Remedies for traffic congestion
Lt Col Chandana J S Weerakoon , MSc Specialist in Transportation
Systems and Management
Traffic congestion is a common topic in present day Sri Lanka. This
has gravely affected the day-to-day movements and life style of the
commuters and the residents. Further, this problem is very crucial, has
power to change certain government policies and even it prompted
changing the governments in different countries. Therefore, the
congestion problem of the country cannot be ignored by the authorities
and governments since it affects its people, the development and the
economy at effective levels.
There are many reasons for increasing congestion in a city or a
country. According to the transportation experts, the big city concept
is the most damaging concept in terms of the congestion. Space time
convergence(STC) is the theory to analyze the state of the congestion.
The STC is positive in Pettah area because the horse chariots went at
a speed of 15 to 20 Km per hour 500 years ago while the present speed is
5 km per hour. In the other ways, the 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 purposely got rid of the big city concept and planned on the
commuter management concepts.
Space time convergence
The other factor is the bottleneck principle. There are many places
which we have not identified where heavy traffic comes and gets stuck at
one point due to the limited accessibility of that particular road. This
has to be carefully analyzed in terms of averting the bottleneck effect.
Largeness of the access roads to the main road are immaterial, but the
main road should be able to handle all the incoming traffic from the
access roads without occurring the bottleneck effect.
This effect can be calculated by space per vehicle principle. In
different countries the Road Development Authorities are allocating
space for vehicle in transportation terms, it is per capita space.
According to this principle, planner should be able to calculate the
road space depending on the amount of vehicles plying on the respective
roads or in other ways control the registration of vehicles in the
This principle is not properly applied on Sri Lankan roads. In other
countries the car registration fees differ from district to district
depending on the land and the rent values of a particular area which is
a good concept for Sri Lankans to think about.
The other factor is discriminating driving. This is mainly due to
indisciplined driving of the drivers, which happens due to two reasons
ie, attitude and the 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, the awareness of the drivers has to be inculcated
regularly, at least annually with the procurement of the license.
Further the mental factors as attitudinal changes should also be
addressed especially, ignorance, anger, ego, inferiority complexes and
lethargy are the killing attitudes of any driver which have to be
eradicated totally. This important function is not happening in our
administrative system. Because of that the drivers do not keep the lane
discipline and the parking discipline on main roads which creates many
accidents and congestion.
Different options to reduce congestion
Sri Lanka has many good roads. Also, they are wide roads to two to
three lanes, lanes are marked. But with the present spacial setting,
there are many boutiques and shops on either side of the roads which do
not have parking space. Ultimately what happens is drivers are parking
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 fee per hour is ranging 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
make aware in the population that parking is one of the profitable
businesses in transportation, further it benefits the transportation
with better flow, security and safety etc.
Peak hours are the most difficult time for the traffic. According to
the 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 much data on type
of vehicles, most intensive hours and access roads to main roads etc.
which are the vital information. We consider one of the example 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 the main road. For example, most offices in Sri
Lanka close at 4.30 p.m.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 to one destination”, for example, from Borella to Malabe. All
incoming vehicles to Malabe can move with greater speed from both lanes
to Malabe while blocking all the other access road to the main road.
This is a proven flow concept that can be tested in Colombo where bulk
of the vehicles will leave from Colombo to suburbs with a greater speed.
Particularly, the speed limit during the 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 the congestion, as short
cuts. The shorts cuts have to be developed towards the alternative
routes to the same main road which can achieve same purpose of the
Then the traffic of the main road is diverted through alternative
roads or short cuts.
The other thing is agglomeration effect has 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 total administrative system can be decentralized in 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 kilometers are reserved for car use”
Transportation business in Sri Lanka is considered in a very lower
scale. Planning process has not been activated in a practical way due to
unavailability of accurate research data on thetransportation sector.
Therefore, the Ministry of Transportation should place more emphasis
on establishing an organization for research and data collection in
order to have meticulous planning and implementation. The other 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 is also on par
with the experimentation process. The other main drawback is not having
a unique organization to control the traffic management system.
The respective organization should be a combination of 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 terms of
transportation. That organization is vital at present to our country in
order to counter the grave problem. Transportation education is also a
new area to our country which is very much lacking. Still there are a
very few transportation managers and analysts in the transportation
management sectors and no vocational level transportation training for
This subject has to go down to every other sector including the
school syllabuses. In most of the Western countries, 12 percent GDP is
earned by the transportation sector.Therefore, the government should
look into this important sector in terms of development, economic
management and facilitating general public to save time, secure and
comfortable transportation and further saving energy in order to
The writer is a specialist in Transportation Systems and Management.
Presently, conducts lectures on the subject for Transportation and
Logistics Management Degree and Masters in Maritime Safety and
Environmental Management in CINEC Maritime University. He has published
many articles on Transportation and Management. He is presently working
at the Central Bank