City roads bursting at seams : NO SOLUTION IN SIGHT
From The Daily News - By Nushka Nafeel
Colombo, once known as the Garden city in Asia, has now become a city of fumes. The heat too is on a steady upward climb, making it an almost unlivable metropolis.
With an increasing number of vehicles entering the city everyday, the vehicular traffic in Colombo city has come to a standstill during peak hours. From 6.30 in the morning starting from those that transport school children to city schools, rows upon rows of vehicles stretching over for miles enter the city everyday from different entry points and with limited options to tackle the traffic, police has now resorted to manual traffic control during peak hours.
The average speed in Colombo has reduced to about 17km per hour and is expected to reduce further. With vehicle registration reaching its peak last year with over 140,000 vehicles being registered in September alone, the number of cars entering the vehicular flow on the roads has steadily increased.
According to Senior Professor Amal S. Kumarage, from the Department of Transport and Logistics of the Moratuwa University over 300,000 vehicles enter the Colombo city everyday. According to statistics presented by the National Transport Commission there is an increasing emphasis on private transportation. Only 50.9 percent of daily commuters to Colombo use public transport, whereas a decade ago it was at 70 percent, the NTC report revealed.
Meanwhile, the total utilisation of personal vehicles including cars, motorcycles and three wheelers has become four times higher within this period. Analysing the current situation, the NTC states that people tend to use private vehicles instead of public transport services due to overcrowding, lack of punctuality and lack of comfort.
Over the years different solutions to the growing traffic issue have been suggested and implemented, but none seemed to have worked. A park and ride system was announced a few years ago by the Transport Ministry. It had no promise of success from beginning and was soon abandoned. Most roads in Colombo have been redone to allow only one way traffic, which has only added up the miles on the taximeter but hardly eased the traffic congestion. Last year Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) proposed to charge a toll for vehicles entering the city everyday but the suggestion came under severe criticism.
A scientific plan last year to improve the public transport system designed by the University of Moratuwa and the Ministry has not been implemented by the Transport Ministry, claimed Prof. Kumarage.
The main responsibility of handling traffic is with the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) but it is unable to handle the rising traffic congestion alone, claims Director of Engineering Traffic Design and Road Safety, Nihal Wickramaratne. First the public transport has to be improved, he said.
Heavy vehicles, including container lorries, entering the Colombo city cause a huge traffic near Orugodawatta junction, DIG Traffic Amarasiri Senaratne said.
“When two or three containers enter the Baseline Road, it blocks the road all the way from Orugodawatta to Kirulapona. They are seen on our roads during the rush hour occupying almost the entire road, their slow movement clogging up the roads, leading to traffic pile-ups one often encounters on city highways.”
Traffic police do not allow the containers enter until 9.00 a.m. yet the lorries and other heavy vehicles enter the city and that is inevitable. If the clearing of the goods are done at night, there will be room for other vehicles on the roads.
Switching off the traffic lights at junctions that are identified as high-volume traffic spots and the deploying policemen to control the traffic is the last solution the police has come up with.
The timing system of the traffic lights are not geared to handle the traffic during peak hours, said a traffic policeman who was reluctant to reveal his name pointing out the reasons to switch off the traffic lights.
The traffic lights have to be properly maintained. The timing should differ during the rush hours. "As it is not done, we have to manually handle the traffic at those places," he explained.
“We complained to the CMC and UDA that these traffic lights have to be regulated with the support of the experts in the field, no measures have yet been taken,” he said.
A former chairman of the National Transport Commission, Prof. Kumarage noted that immediate solution to the traffic congestion needs a scientific plan, but so far none of the solutions implemented had a scientific approach.
“Even the Megapolis plan is project based and not a scientific plan. Scientific approach means matching the demand with the supply. We still have not seen any strategies, documents or analysis related to their proposals. Therefore people will not blindly believe it,” he emphasized.
The demand for public transport services which comprises bus and rail transportation jointly accounts 50.9 percent of total motorized transport. This share was around 70 percent 10 years ago. Of this, bus transportation accounts for 46.6 percent with 38.2 percent of private bus transportation and 8.4 percent state bus transportation. Diminution of public transport share reflects the increased demand for private vehicle population in Sri Lanka. Source: National Transport Commission
When addressing the issue, intervention should be made in transport demand management, together with improvement in public transport, road infrastructure development and environmental sustainability, Prof. Kumarage said advocating a holistic approach in tackling the issue.
The report by NTC recommends developing the public transport system to meet user requirements and to prevent further commuter shift from public transport to private vehicles.
As an immediate solution, measures are being taken to give priority lane for buses and many improvements will be done to the junctions to address the prevailing short term issues, Megapolis Ministry Secretary, Nihal Rupasinghe said.
The Cabinet last week approved to the elevated highway from new Kelaniya Bridge to Rajagiriya as an infrastructure improvement to ease the congestion. A proposal has been made to construct an elevated highway network in Colombo to reduce the traffic congestion and to build the road connectivity suburbs and expressways explained, Rupasinghe.
The Megapolis plan project also includes a traffic management system to avoid vehicular congestion in busy towns, noted Western Region Megapolis Planning Project Chairman (WRMPP), Ajitha de Costa. The previous plan for monorail system has been abandoned and instead opted for light rail in the short run as a remedy to heavy traffic congestion in Colombo, de Costa said.
Light rail is a metropolitan electric railway system which operates single cars or short trains along exclusive right of way at ground level and board and discharge passengers at track or car floor level. De Costa said that light rail was the feasible transport mode for Colombo city as it is cheaper in maintenance when compared with mono rail.
However, Prof Kumarage emphasized on the fact that there must be a greater political commitment to conduct feasibility studies and suitability of the plans before implementation which costs large sums of money.
“What we see now is a continuation of heavy expenditure that will take 8 to 10 years to deliver any results by which time the traffic situation in the country will be unbearable. There are no analysis and justification to any of the plans. I believe that these are all supplier-driven projects which we have seen in the past as well,” he said.