Kaki Lima

Mobility has a whole other dimension in Indonesia. Where it’s a complete headache to go anywhere in the grid-locked capital city of Jakarta, things come to you: soup kitchens, mattresses, monkey shows, tailors with sewing machines, second hand shoes, songbirds, stationery, coin rides, ice cream, herbal tonics, freshly ironed slacks, drag queen shows. And you’ll know they’re coming because they all have their different sound cues, which they make while roaming the streets on wheels or foot, pushing or pulling along their portable rigs. These enterprising individuals are referred to as ‘Kaki Lima’ – Five Feet – because their setups usually entail 2 wheels + 1 stand + powered by 2 legs. Ironically enough, some say that the term comes from the days of the colonial Dutch, who insisted that sidewalks be made 5 feet wide, all the better to stroll on. If you’ve ever been to Jakarta you’ll know that this rule hardly lasted.

There’s a lot of controversy these days about Kaki Lima and their contribution to the heavy traffic in Jakarta. Meanwhile, they seem to be popping up in bicycle capitals around the world, including my favourite bike-friendly-bridge-clad-city, Portland, Oregon . Click here to listen to an episode on  KBOO Radio about the city’s bike vendors and may you be inspired to get your A into gear. We could all do with a few more feet for getting the job done.

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