Traffic mess and congestion in Kandy
Posted on September 15th, 2010

Dr Sudath Gunasekara (SLAS) President Senior Citizens Movement Mahanuwara

 The facility of smooth traffic movement is an ornament as well as an asset to any city. Providing this facility is the responsibility of city fathers and the law enforcing authorities. Primarily the commuters and the drivers are the people who are inconvenienced when there is no such smooth system. Smooth movement of vehicles is affected by many factors. Among them the following could be identified as the most important. Increase in the number of vehicles coming in to the city, physical limitations of urban morphology, haphazard and poor urban planning, lack of overall traffic planning networks to ease congestion within city limits, lack of forward planning to suit increasing needs of a city with changing time, unsatisfactory conditions of the roads, absence of an efficient and effective traffic control system by the police, failure on the part of the Municipalities to maintain the roads with proper road signs and facilities like traffic lights, parking bays, pedestrian crossings, bus stops, bus  stands and car parks in proper location, lethargy and lack of coordination between the authorities like municipalities, police and the central  government, non compliance of traffic law and carelessness  on the part of drivers and non cooperation by the business community and the general public. 

 Apart from the general increase of vehicles in the country things such as heavy concentration of institutions like schools, hospitals, government institutions within a city where large number of people daily come to get their business done also increase the traffic inflow and it makes things even worse. Besides the inconvenience for commuters and the drivers this type of congestion also adversely affects the city’s economic, business and social life. The sum of al this makes city life miserable for every body.

Having said this let me now come to the topic under discussion. Kandy as we all know is the second largest city in the country. It is also the most important living cultural city in view of the presence of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth and the Buddhist Head quarters of Malwatta and Asgiriya within its precincts and also the Annual Esala Perahera and many a monument of medieval cultural heritage. It has had a Municipality from 20th March 1866. The Kandy Municipal Council was established under the Municipalities Ordinance of 1865. The inaugural meeting had been held on 20th March 1866. The Town Hall and the Office Complex was installed in the present premises (Dunuwille Walawwa) in 1870. It had been functioning under an elected Mayor since 1939 as it was under the GA, CP until then. The first elected mayor was Sir Cuda Ratwatte. Presently the Council consists of 24 members. The Governing Party (U.N.P.) has 14 and the opposition 10. Since Independence in 1948 it had been continuously run by the UNP up to date. I do not know whether there had been Mayors in the past who had left any significant mark in their achievements. But to my knowledge I had not seen any in the recent past. So this factor has definitely been a major bottle neck in improving the traffic arrangements in Kandy.

  I have spoken to many authorities on this subject for the past so many years. But only one person, that is Nimal Mediwaka who was DIG some time back accepted at least my short term suggestions I made as the Chairman of the Mahanuwara Senior Citizens Movement and implemented them for three days in the Dalada Veediya. It was hailed by everybody but unfortunately two prominent Government Ministers from the Kandy District ruined that scheme to appease their voters on the pavements. None of the others to whom I spoke paid any heed to what I said. They either pretended to know everything about it or just ignored me. So there after, I stopped talking about this subject. Who are we to talk about such important issues?

Driving in the streets of Kandy city I think is the most difficult thing a driver could experience any where in the world. As for me I hate it. It is simply because there is no system and there is no law observed. I have seen traffic management in some of the biggest cities like California, Washington DC, San Francisco, Chicago, Paris, London, Rome, Delhi, Bombay, Singapore, Shanghai, Seoul, Bangkok, Manila and Tokyo. Compared with them is this a city I wonder. I also have seen how systematically they manage millions of vehicles that pour in daily without any problem. Compared with any of them both in size and population Kandy could be easily accommodated in one of their street corners.

Kandy for me is only a small country townlet that want even strictly fall within the definition of modern cities. But in spite of its small size Kandy is still a “city” for us we Sri Lankans.  Even some foreigners during the colonial times have described it as the “ƒ”¹…”Garden of Hesperides”, though somewhat poetical. After all today it is the second biggest city in this country. So let us together sing blissfully “small is beautiful” going by Alfred Schumacher the father of intermediate technology in the modern world. At the same time it must be said without prejudice that this city is the worst place in the whole Island for reckless and lawless driving. Several times my car had been hit by drivers overtaking from all sides recklessly driving without any regard to all other drivers and all accepted traffic laws and civilized norms, perhaps thinking that thatperson is the only driver on the road. Before I could get a glimpse of the vehicle it vanishes in the street corners like a meteorite. Thanks god the only thing they don’t do is they don’t drive over and under your vehicle until you are knocked either from the front or the rear and turned upside down or rather such facilities like flying cars are made available to them.

As for the pedestrians they appear to think that it is their prerogative to walk all over. There is no distinction between the road and the pavement for them.  They monopolize the road at all times and just stray across and straight like wild buffaloes. More than the pedestrians it is the fault of the police who have failed to enforce the law and the municipality which has miserably faulted in it duty by failing to have the necessary road sings and even if they have they provide them in the wrong places. No wonder for a Municipality that has failed to effect repairs to its library Hall burnt on 2.2.2007 up to date. With regard to police officers often they are detailed at wrong places. I have seen many a time police officers detailed to control traffic at pedestrian crossings standing ten to fifteen feet away from the crossing point instead of directing the vehicles and people from the centre of the crossing point. Very often they get to a side and engage in friendly conversations with some one most probably known to them in this little town instead of controlling the vehicles. So it is no surprise that the pedestrians and the drivers take the law in to their hands and have their way. When once I mentioned this to a DIG he said he has not seen such incidents. I suggested that he travels incognito without uniforms, in a private vehicle to see whether what I say is true or not.

 In the first place thousands of vehicles from all over the country including through vehicles daily pour in from nine main roads (details given in the table). Busses coming from Kurunegala, Matale (two roads-Alawatugoda and Madawala) Mahiyangana, Tennekumbura and Talatu oya also pass across the city centre to their terminuses at the opposite end to the Bus stands in the Bogambara, Goodshed or the Clock tower. If the authorities had the brain to provide bus stands for these busses at their point of entry to the city the city would have got relieved of least of this volume.                                                                                                                         

Few Suggestions

First step

 Clear all the pavements and relocate the traders in new places so that pedestrian can go on the pavements and punish the people who walk all over the roads and let them cross the roads only at pedestrian crossings. It is also very important to regulate their crossing at these points without allowing them to cross all the time as they do now. Because the vehicles also have to pass these points to reach their destinations. Since there is no colour light system a police officer or at least a traffic warden should be detailed for duty at each such point.

All roads should have proper road signs and lanes, marked and updated regularly

Pavements have to be provided where there are no pavements or where they are not wide enough

Have parking bays at all bus stops within the city limits. No bus stop should be provided within a distance of one km at least from the main bus stations.

Do not allow passenger busses to pick and drop passengers in any other place other than at an authorized bus stop.

All vehicles should be strictly driven on the lane appropriate on its side. No vehicle should be allowed to crisscross the road by passing the lane rule.

All overtaking should be confined to the right side only.

Let them also have a separate lane for the ubiquitous three wheelers and stop criss-crossing particularly by motor cycles and three wheelers.

All vehicles should stop within at least 10 feet from the yellow line at a pedestrian crossing.

Prohibit parking in all streets or at least on busy streets like Dalada, Yatinuwara and Kotugodella

 Ban the following

Driving down Dalada Vidiya from Queens Hotel and left/right turning opposite Food city

Left turning at the clock tower round about of vehicles entering the city from Katukele side

Ban stopping all buses on the road near the bus stands, Eg stopping along the road near the former scout HQ. They should drop the passengers inside the bus stand only. This ban should apply to busses stopping near the Bogambara Prisons (on all sides) and near the central Market as well.

Enforce one way traffic where ever two way create problems EG All vehicles driving down the section between Kacheri and Colombo Street junction

Work out an intelligent vehicle flow network to avoid traffic jams like what happen presently at the clock tower round about. For example turning right and proceeding towards the railway station of vehicles coming from Katukele side here creates hell of a mess but no one seems to have given any thought to it.

Let the police officers on traffic duty stop talking to their friends while on duty and strictly concentrate on the job.

Have a school bus service operated by the MC (this will stop all private school vans coming in to the city and blocking all the by roads in the city near the schools)

Second step

Design a network of flyovers for vehicle at crucial points such as the Bogambara- Hospital junction on the Hospital road, the Railway station junction and the clock tower round about to avoid congestion and provide overhead bridges for passengers instead of marking pedestrian crossings on the road within the town limits.

Have over head bridges for passengers at all pedestrian crossings.

Encourage all shop owners to have their own under ground parking

Two overhead bridges near Queens Hotel for passengers and a fly over for vehicles coming up the Daladavidiya entering the Lake road.

Third Step

Have at least one Main bus terminus for vehicles coming from out stations at each of the four main entrances to the City outside the City limits at Peradeniya. Katugastota, Tennekumbura and Ampitiya and have a link up City bus service operated by the MC for the passengers to get to their destinations there from and get back to the relevant outbound bus station.

Relocate all wholesale business activities in places outside the city and stop parking of all vehicles on the streets. This will keep the Lorries out of the city. One has only to drive down the Colombo Street to see this mess.  Temporary parking where necessary may be allowed parallel to the pavements

Have a bridge over the Lake connecting the bend near Malwatta temple with the former Jatikapola on the other side linking up with the Anagarika Dharmapala mawatha with room for vehicles on the Lake road to pass under.

Provide a second car park towards the northern end of the town in front of the Kacheri.

There should be one central bus stand for the proposed MC bus fleet.

Open a railway line to Pallekele. An extension from Mawilmanda down the Mahaweli and crossing Mahaweli at Tennekumbura could minimize the cost.

Coordinate railway with the bus service by having bus stands near the Railway stations. And additional rail stops within the city at vantage points so that railway could be used by commuters as a cheaper and more convenient mode of transport within the city limits. (a subject that has never been explored since the construction of Kandy-Matale railway) An electric city railway shuttle service will greatly help the city commuters and reduce the pressure on busses. Further more a double track railway service from Kandy city to its peripheral towns like Gampola, Kadugannawa, Wattegama and Pallekele would be ideal for commuters from a future perspective. In fact we must now plan at least for 5o years ahead of us.

Construct a Circular road at least with three lanes encircling the city so that all through vehicles could bypass the city and go to their destinations without coming in to the city and disturb the city life. Then it will also be quicker for them as they need not waste their time in traffic jams in the city. In this regard I would like to suggest that it may be like Gannoruwa-Katugastota and Tennekumbura (all on the LB of Mahaweli) then Tennekumbura-Ampitiya- Rajapihilla Mawatha-Reservoir road- Hanthana- William Gopallawa “”…”Mawatha to Gannoruwa. Ampitiya Talatu oya road has to be linked up with Tennekumbura with a tunnel under the ridge.

Meanwhile I herd that the government has decided to construct an underground tunnel  for motor traffic from the Kandy Railway station to Buwelikada via the right bank of the Kandy Lake. It looks fantastic but I do not know how feasible and practical it would be from a cost- benefit point of view and what effects it will have on the surface buildings.  In any case such project should be undertaken only after a through feasibility study including geology, its possible effects on the environment, cost and the availability of alternatives to such a tunnel etc.

I think if the authorities responsible for city administration and traffic control can pay a wee bit heed to these suggestions setting aside their ego for a while and not getting offended as they normally do, when others try to talk about their domains, beauty and orderliness will return to the City of Kandy very early.

Could it be then again sung?

“God gave all men all earth to live,

But since our hearts are small, Ordained for each one’ spot should provide

Beloved over all.

Each to his choice’ and I rejoice”

That fairer– far than any’

The choice of mine’ is that divine’

Old Town beneath Hantenne’

                                       As Sir Hugh Clifford the celebrated British Governor (1925-1927) sang and printed the address “the Garden of Hesperides in the Paradise Island of Ceylon”  when he scribed a letter to his cousin at home in England way back in 1925.

One Response to “Traffic mess and congestion in Kandy”

  1. Ben_silva Says:

    The traffic problem is a symptom of over population. All major cities in Sri Lanka appear to be overpopulated, causing problems. We need to recognize the root cause of the problem and then think of solutions.

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