Film & TV

Transitions Film Festival Review: Bikes Vs Cars

An elegant compelling depiction of the crisis we face as cars take over our urban spaces and the creative solutions being implemented for a better way.

Imagine a city where cyclists can share the roads safely. A city offering incentives for people to leave their cars at home. A liveable city. In densely-populated places like Jakarta, Mumbai, Lagos and London, traffic jams the streets and clouds the air with pollution. By 2020 it’s estimated there will be 2 billion cars. Can we afford this? We need to decide how we want to live. Is a reduction in the number of cars on the road the only solution?

In his latest film, Bikes Vs Cars, Swedish director Fredrik Gertten shows us, through individual stories, how some citizens are prepared to pressure politicians, to lobby with the same intensity as the oil, construction, and car industries.

In Los Angeles, Dan Koeppel “loves bicycles and hates to drive”. He knows he’s living in the wrong city. The LA of today is choked with cars but it wasn’t always this way. In the 1900s, bikes were the most popular form of transport. Raised wooden cycleways allowed safe and speedy passage until they were torn down. In later years, LA boasted one of the world’s best public transport systems, until this too was gradually dismantled to make way for infrastructure that favoured the automobile. Koeppel is on a mission to rediscover the long-gone cycle paths, and to keep his car use as low as possible.

Brazilian student Aline Cavalcante first began riding her bike to university out of necessity – she was too scared to drive in heavy traffic and she couldn’t afford bus fares – but now she’s committed to cycling for the freedom, energy and social benefits it brings. Aline and her friends are trying to understand what’s happening to their city. How can the ageing, unsatisfactory public transport system be so expensive? Sao Paolo’s council officials make decisions that favour cars. Why? What are the motives behind funding bridges before bike paths? Sao Paolo has a population of 20 million people, and 7 million cars. To say taking to the streets on a bike is life-endangering is no exaggeration.

Cavalcante is reminded of just how great this risk is whenever she sees the stencilled images of “ghost bikes” on her travels around the city. Above each white painted cyclist hovers another picture – a bird, wings outstretched, representing the soul of a rider run down on the road. The deaths aren’t necessarily the fault of the driver or the victim. The accidents – one fatality each week – are caused by a road system that fails to integrate the needs of these two very different groups.

It’s not an insurmountable dilemma, by any means. Gertten  interviews architects and planners in Sao Paolo and around the world who are designing transport corridors to allow safe travel for everyone. Narrowing car lanes will lower speeds, and make way for bike lanes bordered by trees that keep the humans and machines separate. It can be done in a way that brings advantages to all. What it needs is a shift away from the current traffic management focus of preventing jams, to instead focus on taking safety seriously. If cyclists can ride freely and without fear, then many more people will switch from driving to riding. There’s an additional bonus as fewer cars means lowered carbon emissions.

Beautifully shot and edited, and enhanced by composer Florencia Di Concilio’s sumptuous score, Bikes Vs Cars is an elegant, compelling depiction of not only the crisis we face as cars take over our urban spaces, but also the creative solutions being implemented by those who seek a better way to get us from A to B.

Reviewed by Jo Vabolis

Rating out of 10: 10

Bikes Vs Cars screens on 28 May 2016 as part of the Transitions Film Festival at the Mercury Cinema.

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