Many people still don’t get that bikes are not just recreation, they are transportation. Even fewer people realize the impact that getting people out of cars and on to bikes can have on our cities. Bikes vs Cars, a new film by Fredrik Gertten, looks at the struggle to find a place for the bike in this world of cars that we live in now. Because as we have said on TreeHugger and Gertten says in his Director’s statement:
If all cities adopted the model Copenhagen, where forty percent commute within the city on bikes, it would be a radical change for the world. Something you can measure in health, pollution, oil-usage. And now the conflict. The car, oil and construction industry is in the centre of our economic system. They are the ones who don’t want change, and if only in their pace even if the planet needs instant action.
Gertten visits cities around the world, meeting bike activists who are fighting to improve cycling. It starts in Sao Paulo with Aline Cavalcante, who rides her fixie with toe clips in some of the worst traffic conditions I have ever seen. I am surprised that she is still alive. Also in Sao Paulo is the wonderful Raquel Rolnik, a professor at the School of Architecture and urbanism trapped in her little Fiat complaining about traffic.
Then it’s off to Los Angeles, where Dan Koeppel (seen on TreeHugger here) gives a history lesson in how cars took over, pushing cyclists and streetcar users off the road. He even takes us to the location of LA’s famous bike lane in the sky; I was surprised to see that its right-of-way still exists. Perhaps it’s time for a rebuild.
I think Gertten did a brilliant turn in Copenhagen; he could have perhaps interviewed Mikael Colville-Andersen or other bike activists like he did elsewhere, but instead looks at Copenhagen through the eyes of a taxi driver who just complains about cyclists get everything and clog the road, making it impossible to do his job. “They’re swarming like insects, everywhere!” It is truly comic.
Then Toronto. This was the hardest part for me to watch, the descent into hell under former mayor Rob Ford and his henchman the dismal Denzil Minnan-Wong, doing his dirty work in grinding out bike lanes. The Ghost bike rides with ARC that I have participated in too many of. Rob Ford may no longer be mayor but his policies live on as his replacement panders to Ford’s suburban base. The only thing that appears to have changed is that the statistics on how often pedestrians and cyclists get hit by cars (every 3 and 7 hours respectively) are sadly out of date.
In Berlin, we learn that Mercedes and BMW own the government; In Bogata, we get inspired by Liliana Godoy. There are ups and downs throughout.
I often use Rob Ford’s phrase, how he described every speed bump or bike lane as “the War on the Car” but as Gertten notes, we really have a well organized and financed war on the pedestrian and the cyclist by the automobile/oil complex. He tells Hilary Angus of Momentum:
We need to see who the enemies are, and we need to see how they work. And they work by selling themselves, promoting themselves as something good. They are working hard with the powers in politics to make them not do laws that are against their business. We need to see that, and understand that the biggest companies on the planet do everything they can to not change the world. They invest billions so we should not have a better planet.
The wonder of the film is that it is not totally depressing, a litany of stories of cyclists with their arms ripped off or crushed under buses. In fact, it is positive and uplifting, to see the work of activists in different cities, to realize that there are lots of people who believe that getting people on bikes really can make a difference in congestion and even climate. And unlike other things that we have to do if we are going to fix our cities and planet, it’s fun. Gertten tells Hilary Angus:
If we think about the bike, we can actually do something. And we can do it for pleasure. We can still consume, we can still have great dreams, we can still have fun. So it’s not even giving up something that we like to do. It’s very inspiring.
And so is the film, available now for rental or purchase on Vimeo.