Alternatives to traffic congestion | Sunday Observer

Alternatives to traffic congestion

11 October, 2020

It is very difficult to find a major or minor town in any country which does not suffer from traffic congestion. Various countries try different techniques to reduce traffic congestion to minimise public inconvenience, loss to economy and pollution.

Traffic congestion occurs when there is an imbalance of available facilities (roads and parking places) and traffic volume. To solve the issue, either an adequate number of roads should be provided or traffic volume should be reduced. To have a better compromise, both can be tried parallel to each other to meet the space required for vehicles plying on roads.

Many scientific studies have proved that increasing road space by widening roads for increased parking spaces alone will not solve traffic congestion.There will always be new traffic generated to fill the extra road space or parking lots. Therefore, a systematic approach is required with due consideration to all the related aspects to combat this issue.

To increase available space for vehicle movement before building more roads, many things can be tried. Due attention should be paid to regain wasted space in roads which were meant for vehicle movement but now are used for various private purposes.

Given below are a few reasons for traffic congestion due to misuse of road space and the permitting of public roads for private use.

Inadequate space or improper locations of bus halts and the unavailability of proper bus bays is one such problem. The practice of waiting for longer periods at bus halts to pick more passengers add to the traffic congestion. Even if we have a road density of 1.50 km/km2 in our country, a significant number of roads have one lane in each direction. In such a situation, blocking traffic at a bus halt will create congestion upon other traffic .

Inadequate facilities at junctions such as an adequate number of lanes and dedicated lanes for vehicles turning right is another issue. Further, allowing drivers to change the lane during the last few metres at junctions also add to this problem.

Access roads

Providing too many access roads to roadside facilities from major roads add to this problem. The standard and scientific approach is to provide access roads to various properties through an existing access road or to connect all the access roads and connect such roads to main roads. In that way, turning from or to major roads will be controlled.

In mountainous roads and terrains slow moving vehicles are a major issue. If such vehicles cannot be restricted to operate during periods of less traffic such as late night, some passing bays also known as overtaking lanes may improve the traffic congestion especially in areas where only one lane is provided in each direction.

The other side of this story is the illegal occupancy of roads. A considerable number of garages, and tyre shops carry out their business on the shoulder of the road or sometimes encroach on to one lane.

There is a misconception that the road shoulder is ( space out of regular traffic lanes) is for parking. But the truth is, the shoulder is to provide a lateral support to the road and to park a vehicle only for a short period during an emergency or to use that space for avoiding an accident. When there are vehicles parked at the shoulder, drivers are not able to drive comfortably as there can be someone entering the road between parked vehicles. In some areas, idling buses park at the shoulder and they carry out all kinds of maintenance activities during such periods.


Various government and private organisations encroach the road space to provide parking facilities for their employees and customers also contribute significantly to this problem. Even though parking spaces provided in their layout diagrams of maps/plans as per the government rules and regulations, after obtaining the Cof C ( certificate of conformity) the owners of buildings convert such spaces for various other activities. This forces customers of such buildings/organisations to park their vehicles on road side spaces. It is a major contributory factor for traffic congestion.

Some organisations provide parking using the space between the main road and the building for the vehicles of their customers. This forces drivers to park at the edge of the road and reverse to the main road at the start of their journey. These are some situations overlooked by authorities working on traffic related issues.

If adequate attention is paid, a fair amount of space can be regained for the use of vehicular movement. Controlling vehicle volume is another approach to combat traffic congestion. In any city there are a few peak traffic times. For many cities 7:00 am to 8:00 am is a crucial time as many commuters travel during this time. Schoolchildren, office workers, hospital clinic attendees, shop owners and shoppers start their journey at this time. Again, in the evening around 2:30 to 3:30 and 5:30 to 6:30 also become critical due to school and office traffic.

Therefore, many countries enforce laws to ban time insensitive vehicles ( vehicles which donot have a time restriction such as heavy vehicles transporting building materials) to travel during such peak hours.Some countries either restrict driving during day time or provide incentives for those who are driving during night.


Many countries controlled traffic congestion through improving high quality integrated public transport systems. Through mass transit systems such as buses and trains the smaller vehicles can be controlled. Even if we have adequate infrastructure facilities for buses, in many parts of the country due to the poor quality of public transport the majority of people try to use their personal vehicles to fulfill their transport needs.

Distributing peak hour traffic , the problem may be controlled to some extent. Many countries use staggered opening hours to distribute the morning peak hour. If schools open at one time and offices at another time and hospital clinics, shops at different time slots people will travel at different times. Shops may open on Sundays and have a holiday on Monday to reduce the congestion. Anyway, since the social situation and culture in the country is different a few studies may be required to implement such rules.

Various countries made attempts to control vehicles entering busy areas using various concepts. One was banning vehicles entering traffic congested areas based on the number plate. We had Covid-19 peak restrictions based on the last digit of the identity card.

To promote high occupancy vehicles some countries provide a special lane for vehicles with more than two passengers .

Car sharing and car pooling are commonly used in some countries as a measure to avoid congestion.

With the popularisation of recent mobile phone app based rider sharing systems, some car owners joined a car sharing facility to drive with someone travelling in the same direction or to the same destination.

Park and ride is very popular in many countries to eradicate traffic congestion. In some cities large car parks are provided closer to railway stations, ports and airports for commuters to drive up to the station and ride on a public transport.

Finally, the contribution of driver behaviour towards traffic congestion should not be underestimated. Driver misbehaviour is a major contributory factor for traffic congestion in countries like Sri Lanka. Frequent change of lanes while driving, overtaking while there is a queue of vehicles are major issues in our country. Especially changing lanes during the last few metres of approaching junctions is one of the major contributory factors for congestion at junctions and a queue behind that.

Therefore, since we are not isolated on this issue and many countries are far ahead in handling. this problem, we should be able learn lessons from other countries and modify their practices to suit our culture and eradicate this issue.