Super Colossal

The Perpetual Traffic Machine of New New York

Tuesday, 17th July 2007

The episode ‘Gridlock’ from the third series of the revised Dr Who just aired here in Australia. In it, the Doctor takes Martha to New New York on New Earth to see the site and to show off his mad time travelling skillz.

Almost immediately, Martha is kidnapped by a young couple who need her to make up the numbers so that they can get into the transit lane which will take them down to the fast lane. You see, traffic in New New York has become so bad that if you are not in the fast lane it can take twelve years to reach the off ramp of the motorway. In the transit lane it takes about six years. Manhattan has become one giant on ramp. Cars waiting in line, travelling at a cool 5 miles every six years.

dr who gridlock

The Doctor races off to rescue Martha, cos he digs her wide eyed wonder, jumping into a passing car occupied by another young couple, one of whom - the husband - is a cat which goes unexplained and unquestioned, and which is the very reason why DR Who is such exceptional television.

This situation of perpetual traffic obviously has a its side-effects - there is chronic pollution on the motorway and drivers fear opening their doors lest they die of asphyxiation. And the cat/human couple have been on the road so long that they have had time to breed kittens none of whom have ever seen the sun. There is of course a whole lot more to it than that, for instance there is a cat-nun and a giant billion year old face too, but I won’t spoil how it all unfolds for you…

dr who gridlock

The idea of an infinite road, of perpetual traffic forever does not seem so far fetched. I am stunned whenever I happen to be out on the road during peak hour where people wait patiently for the traffic to crawl through the latest bottleneck. What happens when a 45 minute wait turns into a 2 hour wait? Then a 6 hour wait? You may as well set up camp at this point. Which is what happens when there is a brake-down outside of Sydney at the end of a long weekend just outside of sydney. Traffic slowly coming to a stop, passengers eventually overcome by boredom and curiosity get out of their cars and have a look around. Wander up the street trading speculation with neighbouring cars on the reason for the gridlock.

dr who gridlock

Something like the antithesis of the 10 Mile Spiral by Aranda/Lasch; a project of anti-congestion, one of incessant movement. Where traffic moves so slowly that it is entirely feasible to imagine a makeshift, ad-hoc community forming temporarily around traffic incidents, wireless networks providing communication between cars, makeshift structures strung up between cars, a local council of transitory, popularly elected bureaucrats.