Mastering Colombo traffic with secret short cuts : practical steps

This post covers the practical parts of mastering Secret Colombo Short Cuts (SCSC). If you don’t know what that means read the 2+ minute intro post. It will prepare you to master the Triple Swords of Colombo Traffic.

These are:

  1. Geography (physical and social)
  2. Climate (political and meteorological)
  3. Whims of traffic deities

Their purpose is to give perspective to the layered chaos of Colombo’s traffic “patterns”. Each sword filters a particular layer of awareness. Which you must later integrate with the others.


Physical Geography

Physical SCSC geography is about obstacles. There are two types:

  1. geographic obstacles
  2. road terrain

For SCSC, waterways are the primary geographic obstacles. That means the Kaleni river, the city’s canals and the lakes. These “moats” create choke points in the road system. They squeeze traffic through a few crossing points with bridges. If you got a short cut with a bridge that avoids these choke points, you have hit the ultimate SCSC treasure.

Clearance of your chariot is another forgotten part of geography. SCSC are narrow side roads by default. A majority of these look like dried up river beds with bomb craters. In most cases, there is no space for two three wheelers to pass. A chariot small enough to to fit in these narrow lanes may have axel breaking ground clearance issues.

Yet it is the girth of your chariot that decides who gets into the gutter or who backs out when confronted with on coming traffic in a one car road. A true SCSC master can resolve such matters with their mystic powers.

Social Terrain

Social Terrain to SCSC is what people do in certain places at certain times. A core feature of the city’s social terrain are the peak travel times. The big ones are the commutes: 7am – 9am and 5pm – 8pm. In between is the early afternoon school rush (12 – 2pm).

These predictable eruptions of congestion have their own internal dynamics. The intensity of the clog moves through specific areas during certain times. They send ripples of secondary congestion across the city.

Social terrain breeds specialists in localised short cuts. These people clog up the near by SCSC options which at other times are easy going.

Key areas of social terrain are around

  • School zones
  • Popular protest areas such as Colombo’s political circus, ministry of Edukeyshun and wherever university students protest
  • Any religious institution capable of staging a procession/event
  • Events involving high security (in the war years these were big)


Political Climate

In the old days that meant road closures due to check points and bomb blasts. Now its some sort of riot/protest demonstration involving the usual bag of desperate and deprived demographics. However it is the larger scale theatre by established political actors that can clog your options. You need to be alert for such activities if your SCSC go though political hot zones.

The weather

When it rains, Colombo floods. That’s not a metaphor. The flooding is real. Irrespective of your views on climate change or the forecast, think about

  • the drainage along your SCSC (most won’t have any)
  • if they connect to flood prone main roads (most main roads in Colombo are flood prone)
  • the proximity of rivers/canals (a very obvious danger).

Whims of traffic deities and their minions

The traffic deities are always remixing the city’s traffic patterns. The “Uni-flow” system of one way traffic flows was one of their bigger earthquakes. Views on the benefits of such work is one sided. The only opinions you hear are the tirades of inconvenienced and the enraged.

What is clear is that each remix triggers worm piles of complexities. The knock on effects are too much to think about let alone explain. As with all things, each change is transient. The SCSC master is always primed for such chaos. She or he is never dependent on institutional reliability, consistency or logic. Like integrity in politics, such things are theoretical constructs. Created by drunks to torment the naive.

Putting it all together

Mastery of these swords mean using them as a single continuum. They are instruments of the orchestra. Awaiting your genius to create a path through the madness.

Use the swords to think about localised conditions along your route. Know that all local conditions are linked. An event at X will trickle down through a web of interlinked factors. Resulting in delays at Q. Giving you an idea of how doomed your travel objectives really are. Above all try to time your travel during the congestion windows between the day’s three “rushes”. For most, an impossible privilege.

Technology is a feeble crutch. The only “tool” I can suggest is Google Maps satellite view. It may reveal hidden paths unmarked on “formal” maps. The traffic conditions option will only show the obvious.

Yet nothing matches the ordeal brewed instincts of the true Secret Colombo Short Cuts master. Who senses the eddies of traffic from behind the wheel. While Juggling the multiple insane priorities of life. As the cellphone rings the usual shrill demands. Where are you? Why are you late? When will you get here?


11 thoughts on “Mastering Colombo traffic with secret short cuts : practical steps

  1. > “As with all things, each change is transient. The SCSC master is always primed for such chaos. She or he is never dependent on institutional reliability, consistency or logic. Like integrity in politics, such things are theoretical constructs. Created by drunks to torment the naive.”

    Brilliant 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not familiar with Thalawathugoda area. There are major water barriers between that and the city. What part of CMB do you travel to ? You might have better luck once you enter the inner city.

      One strategy is to see if you can avoid the Battamulla choke point by going south of the parliament via the Ruhunupura, Mirihana, Nugegoda vector using side roads. The Kirulapona canal is still a major obstacle. However satellite view of Google maps will hint at a few less constricted crossing point 😉

      You’ll still need to do some recon trips on weekends to check out the options.


      1. I come to Colombo 7 for work. Yes trouble is avoiding Battharamulla and Rajagiriya. Those choke points are created bacause of the waterways and there is no parallel routes connecting Colombo. Route via Nugegoda is one option and there is one more via Thalangama – IDH and then back to Cotta Road. But those are 3-4 km longer.


      2. 3-4km is nothing if the long route lets you move without sitting in traffic 🙂

        SCSC are about compressing time not space. The longest route tends to be the fastest.


  2. Spot on! I usually travel very early to work to avoid the really horrendous traffic… and then I leave a little late so that I don’t get stuck in traffic when I’ve had a long day

    Liked by 1 person

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