexity of sidewalks in other nations. Europe has narrow sidewalks and Asia has crowded and make-shift kinds.. Lol… I have often enjoyed the “patri market” as often called in north India, means market on the side walks.. Sometimes with fresh farm produce.. Sometimes with hand made arts and crafts…
    Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder… ;). Lol

    • I love your phrase “Complexity of sidewalks” – absolutely true! Many sidewalks in Asia are teaming with life – and why not?

      Living in Bandra there is a push / pull between “encroachment” of commerce on the “footpaths”. With a crack down earlier this year on a particular stretch of road that was ridiculously bad, there is a difference. Earlier, you could get stuck in traffic for an hour as the “footpath” merchants and their customers spilled into the road. Now this same stretch takes only 15 minutes… To put in perspective, late at night when there is no traffic (meaning 2-3am) it actually only takes 1 minute!

      However yes – beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and there can be a quiet dignity too in the creative way sidewalks are co-opted for so many activities!

  5. brothervern says:

    I love in a small town in Indiana, USA. I rarely drive around town unless weather is inclement. Unfortunately, or sidewalks leave a lot to be desired. In many areas they’re non-existing. So, you swallow hard and walk in the street until you reach downtown. Still, walking is the best way to get there. 🙂

    • My mother grew up in a small town in Manitoba and there certainly weren’t any sidewalks on the edge of town… best were ‘downtown’ ie a single street. 🙂

      I love walking and don’t do nearly enough in Mumbai though definitely do more since I moved to Bandra where there are all sorts of things in easy walking distance. My favourite is a “stroll” in the market… Not exactly a peaceful experience but always interesting!

  6. Expat Eye says:

    Christ, they actually make Riga’s pavements look good! Well, better 😉 Never heard of being ‘schmucked’ by a car before – love it! 🙂

    • Obviously accidentally schmucked… as Manitobans are a mannerly sort and wouldn’t do this deliberately! Unlike some drivers here in Maharashtra where without even knowing the word “schmucked” seem to be intent on “schmucking” people, dogs, cyclists with great vigour!

  7. Oh no…not to mention, most of the city doesn’t have sidewalks. That’s where I usually walk;)

  8. […] Can you see why some of us are so fond of Jakarta? […]

  9. Permen says:

    Sidewalk in Jakarta include Copet as a bonus.

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