Original Article: Link
FEB 19 2016
The issue of traffic in Kandy City Roads has been the centre of much debate over the past few months. A number of media reports on the same have highlighted the issue and possible solutions.
As many of those reports very correctly pointed out loss of time, air pollution, diseases due to pollution in Kandy town limits grow as a result of this menace, an immediate practical solutions is needed to address the issue.
Number of possible solutions to address the growing issue was put forwarded over the past two decades. Suggestions included implementation of extended bus routes, establishment of parking spaces outside of Kandy City limits, relocation of schools and bypass roads to Kandy, however none seem to progress beyond the discussion table.
As a member of the traffic advisory committee of Kandy Municipal Council (KMC), my contributions were also made to various proposals which included free shuttle service, staggered office hours, pedestrian streets, opening shops on Sunday and possibility of declaring Monday as a holiday to ease the traffic situation in Kandy town limits.
However most proposals discussed at the traffic advisory committee of KMC and meetings convened by governor of central province and few other bodies were never implemented or even tested.
Traffic issues in Kandy town
It is important to evaluate the proposals made to date to understand why they did progress beyond the discussion table.
One of the key factors in handling traffic issues in Kandy town is good coordination and collaboration between different stakeholder groups. Unfortunately such collaboration among responsible authorities and organizations is lacking in current attempts to address the issue.
I have also come to realise that political commitment to proposed solutions is another key factor.
During my tenure in the traffic advisory committee of KMC, the committee forwarded a proposal to demarcate designated on-street parking areas to identify parking bays. Long after submitting the proposal, I saw parking bays were drawn on streets, and was happy that at least one of the many proposals submitted were implemented. However later I came to know that the action was taken not after committee advice was given on the matter but due to a comment made by a powerful politician. Though it was not a comprehensive solution as we discussed at KMC to identify separate areas for motor bikes, three wheelers and other light vehicles, drawing lines improved the efficiency and disciplined to a certain extent. Therefore I was convinced that to implement any proposal only professional contribution is inadequate but promoting and convincing a politician is also very important.
Similarly, when the idea of building a central car park was discussed, many proposed to construct smaller sized car parks at the periphery of Kandy town such as at Getambe, Mahiyawa, Boowelikada with a traffic flow pattern controlling right turns as much as possible and controlling road side parking together with two types of shuttle bus services were included. However one central car park was constructed later on.
Road side parking
The idea of introducing a car park within Kandy Town Limits was to control road side parking. That would have allowed free flow of vehicles within town limits and encouraged vehicle users to park at the car park. Due to protests of Kandy citizens and majority business community, authorities had to reverse the ban on street parking except in Dalada Vidiya and the first segment of Yatinuwara Vidiya. Shuttle services were never implemented. Later, the extreme right lane of the Dalada Vidiya was encroached by three wheelers interrupting the free flow of traffic on that lane. That lane was used by those who are turning right to enter to Parking structure etc.
As evident, it is improper implementation of Kandy car park plan that has contributed the aggravating the current traffic situation in Kandy City limits. Added to this, more vehicles now come into the city centre as there is a place for parking.
Although discussions are focused on wider roads and by pass roads to ease the traffic congestion in Kandy city limits, one study on the issue I found nearly 30% of vehicles entering to Kandy city limits just to pass through the town. Thus it is important to plan and build bypass roads to minimize traffic congestion in Kandy City limits. It is a known fact that many cities in the world successfully controlled traffic congestion in city centres though building and controlling new bypass roads. They knew that constructing more roads will only attract more vehicles into the system, if there is no proper mechanism to control the inflow.
However I have reservations on whether such a solution would successfully address the issue in Sri Lankan culture. If we build bypass roads using high tech Engineering knowledge without proper education for all the stakeholders and enforcement by legal authorities, success rate will not be up to the expected level.
William Gopallawa Mawatha was built to ease the traffic congestion on the parallel road. when the Williamgopallawa Mawatha was built, a directive was issued banning any direct access road for commercial vendors or any other organization disturbing the free flow of traffic on that road. However this has been violated today, as some direct access roads are given to government buildings as well as private commercial buildings, channeling centres, tuition classes. Most these buildings do not even have proper parking places. Some vehicle rental services also park their fleet of vehicles on road side. Therefore, before thinking about new bypass roads we should pay attention pay careful attention to details of implementation. Similarly the fate of bypass roads construct to avoid Mawanella town, Kegalle town and other bypass roads in this country bear ample evidence about the low success rate of such a proposal.
Public transport systems
Many cities in the world addressed their traffic issues using public transport systems. I strongly believe having efficient public transport facilities will divert a reasonable number of private vehicle users to public transport systems. Kandy is blessed with an adequate bus fleet, three wheeler supply and an extensive school transportation group. But again it is not clear whether these facilities contribute to ease the traffic problem in Kandy or they contribute to worsening the situation. According to the information available the number of permits issued to private buses running within central province is much higher than the actual demand. As a result, bus operators try to drive as slow as possible to pick up as many passengers as possible. They never understand that these buses are to facilitative transport need of the society. For them it is merely another income generating source, making a proper enforcement system a timely needed to to make public transport system more efficient and user friendly. A good public transport system will encourage public switch from using private vehicles to using public transport.
Further bus operators maintain a monopoly. Buses parked along roads waiting their turn have become a severe hindrance for the smooth flow of vehicles. It is not clear why responsible government bodies have neither evaluated issuance of bus permits has not been evaluated properly nor controlled the illegal and improper parking and bus maintenance activities carried out on road side.
Illegal and unethical activities
These groups also wield a lot of power. At one point, when a new traffic plan was to be introduced to Kandy town, the private bus drivers got their all their idling buses to run on roads in protest, causing severe traffic congestion. Their demand that the plan be withdrawn was met with.
The number of three wheelers in Kandy town far exceeds its needs. As such, not only do they engage in various illegal and unethical activities, they have encroached almost all the junctions, bus halts and other vacant spaces closer to government offices etc. As these vehicles are demand driven, the responsible authorities should be able to introduce a mechanism to control them entering to road space un-necessarily. Since the government bodies turn a blind eye to these matters, three wheeler groups formed very powerful unions. All the three wheeler parks are now operated under their ruling. Anyway they have blessings and backing of politicians as some of their own members entered to political stream through Palath saba and Pradeshiya sabas (provincial councils) system.
Parents who do not have private vehicles often tend to seek the assistance of school vans to fulfill transport requirements of their children. If the government rule about the distance from home to school is strictly enforced, school vans from places like Kegalle, Dambulla, Pussellawa will not be heading Kandy. Further, attempts to establish primary sections of leading schools outside Kandy city was also failed. It may be due to sentimental attachment of parents with their alma mater. Therefore, in addition to maintaining schools in the city centre, schools with equally good or better facilities should be started outside busy areas similar to Ranabima Royal College in Gannoruwa. Those who do not have roots with popular schools in the city centre, may select such schools for their children. Since parents put great emphasis on their children’s education, such problems should be addressed with a great care and caution.
Until such time, due attention should be paid to the nearly 1,600 school vans entering to town limits every day. As there is no proper organizational structure to coordinate and manage school vans, they bring children to a number of schools (majority for seven schools and occasionally up to 15 schools). Since they have to drop children before a specified time, they not only stop at many schools and drive between schools carelessly. This is common in morning hours as well as afternoon hours. Due to lack of allocated parking places, these vans create havoc within the city.
Allowing buildings to conduct tuition classes for hundreds of students, allowing halls constructed for schools purposes, for public shows, approving hotels and reception halls without adequate parking facilities contribute significantly to the traffic problem in addition to all the above reasons.
As such traffic issue in Kandy town is not merely an infrastructure problem. Policymakers should think out of the box to solve the problem. Park and Ride, Car sharing, banning private vehicles according to odd even number plates (what is practised in Delhi now), introducing congestion tax should be few ideas to try. If there is any issue those should be able to adjust to suit to Sri Lankan situation.
I do not have any objection in opening the road in front of Dalada Maligawa to ease the traffic flow along the Lakeround. Further, if a decision is made to open this road segment, it should be open for public transport – buses, school vans and emergency vehicles like ambulances before opening for other vehicle categories, because they not only carry more people, they pollute more while driving a long way.
I would like to draw attention of those who are rallying around for opening the Dalada Vidiya to understand that it does not contribute even 10% of the real traffic problem within Kandy town. If these groups are really interested in solving the traffic problem of Kandy, they should look at the overall picture of traffic issues in Kandy city limits.