By Siri Gamage –
Kandy is the second city in Sri Lanka with pleasing climate and natural beauty located in the highlands attracting visitors from all around the world. It is home to a large number of professionals such as doctors, engineers in the public and private sector plus academics in the university, teachers and business people. Being home to leading schools and other education institutes, it draws a large number of primary and secondary students from feeder areas surrounding the city. Though some efforts are being taken by the authorities to provide better facilities for the resident and visitor alike, significant issues continue to impact on the quality of life, travel, and ability to enjoy what the city has to offer.
After my previous visit to Kandy in 2017, I wrote about these issues as well as Kandy Kassa (cough) that reflects the effect of diesel fumes coming from old style, degraded buses (both private and public) and other vehicles. Instead of improvement, the situation has further deteriorated by 2018 and people are badly affected. In this article, I elaborate the relevant issues further in the hope that the authorities will pay attention and take corrective action.
Kandy City: Is it People Friendly?
The situation has improved somewhat for the visitors –local and foreign- in the middle of the city i.e. the main road in terms of walking on both sides, and regulation of traffic with the installation of colour lights. Construction of tunnels to cross roads is a welcome sign. They are tidy too. However, a large volume of traffic moves through the main road/s in the city centre making the pedestrian walk on either side –though reasonably wide-congested. To make the place people friendly, more needs to be done with imagination.
In other countries, high volume traffic in city centres is diverted either by using by-passes, constructing driverless sky trains (as in Bangkok) or underground MRTs (like in Singapore, and even Indian cities). I am not sure if such ideas are being considered by those who are responsible for city development in Kandy? As you will see from the following issues, Kandy city centre and suburbs like Peradeniya are not people friendly. They are not vehicle friendly either. Commuters are struggling to reach the city and return on a daily basis.
Kandy-Peradeniya Road: Real Breeding Ground of Frustration
Movement of people-locals and visitors- between Kandy and Peradeniya should be a priority due to the location of the university, teaching hospital, and botanical gardens at Peradeniya as well as the location of private hospitals, schools, shops, temples and service outlets in Kandy city. I cannot see any progress is being made in this regard. Instead, what I see is further deterioration. Among others, this is a major concern for the people to adopt a negative attitude toward the current government also. People I talk to mention that their needs are not being addressed by the rulers.
The traffic situation between Kandy-Peradeniya is a major concern to the people, including dons at Peradeniya university and doctors in hospitals. Traffic moves at snail’s pace along the upper road releasing constant diesel fumes. At peak times, it is impossible to travel by degraded buses, car or even by three wheels. As the traffic on the upper road (Uda Para) moves very slowly, people are not able to go for appointments on time. Several dons at the university told me that they do not use their cars to visit Kandy anymore. Instead they use buses or hire a three wheel. The city administrators, traffic controllers and the government minister/s responsible for city development needs to find a long-term solution to this issue.
There are various service outlets along either side of the road such as specialist consulting centres but people have to face severe difficulties to access these outlets without putting their lives in danger from the passing traffic. Walking along either side of this road in safety is nearly impossible. The space for pedestrian walks are constructed above the narrow drainage lines on either side of road. However, they are blocked by parked bicycles, small stalls, and other stationary objects. The worse place is near the construction site of Asiri hospital. The City Council does not seem to take notice? The city planners and administrators do not seem to have any idea about the importance of having clear and safe pedestrian walks on either side of the road for the people to not only access service outlets but also to enjoy and do window shopping etc. In this situation, shop owners complain about lack of customers and better business.
Previously, I suggested that a sky train between Kandy and Peradeniya can resolve these issues. It can be built in the middle of the road above ground perhaps with public-private partnership. This can reduce the need for people to bring in their own vehicles to the city. Yet they can hop into the sky train and get down at key points such as hospitals, botanical garden, junctions, specialist centres and the city. Tourists will find it easy to move about between places with such facility. Motor accidents will also reduce. (I believe there was an idea of introducing bus stops at key entry points to the city and asking commuters to use a shuttle service between the city and places like Peradeniya and Katugastota. That idea seems to have lost steam now. Even then, the idea will not be a complete solution as vehicles will move between the locations).
Diesel Fume Issue and Health Impact
This is a serious issue affecting the people and some health professionals have commented on this before. Vehicles, especially sub-standard buses keep releasing toxic, diesel fume on to the road and two sides. People (men, women, children, elderly, sick and healthy) who travel in vehicles with open doors including buses, three wheels, inhale polluted air compounded with this fume. The effect on respiratory system can be enormous. I wonder if any studies have been conducted on this issue recently? Likewise, I wonder if the authorities are taking any steps to correct the situation? I see that vehicle checking process for fumes is in place but I can also see buses and other vehicles releasing high volumes of dark, toxic fume constantly. Surely, this is an issue that the Presidential secretariat should investigate if the relevant ministers and officials including those in the city are not paying their attention. Such issues reflect what is wrong in the governance of this beautiful country with too many layers and too many cooks who make bad soups.
I am told that the government of Indonesia has banned the use of diesel. Options such as the use of gas driven vehicles are used instead. We don’t seem to learn even from our Asian neighbours to resolve issues of this nature?
In Kandy city centre, parking issue has been solved to some extent with the Kandy City Centre(KCC) parking facility. If there is to be a cultural centre and a hotel etc. to be built in the old Bogambara prison site, it is vital that parking facilities are included in such plans.
Parking near the Botanical gardens, teaching hospital and the entrance to the university has become a real issue. Luxury and less luxury vehicles that bring in local and foreign visitors to the gardens park them on the hospital side of the road. After 9.00am, it is difficult to find parking in this area. It may be useful for the authorities to consider opening up some space inside the gardens for parking OR indeed consider building a parking facility inside university premises and build an overhead bypass across the road to the botanical gardens.
Kandy Market City Developments and the Market
While the situation of deterioration continues, there is some development work being carried out on the George E de Silva park apparently to beautify it with World Bank funding. The old Bogambara prison site is being re-developed apparently to establish a cultural centre and a hotel.
Kandy Market is a major venue that people come to buy not only vegetables, fruits, meat, spices, fish etc. but also clothes and other needs. Tourists also come to buy souvenirs in the upper floor shops. The space in front of the market is crowded and risky to walk due to vehicles, mainly three wheelers moving suddenly and fast without notice. This area, though the tunnels have been constructed well, is still not people friendly.
Kandy market itself needs re-development with better parking underground.
Peradeniya town also faces similar issues. Walking along two sides of the road is extremely stressful and risky. Heavy traffic moves through the town even though the alternate road via Gannoruwa has been constructed from Gatambe junction onwards to ease vehicular movement. At peak times, the junction leading to Colombo and Panideniya/Gampola at the end of Peradeniya bridge becomes a real bottleneck creating a problem for vehicular movement. A long line of buses, cars, three wheels, vans etc. move at snail’s pace making commuters angry and frustrated. What you see is a traffic police officer trying to do an impossible task. A simple solution could have been to build a small roundabout with flat surface.
Vegetable Market Stalls are an eye sore for a town of this nature. The tin roofing materials are degraded. Stalls are not well constructed.
During the previous government, there was talk about developing a town centre for Peradeniya toward Eriyagama side. Now not even that talk is present?
Peradeniya Railway Station –Petrol Bowsers Blocking Entry
By any stretch of imagination, this station should be a place where local and foreign visitors can access easily on foot and by car/van. Tourists take intercity train to Colombo, and other trains to Badulla from this station. Nonetheless, as the petrol supply station is located next to the railway station, bowsers waiting to get supply block the entry for visitors and locals alike. To make matters worse, there is a pile of unused stones obstructing the entry. Bowsers are being washed with a high-pressure pump on the remaining side. Entry is muddy when raining due to lack of water drainage on either side.
I am sure no amount of complaining on issues like this will draw the serious attention of authorities as petrol supply by bowsers rather than through rail is a subject clouded with vested interests. The two facilities will continue to sit side by side putting the comfort of station users secondary consideration.
To government’s credit, this stretch of road is being widened and re-developed. Nonetheless, the road has become muddy, watery, uneven and a danger to those walking. It is hoped that the road construction will accelerate and come to conclusion quicker! The issue arising from the parked petrol Bowsers affect both walking or using vehicles for travel. Parked bowsers along the river bank near the turn to Panideniya (yata Para) from Peradeniya side has become a crucial issue needing attention of authorities.
The inter-city train between Kandy and Colombo tells the story of the neglect even better. The cabins imported from Romania during Sirima Bandaranaike government are still being used. No air conditioning is available. Only old style, dirty fans provide air circulation with regular noise. Seats are very basic and made with steel. Closer to Colombo, it runs fast but becomes jumpy.
Why don’t the relevant authorities consider introducing a luxury train service between these two cities? What is preventing them from doing so? Is it the lack of imagination? Lack of funds and trains carriages? If the government cannot do the job, why don’t they invite the private sector?
While project based re-development is important, a city like Kandy and its suburbs need a coherent, holistic, and integrated plan with a corresponding vision developed in consultation with the public and key stake-holders in order to provide a place of enjoyment, comfort and utility to current and next generations of residents and visitors. Though there seem to be some activities designed to make the city better taking place under the guidance of relevant ministers, real bottlenecks continue to affect the health, comfort and enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. Given the Kudamma’s treatment given to the development of Kandy City in the past, it is time that the authorities of the Yahapalana government take a serious look at what is possible to make this city a world attraction without the daily discomforts and frustrations facing commuters. Coordinated, integrated and holistic action supported by proper funding and leadership is what is necessary with a clear city plan instead of ad hoc projects.
*The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org