[maxgallery name=”green-film-festival-bikes-vs-cars-hero”]During the night on the streets of São Paulo, a group of bicyclists lower a white bicycle through a street post while motorists with their glaring headlights slowly pass by. This ghost bike, as it is sometimes called, is a memorial to a lost brethren, a reminder on how dangerous the roads can be, and a symbol of a flawed urban system dominated by automobiles. In Bikes vs Cars, a film directed by Fredrik Gretten and recently screened at the Green Film Festival, we witness such events and come to know about the struggles facing São Paulo, Los Angeles, Toronto, and other large car-centric cities as they grapple with street congestion, fatalities, and pollution.
Along the way we are presented with a multitude of pro-car individuals. Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, the most boisterous of the bunch, is portrayed as an indignant and outspoken politician with a hostility towards bicyclists and penchant for removing bike lanes. In São Paulo, car salesmen at a JAC Motors dealership engage in huddle chants and boast that car sales are a good business. Rounding out the car advocates include a Copenhagen taxi driver ranting about his disdain for bicyclists and a Porsche director at a U.S. car show asserting his environmental opinions are “as green as they come”. Their performances, humorous and somewhat absurd at times, are interlaced with an equally fervent group of pro-bike and anti-car individuals speaking out against traffic jams, conspiracies, and a system that favors highways and automobiles. The final scene bookends the film with hope, as we witness the unexpected installation of bike lanes sprayed on the streets of São Paulo, a historically bicycle unfriendly city with a large network of overburdened highways.
The film suggests that gridlocked cities can improve traffic conditions, reduce travel times, create safer roads, and significantly improve residents’ quality of life provided they change their transportation infrastructures to encourage bicycling and limit car usage. My concerns with this premise is that bicycles have limited scope and are simply not an option for elderly, people with disabilities, parents with young families, and those wanting safety and speed. The overall solution for these cities needs to be a multimodal plan, including not only a framework for bicycles but more importantly subways, trains, and buses.
Despite feeling disorganized at times, Bikes vs Cars prevails in exposing the companies, institutions, and coalitions fighting fiercely to maintain an increasingly outmoded transportation system plaguing the world’s largest cities. Director Gretten gives us insight into how the bicycle movement is an essential catalyst in forcing politicians and planners to rethink the role of the automobile. [maxgallery name=”bike-vs-cars-green-film-