Saturday, April 18, 2015
"Bikes vs Cars" lays out the pressures on cities to squeeze out cyclists (and public transportation)
The documentary “Bikes vs Cars”, by Swedish director Fredrik Gertten, places most of the emphasis on the dilemma specified by the title on two big cities, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Los Angeles, CA, with one major excursion in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In Sao Paulo, the narrative focuses on a young woman who moves to the city, and gives up driving and using most busses after a few months and becomes increasingly venturesome going everywhere by bike in heavy traffic.
Along the way, the film recounts some horrific accidents in Sao Paulo, where a young woman was crushed between two busses, and where a male cyclist literally had his arm ripped off by a passing car and didn’t know it at first. The huge city has given up on rail transit and watched the expansion of auto use by the population.
A similar narrative exists for Los Angeles, which once had a decent trolley system. The automotive lobby gradually pressured the City to become car friendly and to dismantle the trains, by 1960. In 1900, there had been good bicycle trails throughout LA, and gradually they were abandoned.
The film covers “Carmageddon”, a weekend in July 2011 where the I-405 freeway was closed for construction, and local people stopped driving altogether, resulting in a great decrease in smog. One cyclist illegally rode down that highway Saturday night and felt like he was in a kind of heaven. I stayed in the Angelino Hotel on the 405 myself in May of 2012 and remember the highway well. I was lucjy that week not to run into any real “Traffic Jam”.
Copenhagen (and Amsterdam) have invested heavily in bicycle lanes and have heavy bicycle use because their countries don’t have their own auto industries. Compare even with Germany, where Angela Merkel gives in to the lobbyists.
As a practical matter, and as a driver who doesn’t bike much at my age, my biggest concern is safety. Cyclists should not ride the wrong way, go through lights, ride between lanes (the girl in Sao Paulo does), or make movements from directions where drivers will not normally see them. (In one of the Sao Paulo accidents, the people say no one is at fault, just a faulty system. Baloney. Bikers should not pass vehicles from blind spots.)
But I love to see dedicated bike lanes, and will always try to give any cyclist I pass at least three feet of room. That’s why I don’t want to be surprised by them coming up on me sharing a lane when a slight ca shift could cause a crash. (I last covered this, with some links, on my Issues blog March 19, 2015).
The film does have a few shots in many other populous cities. One of the most stunning is Beijing in the smog.
The official site is here (WG Film). This will surely find a regular US distributor.
The film opened the DC Environmental Film Festival in March, and I missed that party, but I saw it at FilmfestDC at Landmark E Street, late afternoon, on Earth Day (nearby), show nearly sold out.
Wikipedia attribution link for Sao Paulo picture by Flavio Ensiki, Creative Commons License 2.0 But note also my own photos of the 405 from the Angelino, and of freeway traffic near downtown LA (2012).