'48 Hours' tests New York's hideous traffic

July 10, 1991|By Walter Goodman | Walter Goodman,New York Times

People who do not have to drive in New York City may get a kick out of "Driven to Extremes," tonight's edition of "48 Hours" (10 p.m. on Channel 11).

New Yorkers may feel that the kick in the report on Manhattan traffic is to where they live, but they are famous for bearing the unbearable when they aren't shooting one another over a parking space.

The program moves a lot faster than the 880,000 vehicles that it notes enter New York every day, bringing the total to four times as many cars, vans and trucks as parking spaces. The vignettes are well chosen and sharply delivered.

Viewers find themselves with a woman whose morning commute takes an extra half-hour because an oversize tractor-trailer has to be backed off a bridge, which diverts

traffic to the tunnel she depends on to enter Manhattan; with a brown-uniformed traffic officer who writes 45 tickets a day ("They hate us with a passion," he says of his fellow New Yorkers); with busy tow trucks ("All of New York City is a tow-away zone," says an official, and one tow jockey boasts he would tow away his mama).

There are visits to the city's traffic-control center, where news that an airplane has landed on Broadway is taken as a "not unusual" event; the Parking Violations Bureau, where accused violators arrive in high dudgeon and with far-fetched tales. ("It's hard to believe," an official tells one man, "that all six summonses fell off your car.")

There are rides in an Emergency Medical Service ambulance whose siren and flashing lights are ignored by other drivers; with Manhattan residents going through the ritual of moving their cars from one side of the street to the other so that the sweeping machine can make a pass at the curb, the longest journey by car some of them will make during the week (Bill Geist, the "48 Hours" reporter, calls it an alternate lifestyle); with aspiring taxi drivers learning to speak English, in a manner of speaking, and with a cabbie cum stand-up comic whose sit-down comments on street life crackle right along even while he is stalled in traffic.

Listening to the non-stop yakking of that stop-and-go navigator of streets clogged with double-parked trucks and avenues undergoing incessant repair, New Yorkers can identify proudly with his ability to endure daredevil drivers, suicidal bicycle messengers and nearsighted pedestrians day after nutty day.

And the rest of us may eke out a laugh at the sight of a Rolls-Royce being towed from in front of a disco.

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