Old movies teach traffic lessons

Old movies teach traffic lessons image

Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Italian Job | posted February 16, 2015 12:58

Traffic lessons from the 'The Italian Job'

Hollywood teaches

As they say, Life imitates art and vice versa. It may well be from an unlikely source, but Hollywood can teach our traffic managers a few tried and true valuable lessons. "The Italian Job", a film from 1969, has quite a cult following among petrol heads, specifically Mini fans. Starring Michael Caine, Nöel Coward, Benny Hill and Rossano Brazzi, it inspired the 21st century version, which is also about a daring heist using Mini's. In '69, the targeted loot was China's gold bullion in transit from Turin's airport through the midst of Turin's notoriously thick traffic.

Traffic in Turin 

The proud of Turin

Background: For over a hundred years Turin has been the industrial and technological capital of Italy and a rival to Milan. Being Piedmontese, the Torinese pride themselves as being more orderly than the average chaotic Italians south of Piedmont and Lombardy. Turin is also the home of FIAT, which, in the 60s, was one of the largest global car manufacturers. With the growing sales of home grown FIAT cars, traffic in Turin needed a solution. The synchronized traffic lights in block-grid cities like Washington D. C. and New York was way too crude for them. Turin did something better, something they could be proud of. They had a giant mainframe of a computer control all the city's traffic lights.

Grid block

This wasn't easy as Turin's street layout was a hodge-podge combination of grid, radial and ladder, with many major piazzas, dotted with untouchable ancient monuments and antiquities routed like rotundas. Though the traffic density was high, driving through Turin's traffic had a semblance of predictability; i.e. you can count on your daily commute to be always within the same consistent time, give or take a few minutes. Turin's traffic light computerization was so good that by the 2nd oil crisis of 1979, Mobil chose Turin to stage fuel economy runs wholly on Turin's city streets. But then we do not live in a perfect world.

Crash, then call for back up

Well and good for so long as the traffic lights all work, their consistency is unassailable. But that one time when one or two out of say 300 conk out, traffic, as if on hair trigger, grinds to a halt. What does this tell you? That the best coordinated and synchronized traffic light systems, even with multiple back ups is actually symptomatic of living on the edge, like a trip wire. Stray away from the straight and narrow, even in part, and the whole system ceases to function.

Benny Hill? That can't be serious

In the movie, Benny Hill planted malware in the computer mainframe and scattered gadgets on a few junctions that sabotaged the CCTV monitors. To this day, it is a truism in our computer dependent world, with multiple back ups, a few random glitches can indeed ground the entire system. Over here, we don't need a Benny Hill or a hacker to accomplish this standstill. A fender bender, self accident or a breakdown -rather frequent - at just one traffic light junction will throw a spanner at the smooth working of a large swathe of the system's coverage.

The C-5/Katipunan experience 3rd QTR 2014

In fact, in terms of predictability, easy redeem-ability in case of glitches or accidents, the cycle and duration of stops and go's in the traffic light system is magnified whenever there is a disruption. On the other hand U-turns and roundabouts, avoids this cycle of stops and go's with a continuous flow. It may have intermittent slow downs, lasting seconds in merging conflicts, but never a full stop that takes minutes to get moving again. Any regular commuter on Ateneo Miriam C-5-Katipunan can attest to the world of a difference of cumulative elapsed journey times when it's junctions were U-turn slots vs. today's return to traffic lights, which has infected Marcos Highway and Aurora boulevard with nightmarish traffic.

Diverting diversions

When the main route is clogged, it's time for an alternate route. To be able to penetrate the city wide traffic grid lock that Benny Hill's low tech hacking triggered, Michael Caine and his gang prepared alternate routes On the way to hijack the truck carrying the gold bullion, their Land Rover took them through sleepy residential parts of the city. To duplicate this kind of alternate route through the Metro would mean trying to get through gated communities which usually require a resident's sticker, technically, a non-option to begin with. But then there are residential areas, like old Sampaloc districts and some areas in Quezon City, Old Makati, Paranaque that are open to through traffic, though the route will be circuitous and usually, heavily populated with people living on the street.

Storm drain exit

Exit strategy

After successfully staging the heist, Caine and his gang's three Mini's, loaded with gold, escaped through a mall, a stadium and a sewer tunnel that took them to the River Po and on to an unopened Autostrada that led to the Val d' Aosta and Mont Blanc. The closest we in Asia have to the last segment of Caine's escape route is what Kuala Lumpur inaugurated in 2007 to solve not only the traffic problem, but also the city floods that sometimes take 3 to 6 hours to drain. The Malaysian authorities created SMART – storm water management and road tunnel – a 9.7km long 13.2m diameter storm drain tunnel incorporating a 4km long underground double deck stacked expressway. That took 4 years to build but it has been a success. If that's a bit too rich for us, then we can always follow the example of what Tokyo did for the 1964 Olympics and what the King of Thailand initially did to solve Bangkok's grid lock in the 90s; build elevated roads over disused "klongs", "esteros" and rivulets. MMDA's proposed QC-to-Pasig River Skyway from 2012 fits this description. The NLEx Metro link connector over the PNR tracks is a variation that follows this clever principle.

Hanging bus

The hanging bus airborne stunt

The Italian Job also provides lessons to others besides traffic czars. For instance, there's a lesson for our bus drivers who love going airborne on Skyways. For variety, they still haven't done the movie's hanging stunt, where the driver of the Bedford VAL bus, now carrying the 3 gold laden Mini's, over cooked a hairpin turn on the alpine pass and ended up teetering on the edge of a cliff. The closest our bus stunt drivers achieved was in 2012, when a Don Mariano bus tried to mount the Ortigas EDSA flyover parapet but ended up carving the barrier and falling on its side. Not quite and no cigar. But at least there was no lift off. To keep the Bedford bus from falling into the ravine, Caine and the gang had to gingerly re-apportion their respective weights and the bullion away from the hanging rear of the bus. When our local bus drivers get to do this hanging stunt, the further challenge is for how well the bus conductors can marshall the shifting weight of their shouting and terrified passengers.

Settling scores

For those who want to settle grudges in a spectacular but untraceable way can also follow the example at the opening scene of the movie. Rosanno Brazzi, the mastermind of the heist, was driving his Lamborghini across the Italian Alps into Switzerland, enjoying the drive as the Miura ballets through the alpine corners and switchbacks. As he reveled in the Lambo's unique and ferocious exhaust note coming into a tunnel, little did he know that the Mafia, angry at his daring plan on their home turf, was waiting for him. At the dark end of the tunnel was a giant payloader. Brazzi crashes into it and the car burst into flames. The payloader then bulldozes the Lambo out of the tunnel and into the roadside ravine.

Keeping score

Suppose you own the hottest night club in our country's version of Ibiza. Despite the cash you keep pumping to the local syndicate/warlord he still sent his thugs to elbow you out of your successful money spinner. Things are not helped as the local warlord is a partner of another thuggish billionaire from the Metro who brought it more thugs. But local warlord has a spoiled son who is proud of his jet set lifestyle. This son of warlord does the Punta Fuego-Puerto Azul high society circuit in his Lamborghini. All you have to do to get even, is to park a Payloader to wait at the opposite Punta Fuego/Nasugbu end of the Kaibiga tunnel and...

Charm gets you far

Aspiring social climbers, can learn a thing or two from Caine's girlfriend, Lorna. Lorna drove the regal black CD [corps diplomatique] plated Daimler Majestic Major of the ambassador of Pakistan. In any part of the world, this is impressive. This made befriending the manager of the Lancaster hotel in Bayswater, easy for Lorna. Who in turn agreed to a huge "girlie" welcome party for Caine after she sprung him out of Her Majesty's Prisons. A few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world of the jet set was invaded by exotic models from East Europe and Latin America. Many of these girls knew where to find the good catches then but they didn't need a Daimler nor a Mercedes. Their eye catching presence was unmistakable at the Diplomat's cordoned section of any Polo match at the Polo club. In time, they struck friendships with the lonelier males of the said club, and the rest, as they say, is history.

You can do it

Lastly, with the roadbuilding program of the DPWH, we are in for more and more alpine like driving roads. With tourism promoted as a big thing, a large chunk of the local banks' loan portfolio is going to fancy resorts all over our shores and peaks. Compared to two decades ago when the few lonely winding roads we had led to nowhere civilized and/or went through guerrilla infested territory, more people today take long weekend drives to distant scenic destinations as the worries and dangers of old have vanished. Such are the kind of roads that will goad us into buying sports cars that we can drive to our hearts content. Perhaps a Lamborghini ? Cue the music. "On days like this" by Matt Munro, the theme song of "The Italian Job."