April 29, 2014

A Look at Life and Transit in Medan, Indonesia

Source: Flickr CC US Department of State Office of Science and Technology

Source: Flickr CC US Department of State Office of Science and Technology

With a vibrant mix of cultures and a reputation as a culinary paradise, Medan, Indonesia is a must-see destination for many travelers in Southeast Asia. On the streets, residents of Indonesia’s fourth largest city mingle with tourists on their way to visit the diverse markets, malls, and local attractions. Like many major cities, congestion has become an increasingly acute problem in Medan. Although the issue has yet to dampen the spirit of locals and visitors, in improving transit, ITDP sees the opportunity to unlock Medan’s full economic and cultural potential. With support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), ITDP Indonesia began an initiative to investigate the state of transport in the city and prepare recommendations for improvement. ITDP’s proposals, centered around improving non-motorized transport, will help guide this booming Southeast Asian city away from a car-dependant model and toward a pedestrian friendly city with accessible streets for all.

Merdeka WalkLocated on the island of Sumatra (West Indonesia), Medan’s distinctive character is shaped by the region’s natural beauty, ethnic diversity, and rich history. A unique blend of cultures, with strong Malay, Indian, Batak, Chinese and Javenese communities, add their religious, ethnic, and culinary traditions to create a city well-known for its rich arts and customs. Tourists come to Medan to explore the mix of foods, from durian pancakes and dim sum to noodle dishes and pork ribs, and many continue on to explore the offerings of Sumatra Island. With all the traffic, transit in Medan is defined by a reliance on personal vehicles, taxis and riskshaws. Sidewalks and pedestrian pathways are poorly kept or non-existent, and mass transit options fail to meet the city’s needs.

ITDP Indonesia recently concluded a study of the existing transit patterns in Medan and began discussing with city leaders possible solutions and projects for improvements. ITDP found that many of Medan’s most popular destinations are within walking distance from each other, but poor pedestrian connections lead most people to use personal vehicles, angkot minibuses, or bentor rickshaws. The addition of stronger pedestrian pathways would be an impactful, practical initial step to improving traffic in Medan.

Merdeka Walk, one of the city’s most exciting centers for food, performance art, political rallies, community activities, illustrates the issues with Medan’s pedestrian network. ITDP Indonesia mapped how far pedestrians could walk within 15 minutes from the market. While there are many other attractions in the area, there are few pedestrian pathways between them, limiting the safety and comfort of people moving between destinations. Upgrading pedestrian access by provide a continuous network of paths would increase commerce in the area and help reduce reliance on vehicles.

With a clear vision of the problems Medan faces, ITDP Indonesia is developing solutions. Local officials and ITDP staff have met to begin drawing up plans to reduce the city’s dependance on cars and build the foundation of a strong pedestrian network. Representatives from the local transport authority were enthusiastic about increasing pedestrian permiability throughout Medan, such as building connections between key local attractions. Many of the city’s existing plans for development allow space to incorporate the recommendations from ITDP’s study, offering ample opportunity to work together. Feasible solutions, including adding new sidewalks and improving pavement quality, signal that next steps are sure to come soon.

Medan is faced with the growing problems of congestion and poor air quality, the city’s reliance on cars threatens to create a cloud over this vibrant city. With a clear picture of the problem and a strong vision for a better pedestrian network, ITDP and the local government are working together to invest in building a safe, accessible streets, and create a better city of Medan for travelers and residents alike.

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