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One-way streets in Colombo

by Fathima Razik Cader

Currently, the Traffic Police from Traffic Headquarters in collaboration with the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, is fine-tuning an exercise that will be fully implemented in the near future - that of introducing one-way streets in the city of Colombo and the suburbs.

As a matter of fact, the stretch of road from the bridge at Saranankara Road, Colombo 6, to the roundabout at Maya Avenue, Colombo 6, is one-way for traffic heading into Colombo during peak hours (from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.) on working day. Officers from the Traffic Headquarters have been on the job, directing traffic from the 9th January, and find that the flow of traffic is that much smoother with lesser traffic jams and congestion. Traffic moving (South) to Kohuwala or beyond on the stretch of road is directed along Maya Avenue, into Stratford Road and to the bridge at Saranankara Road.

One-way streets, an exercise that is fully operational and very effective in developed countries, might just be the answer to Sri Lanka's painfully slow movement of traffic during peak hours on any given working day - and with schools in session, it becomes that much more difficult for commuters to reach their destination in time.

In addition, a salient point that most people fail to realize is the high costs involved in fuel consumption. In fact is has been proved that one-way streets brings in its wake, a tremendous saving to the country in terms of fewer accidents, less repairs to vehicles, saving fuel and most importantly, time, which makes a positive contribution towards productivity.


Extensive and intensive research has been done by the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Moratuwa, prior to putting out its report. Transport - be it for people or goods, is an essential component of day to day life, so much so that even at this late stage, one has to take cognizance of the need to implement a feasible system of traffic flow in the main cities in Sri Lanka. There are a few road links that are presently being used as one-way streets in Colombo and some of the other major towns.

But such streets and the flow of traffic have not been properly researched or planed prior to making them one-way streets. This is obvious when one sees the chaos and confusion prevailing due to some reason or other. In the city of Colombo where the flow of traffic is the highest, it is feasible to introduce the one-way traffic system in view of the city's streets being laid in a grid pattern.

The existing road network in Colombo is divided into Radial Links and Orbital Road Links. The former describes road links that start in the city centre and connect with the District centres. These are also called Arterial Routes. The latter Orbital Road Links connect with the arterial routes, intersecting at certain locations, thereby taking on traffic flow through these roads. Research shows that arterial routes are conveniently designed whilst the orbital links have not been properly laid. This is because such links have been built from time to time to meet a need at that particular time and with no forethought on how such links could or would affect the network at a future date. Arterial roads provide access to the city whilst orbital links serve as distribution and collection points of traffic.

Bus routes are basically on the radial road links and orbital links contribution to bus routes are minimal. An exception however, in this regard is Baseline Road (Danister de Silva Mawatha), as its characteristics such as increased capacity and improved geometry are different from other orbital links in addition to being expanded to six-lane two-way standards from the Kelanitissa Power House Junction to Kirullapona Junction on the High Level Road. The main Radial Corridors are the Kandy Road (A1), Galle Road (A2), Negombo Road (A3), High Level Road (A4), Kaduwela Road and Old Avissawella Road (called Low Level Road). Some of these roads, however, do not continue up to the Fort (in Colombo) but are connected to the main radial road links and make up the main radial road network.

Identified by different names, these roads are connected to the commercial centres - viz: Fort, Pettah, Maradana, Kollupitiya, Bambalapitiya and Town Hall among others. Galle Road, Baudhaloka Mawatha, Ananda Cumaraswamy Mawatha, Horton Place, Ward Place, Union Place, Maradana Road, Central Road, Jethawana Road and some other roads serve as main access roads. Almost all of them are bus routes as well.


Sri Lanka badly lacks and needs dedicated Bus Lanes. None of the roads on the radial link have this provision currently due to high volume of peak hour traffic flow that takes up the entire road capacity.

The orbital road links are also not capable of catering to through traffic due to the existing alignments in addition to the sub-standard dimensions of cross-sectional elements. Research reveals that this has also resulted in many drivers not using these roads on a regular basis.

The constant traffic congestion on these roads affects the capacity available at intersections of the main roads. To aggravate the situation even further, pavements (or side-walks) and/or shoulders are also not available on most roads, resulting in pedestrians being forced on to the roads, thereby causing unwanted obstruction and also inviting danger as this situation is bound to lead to accidents. What most road users (both pedestrians and drivers) have observed and are critical of is the haphazard placing of electrical and telecommunication poles on the pavements.

The report has identified the most congested sections of road -i.e. from the Kelanitissa Power House to Fort on the A1 Highway, Thimbirigasyaya area on the A4 Highway, Union Place, Ward Place, Maradana Road, Cotta Road, Galle Road on the A2 Highway, and from Dehiwela to Galle Face in Colombo 3. The city's commercial hub - the Fort, in addition to being highly congested, also has very limited space and lacks sufficient parking space. This results in great inconvenience not to mention the waste of fuel in circling the area in search of parking space. And by driving around the area to find a parking slot, the drivers add to the problem of congestion.

But who can blame them? In addition to the current stretch of road made one-way during peak hours in the morning of any working day, Duplication Road (R. A. de Mel Mawatha), Fort, Union Place and Maradana will also have the one-way traffic system introduced in the near future. However, roads that are presently closed to traffic will not be included in this exercise.


This positive move in easing traffic congestion has the blessings of the Inspector General of Police, Indra de Silva. The Senior Superintendents of Police and Superintendent of Police of the Traffic Headquarters are fully committed in continuing this programme to its fruition with the input of the Department of Civil Engineering of the University of Moratuwa. No doubt they will receive the blessings of the millions of commuters on busy roads who stand to gain the most in terms of time, energy and money.

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