21 November, 2019

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Expanding Our Tool Set To Build Utopia (Traffic)

By Kasun Kamaladasa

Kasun Kamaladasa

My intention of writing this article is not to say we are wrong to approach answers the way we do, but to explain how to approach questions and provide multiple answers that are true to different degrees. Being able to view the world in a broader sense as individuals I believe would help us form communities that do the same, forcing politicians/professionals to be more keen on their answers to our complex problems.    

When home computers started becoming popular around the 1990’s people were afraid that the data inside the computer can be easily accessed. The solution IBM came up with was to have a key that would prevent access to power button, hard disk and/or keyboard. I guess that having keys protect a computer seemed normal those days since keys protected many other things. But the problem with keys however was that they could be easily bypassed/copied/stolen or even misplaced.

The concept known as the law of the instrument, otherwise known Maslow’s hammer states that “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

Looking at many problem Sri Lanka faces today makes me feel that very few people actually understand how to apply this in real life. 

Traffic and Travel

It amazes me how we are close to 2020 and people are amazed and admire highways as if they are seeing a pyramid being built in 2611 BC. We can’t seem to get enough of highways and many people judge the capacity of a political party by the number of highways they build. But no one seems to ask the question is it practical to build nationwide highways, how much money will it cost, where will we get this money from or at least how much of our environment we will be destroying to make them.

Current government seems to think that increasing traffic fine rates will prevent offences and reduce traffic and accidents. But think of the impact it will have on people. A person who earns 20,000 a month who will pay his traffic offence and be hungry for the rest of the month as opposed to a person who earns 400,000. Who will happily give 5,000 and be rid of frustration and travel faster to their destination. So shouldn’t fines be increased if at all, according to a persons’ income and wealth (or the value of the vehicle for simplicity) rather than equal amount for everyone? When it comes to drivers shouldn’t there be two fines, one for the driver and the other for the employer? After all employers should be responsible to hire competent drivers or at-least train them to be competent.

Some people are fighting for more public transportation, which is great and might ease the traffic a little bit but again we fail to question do we have roads that can facilitate increased amount of buses, do we have proper bus halts, located outside the traffic lane, that are necessary to reduce traffic, do we have rules that ensure the safety and dignity of public transport users? Sure, we can solve all these problems with time, requiring buses to have minimum sound pollution (from engines and music), having proper codes of conduct for passengers, conductors and drivers, have bus companies that share profits rather individual buses to fend for themselves (naturally being compelled to break the law and compete with each other to gain more profit), an Island wide traffic police to enforce these rules and so on… However, without going through all the hassle can we think of reducing need for travel? 

Travel more by not traveling at all

Everyone who seems to talk about transportation fails to ask the simplest question, why do people travel so much in the first place? Can we reduce that? And the simple answer is yes and we can reduce it significantly!!!

Recently when I wanted to travel by train and buy a ticket it surprised me to learn that if I were to buy a ticket online or through phone it would cost me significantly more than if I were to buy it from the station. So instead of staying at home my friend ends up traveling to the train station to buy the ticket for a different date causing unnecessary travel. For example, if daily 200 people travel like this needlessly to a train station it is obvious that there are lot more people in the street than it should be. Now you might argue that not so many people travel to buy a ticket, but we do travel a lot for things we could have easily done from home, if the service providers think a bit. 

People travel to big cities to fill in applications of all sorts. Why government organizations that call-in more than 1000 applicants each month or even each week can’t move to online applications puzzles me. (Instead of asking thousands of people to travel to the city we can deploy a few people in every village that helps people understand how to fill in applications through the internet)

Appearing at a basic court hearing that is more of a custom than an actual requirement can also be easily done through the internet. Paying fines for minor offences too can be easily moved to an online system instead of visiting police stations (again if fines are dependent on income it will already be an inconvenience to everyone).

For Interviews, there are government offices that interview ~700 people to pick a peon for their office why do we waste so much money and time, even if it didn’t create traffic. All these problems can be solved by creating a national plan to reduce such unnecessary travel or reward people who do initiate such things by themselves.

Travel related to Work & Education

Another reason people travel a lot into cities is for Jobs and Education. Most jobs and education can actually be facilitated through internet (The internet if not for the oligopolies of the sector could be much cheaper). People are going to argue that lectures aren’t the same listening to at home or that people will not listen to lectures. But there are enough technologies to make people more attentive than a normal classroom of ~300 students where people mostly just sleep or daydream. You could say people don’t do their jobs as efficiently at home but that is not always true, especially goal oriented jobs can easily be done from home with a few visits to the office a week.

Enforcing and Educating people about labor laws can reduce traffic and improve road safety. In Sri Lanka like most countries if a person who is traveling to/from work meets with an accident the work place is responsible for the wellbeing of that person yet most companies conveniently seem to avoid this responsibility especially when their workforce is young or uneducated about their rights as employees. Companies would in such a situation be forced to either provide accommodation close by, or provide transport with buses and vans instead of unsafe motorcycles and three-wheelers.

Planning roads according to needs of all people and not just the elite 

According to motortraffic.gov.lk, in Sri Lanka, we have seven motorbikes for each car yet we don’t have a single road that accommodates motorbikes with special lanes, we don’t have special safety training for motorbike riders or proper guide on what pathways a motorcycle can take during traffic. Not a single political party that seem to represent “majorities” to get majority votes have even spoken out to help this invisible majority.

It gets even worse when you look at an even bigger majority that uses roads, they don’t have a place in roads at all. With no shelters from sun, no pavement in ~90% of roads and the ~10% roads that have them being occupied with parked cars or imaginary lanes of three-wheelers and bikers. Pedestrians are the most ignored but possibly the most important component of traffic.

Pedestrian only zones

Not all roads need to be accessible by vehicles we could build car parks and encourage people to walk in designated pedestrian-only zones in places like Town hall. It would help people achieve the WHO recommended per day walking distance of 8 k.m. allow vehicles like ambulances faster travel in the area and make a much healthier nation as well.

Alternate transports

When we take nationwide travel aside and think about our day-to-day work/school travels the importance of highways and even vehicles shrink even more.

Today we have bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, hover boards and wide variety of personal transportation methods that are healthy to both the environment and individual, but non-of these can be used in our cities with an infrastructure that’s supporting only motor vehicles, leading people to use a bus or three-wheeler to go a mere 1 -2 k.m distance.

Improving traffic without Improving travel.

A major cause for traffic apart from vehicles and pedestrians are our cultural kinks that we are so unwilling to partway from. Parades, Protests, Dansal, Funerals, etc. There are thousands of solutions that we can come up with but for any solution to work we should as individuals understand and accept that our right to cultural and spiritual satisfaction shouldn’t come at the expense of others. A government can create open spaces, maybe open up places like independent square and parliament grounds as places where people can gather to enjoy such events without blocking whole roads and demanding everyone to suffer for their sake.

Economic policies can also increase traffic, for example in Sri Lanka we have a maximum price set for most factory products this discourages small shop owners to buy products themselves since they might not be able to profit if the transportation cost is high. Instead factories are responsible to deliver their products all over the Island and for factories it is cost effective to send big lorries filled with their products all over town causing unwanted traffic in streets.

Education

Teaching both the public and traffic planners, why using zebra crossing as much as possible and obeying traffic lights, not changing lanes often lead to a better flow of traffic. Teaching complex mechanics like why not to build too many alternative routes that individually causes no problem, but when combined at multiple location creates more traffic than the original road, is also important. It is essential here to understand this “teaching” is not to be limited to schools and universities. 

The reason why I said teaching instead of educating is because education requires understanding as well instead of simply stating something, if traffic lights are manipulated to let every politician pass freely, if traffic lights are insanely long or short, work on somedays and not others, if cars don’t stop for pedestrian crossings when they are green, if there is no shelter from rain and sun… you cannot effectively educate anyone to use it properly, so teaching people about pedestrian crossings are useless if we don’t fail to understand their psychology of not using it.

Finally 

As a nation we must understand that any expense on an individual in the end affects us indirectly. When thousands of people waste their time and money to travel in a daily basis it not only increases the Traffic but reduces their ability to take part in our economy and reduces their mental and physical health as well. 

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Latest comments

  • 3
    0

    Walking the Talk: This author is a talking like many others typical of his generation. They want to have all the comforts and at the same time condemn them too. As long they are used by others, they should be condemned. If they are used by them then they should have more of them.
    .
    Recently a child of one of my friends, told me accusingly, “You guys have destroyed the world and we have to suffer because of that”. Then she went in to a harangue about Global temperature rise, rise in sea level, extreme weather and all that stuff that we hear every day. On being asked what we can do about it she said that, we have to use low emission vehicles, more public transport, use sustainable energy and all that usual stuff.
    .
    Then her father walked in and told her, “let us start now, otherwise you will be late for school” and they started walking towards their gas guzzling GMC SUV. While walking with them, I told the girl, ‘you know Samanthika, we used to walk to school. It was a 2 km walk. We did not have a car. The buses were rare and the walk was pleasant. I saw the first electric bulb at the age of 8 when we visited a friend of my father in Negombo. I came home surprised and told my friends that they even had a bulb in the toilet – an ultimate in luxury. You are going to school in a gas guzzling GMC SUV. Why don’t you walk to school?’
    .
    She said, ‘Uncle I am already late’ and ran to the GMC. This is the problem. They do not walk the talk.

    • 3
      0

      Edwin,
      I agree with you more.
      I know how the youth of the day would feel regarding many things today. Not just they themselves, but parents are to be blamed for not to have raised them properly. Those electronic gadjets are above their life styles in today s youth. Parents obvioulsy have no idea about Internet and those sophisticated gadjets. In our days, we were taught hard earned things would last longer. Today, they the youth are blessed with easy accesses.

      We in Eruope, walk sometimes few Kms to catch our bus or tram to move from A to B. But one of my nieces happened to visit me few years ago, did not like walk down for a 0.5 km distance. Nor wanted my brother once he visited me here. They have been made lazy by not having thought about the harm they do to them by their own. Consequently, more in asian people regardless of their nationality are reported to be highly vulnerable to Diasbetes and the like health problems. Sport medics are in the view so long people would not care abou ttheir physical excercises and the foods intake properly, things would not change towards the health of the people.
      Smart phone are seen in the hands of Samanera monks today. Who offered them the kind of gadgets today if not their lovely lay people. I think our people should be more educated and be self,engageed with the issues, else, nothing can change towards the improvement of the kin dof issues in my home country.

  • 2
    0

    Dear Kasun Kamaladasa,

    I quite simply have no time to read this article now, and then I have some travelling to do. I see that it has drawn two unfavourable comments. That is unfortunate.
    .
    I have read and enjoyed some of your earlier articles. I hope that other readers will take you a little more seriously than these two do. I will probably read this on a mobile phone. Best wishes to a young man from an old.

  • 3
    0

    Dear Edwin Rodrigo and Desperate Sinhalaya,
    .
    I somehow found the time to read your comments, and look at the article. Now I have a confession to make.
    .
    Tomorrow, early morning, I am making an “unnecessary journey”. I’m to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a fortnight. My younger daughter, who has been there for the past four years insisted that I come, and sent me the return ticket. On the face of it, the case against me is damning.
    .
    However, please note that I haven’t flown for 24 years; before that I had been to the Maldives and to Oman to work there. On not one of twelve those trips did I get to the airport by anything other than by bus. I carried little out of the country. The return to Bandarawela was twice by taxi shared with another guy – we used to bring a lot (some of it admittedly rubbish) back with us.
    .
    We all make mistakes, sometimes. Edwin, your “pretty little acquaintance, Samanthika” is a common enough type. Pretty? Who said so? I’m imagining that part of it. Contrast with the housemaids on whose earnings this country has been surviving for so long.
    .
    Is it not the same, when, instead of reading what Kasun Kamaladasa has written, you condemn all young people? Let’s be more responsible. Thanks, Kasun.

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