Jalan tikus are narrow often winding streets, usually only fit for one car, which go through dense neighbourhoods (usually mid-lower class). Jakarta is full of these small streets, creating a maze that can get you from point A to point B whilst avoiding the traffic jams on the main roads. Because they are actually residential streets, they are usually only packed in the morning & evening, when Jakarta's traffic jams occur. For the rest of the day, the jalan tikus is relatively empty.
So why don't people use it more often?
- First of all, not every one knows a particular jalan tikus. Sometimes the streets are so small and winding, they're not on the map. Or there are lack of street names/ road signs so you can't use a map to navigate through. That is why you usually only know the ones that relate to your everyday life. I know the ones that will get me quicker to my office/ home but I have no idea about the jalan tikus in North Jakarta.
- Second, it is narrow so a bit difficult to maneuver, especially if you have a large car. Some people just don't feel comfortable driving through it.
- Third, you can get stuck. Jalan tikus is usually a two-way street although it can only fit one car. So you must know the "appropriate direction" people are using at that time. For example, in the morning, a jalan tikus will be used to get from point A to point B. But in the evening, the traffic will be from point B to point A.
I once got stuck for half-an-hour before we were moving again. You can't go forward because of the stubborn car that is defying direction and you can't go back because there is already a line of cars behind you. All you can do is wait until someone (usually local teenagers who live there) voluntarily helps direct the traffic. I glared at the driver who caused it once he passed by, and I bet you I wasn't the only one.
The best way to stumble upon a jalan tikus is when you take a taxi. Good taxi drivers know Jakarta's jalan tikus. Another way is just to follow the cars in front of you. If you see a couple of cars turning away from the main road, it may be because they are going to use a jalan tikus. But then again, it may be they are just heading home.
Going through a jalan tikus
Nearing the end of the jalan tikus