More notes on the Southern Expressway

Today Shilpa and I embarked on an 8-hour journey along the Galle Road to get a sense of how businesses are affected by the loss of car traffic to the highway. We drank milk at Monis, ate rolls at Sinharaja bakery, drank thambili on the side of the road. We had a lot of chats with the managers of business large and small, from ones established in 1896 to one that opened two years ago, who generously made time for us and our questions. In short, yes, of course their businesses have lost a lot of customers because of the new highway, but their stories are much more nuanced and rich than that one-liner. Here are real people struggling to make ends meet, and each story is worth telling. They’re funny and sad and generous and hopeful and frustrated and hanging on by the skin of their teeth. I’m writing an article on some of these hidden costs of the highway for MIT’s CoLab, and just this one day’s worth of interviews made me realise that there’s a wealth of information that could potentially be very useful data for when the network of highways expands, especially to Kandy. I’m thinking maybe a summer project?

Notes on the Southern Expressway

I love good public transport, for a number of reasons that are more poetic than practical.┬áIt’s not an environmental thing or and economical thing, even though I feel good about myself when I pay only 15 rupees to get from Lunawa to Kollupitiya. Apart from the fact that I would hate to drive myself around (having to concentrate on the road would mean I wouldn’t be able to retreat into my dreamworld, or settle down with a book) I also really enjoy people-watching. I like that funny feeling of having my life momentarily collide with those of my fellow commuters. Sometimes they do interesting things, sometimes they’re extraordinarily nice, and sometimes they are unbelievably crabby, and always there is potential for a Story. This is why even being driven around isn’t quite as fun as taking the train or bus. I’m particularly fond of the train at home, partly because it is so convenient (6 minute walk from my house to the station!), partly because it runs parallel to the sea, and partly because there is no traffic. I also love living in Cambridge, with my $35 monthly pass getting me anywhere by train or bus. The bottom line is that I love public transport, even though my reasons are not based in logic. Continue reading