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Remedies for traffic congestion

Comments / 8024 Views / Wednesday, 25 April 2012 00:36

Traffic congestion is a common topic in present day Sri Lanka. This has gravely affected day-to-day movements and lifestyles of commuters and residents. Further, this problem is very crucial, has the power to change certain government policies and has even prompted the change of governments in different countries.

Therefore, a country’s congestion problem cannot be ignored by the authorities and governments since it affects its people, development and the economy and their levels of effectiveness.

Space Time Convergence

There are many reasons for an increase in congestion in a city or a country. According to transportation experts, the big city concept is the most damaging concept in terms of the congestion.

Space Time Convergence (STC) is the theory that analyses the state of congestion. The STC is positive in Pettah area because horse chariots travelled at a speed of 15 to 20 km per hour 500 years ago while the present speed is five km per hour.

Similarly, countries cannot get rid of the congestion, because agglomeration takes place in certain areas in an uncontrolled manner which is decided by the lifestyle of the population living in the particular area. Therefore, as much as possible, the government must get rid of the big city concept and plan the commuter management concepts.

Bottleneck principle

The other factor is the bottleneck principle. There are many places which we have not identified where heavy traffics comes in and gets stuck at one point due to the limited accessibility of that particular road. This has to be carefully analysed in terms of averting the bottleneck effect.

However, large the access roads to the main road are is immaterial; the main road should be able to handle all the incoming traffic from the access roads without the bottleneck effect occurring. This effect can be calculated by space per vehicle principle.

In different countries the road development authorities are allocating space for vehicles in transportation terms, it is per capita space. According to this principle, the planner should be able to calculate the road space depending on the amount of vehicles plying on the respective roads or control the registration of vehicles in the respective districts. This principle is not being properly applied on Sri Lankan roads. In other countries, car registration fees differ from district to district depending on the land and the rent values of particular area, which is a good concept for Sri Lanka.

These are the reasons why, no matter how much the Government expands the roads, congestion remains the same even after a one month of construction completion.

Disciplined driving

The other factor is in discriminating driving. This is mainly due to undisciplined driving of the drivers, which happens due to two reasons, i.e. attitude and awareness of laws and regulations. Like in the other sectors, the transport sector too is fast developing in the world. With that development, transportation rules and regulations are taking the same speed of change. Therefore, awareness of the drivers has to be inculcated regularly, at least annually with the procurement of the license.

Further, the mental factors such as an attitudinal change should also be addressed; especially ignorance, anger, ego, inferiority complexes and lethargy are the killing attitudes of any driver which has to be eradicated totally. This important function is not happening in our administrative system. Because of that the drivers do not maintain lane and parking discipline on main roads, which creates many accidents and congestion.

Different options to reduce congestion

Sri Lanka has many good roads. They are wide roads with two to three lanes and lanes are marked. But with the present setting, there are many boutiques and shops on either side of the roads, with most not having parking space, due to which drivers park their vehicles on the roads. This reduces the smooth movement of the vehicles by the other drivers.

Therefore, the alternative is to have car parks for each trading area or a junction where the boutiques and shops are located and specially keep the roads open only for flowing road traffic. Parking too is a lucrative business all over the world which is supported by many kinds of ICT and payment systems. Parking fees per hour range from Rs. 30 to Rs. 150 in Sri Lanka.

Car parks can be operated by either the Government or facilitated by the private sector and Government should create awareness among the population that parking is a profitable business in transportation which further benefits transportation with better flow, security and safety, etc.

Peak hours are the most difficult time for the traffic. According to global principles, commuter time is maximum 20 minutes (time from home to work place). Peak hour traffic has to be managed very effectively with that principle. The main requirement to execute this concept and management is effective and accurate research data. We need to have data on type of vehicles, most intensive hours and access roads to main roads, etc., which is vital information.

Consider one of the examples from Belgium, which is used to counter the peak hour traffic congestion. They make the main roads one way for 15-30 minutes, blocking all incoming access roads to main road. For example, in Sri Lanka 4:30 p.m. is the time that most offices close, which is the start of the peak hour. During that time, what the traffic management can do is open both sides of the main road towards one destination, for example, from Borella to Malabe. All the incoming vehicles to Malabe can move with a greater speed from both lanes to Malabe, while blocking all the other access roads to the main road.

This is a proven flow concept that can be tested in Colombo where the bulk of the vehicles will leave Colombo for the suburbs with a greater speed. In particular, the speed limit during this time has to be increased up to 70 to 80. Otherwise, the whole purpose of the exercise will not be effective. This concept is named the ‘packet movement’.

Identification of those alternatives is very important. We have seen many people using alternative routes due to congestion, such as shortcuts. The shortcuts have to be developed towards the alternative routes to the same main road, which can achieve the same purpose of the driver. Then the traffic of the main road is diverted through alternative roads or shortcuts.

Agglomeration effects have to be identified. For example, the ministries have moved to Battaramulla, which is big agglomeration point to Colombo suburb and further, Army, Navy and Air Force Headquarters are in the process of moving to Akuregoda. Likewise, if the total administrative system can be decentralised all over the country, the congestion problem will reduce to a great extent.

“It is Canada that allocates the largest amount of space per capita to the automobile (734 square meters per car), followed by the United States (573). While the percentage of total land area used by the car is an indication of density and economic intensity, area per capita figures are an indication of car dependency. The case of the United States is eloquent. About 155,000 square kilometres are reserved for car use.”


The transportation business in Sri Lanka is considered to be on a very low scale. The planning process has not been activated in a practical way due to the unavailability of accurate research data on the transportation sector. Therefore, the Ministry of Transportation should have more emphasis on establishing organisation for research and data collection in order to have meticulous planning and implementation.

Another factor is experimenting on counter congestion methods and models. That is also one of the facets which should be looked into and the decision making on the transportation management system should also be on par with the experimentation process.

The other main drawback is not having a unique organisation to control the traffic management system. The respective organisation should be a combination of the Traffic Police, Urban Development Authority and the Town Council. Then, there should be some authority to be established keeping the above-mentioned institution as an umbrella in terms of transportation planning congestion management and other decision-making in this regard. That organisation is vital at present in our country in order to counter the growing problem.

Transportation education is also a new area to our country, which is very much lacking. There are a very few transportation managers and analysts in the transportation management sectors and there is no vocational level transportation training for supervisors. This subject has to be taken to every other sector, including the school syllabi.

In most Western countries, 12% GDP is earned by the transportation sector. Therefore, the Government should look into this important sector in terms of development, economic management and facilitating the general public to save time, ensure secure and comfortable transportation and further save energy in order to optimise profits.

(The writer is a specialist in transportation systems and management. He presently conducts lectures on the subject for the Transportation and Logistics Management Degree and Masters in Maritime Safety and Environmental Management at CINEC Maritime University. He had published many articles on transportation and management and is employed at the Central Bank.)

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