BY T.V. PERERA
At the turn of the century, chaos and anarchy ruled the streets of Colombo, and that was not because city traffic was a mess then as it is now. Everyone will agree that traffic in Colombo has worsened in recent times; slow moving on all main trunk roads into the city not only during rush hours but also at normal times, and getting worse in the heart of Colombo. If Colombo is to accommodate the growing number of vehicles on its roads, the road network would have to be increased by three-fold in the not too distant future.
Colloquially known as traffic jams or traffic snarlups, traffic congestion is a transport condition characterized by slow speeds, longer trip times and increased vehicular queueing. When traffic is great, interaction between vehicles slows the speed of the traffic stream which results in congestion. Likewise, as demand approaches the capacity of a
road or its intersections, extreme congestion sets in. Traffic congestion also occurs when a column of traffic generates demand for space greater than that available, when vehicles are fully stopped for periods of time and also due to incidents such as a crash or roadworks which may reduce road capacity below normal levels.
According to the Time magazine, Sao Paulo in Brazil has the world’s worst daily traffic jam with over 300 kms of cummulative queues around the city during the evening rush hours. Last year, Mumbai was the worst city for traffic chaos where drivers can expect to spend an average 65% extra time stuck in a gridlock.
Individual incidents such as accidents or even a single car braking heavily could cause congestion, yet traffic research still cannot fully predict under which conditions a traffic jam as opposed to heavy but smoothly flowing traffic may suddenly occur. Of the over 4.4 million vehicles registered, around 2.7 million are on the roads causing the Colombo roads to be full with traffic congestion as an average 250,000 vehicles made up of 15,000 buses, 10,000 trucks and 225,000 private vehicles enter the city daily.
A man-made menace, traffic congestion has a number of negative effects such as being detrimental to the development of a country, killing productivity, and is a national waste. Not only does productivity and the sense of well-being go astray, it also leaves people angry, exhausted and depressed. To get stuck in a traffic jam of stress is really frustrating. Vehicle numbers increasing without any plan to expand road conditions and manage road discipline, is plainly visible.
The increasing vehicles contribute to long lines on the road yet no one seems to be interested in taking any positive and effective action other than the police which is responsible for controlling this mess. Successive governments have indicated intentions of taking corrective measures but nothing has been done to control road traffic which besides being annoying, is costing us billions of rupees and a massive financial and manhour loss as a result of no vehicular control in the Greater Colombo areas. Statistics reveal that there are 130 vehicles per 1000 people out of which 66% are motor cycles while three-wheelers and cars make up 45 vehicles per 1000 people. Very soon the number of vehicles on the road could grow to 5 million and there will be 250 vehicles per every 1000 persons which may concentrate around the city. This is contrary to the country’s needs of fewer vehicles carrying more people.