'BIKES VS CARS' at Melbourne International Film Festival
|Cycling to work on Melbourne bike path|
Last night viewing 'Bikes vs. Cars' at MIFF I felt very grateful that I live in Melbourne, and that this is the main place I cycle. Our bike path system is certainly not perfect, and there can be conflict over resources, but at least we have a system. Other countries are not so lucky.
Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten has unabashedly created 'Bikes vs Cars', billed as 'David and Goliath on Wheels', to promote his pro-bike stance. He does this by travelling the world to show how cyclists are faring in different cities. In so doing he has unearthed some big surprises.
At the turn of the 20th century Los Angeles, now the car capital of the world, boasted an extensive public transport system and a thriving bicycling community. This PT system was dismantled by a government keen to substitute freeways to please the local car manufacturing industry. As advertising was harnessed to convince people that how they travelled showed who they were, bicycles quickly gathered dust in sheds and cars were king.
Interestingly, currently 50% of car trips in the USA are less that three miles distance, so dusting off those bikes (and those feet) could reduce petrol use and emissions massively.
Sao Paolo, Brazil, with its huge population of 20 million, has hardly any public transport except for buses. Its trains and trams were decommissioned years ago under the influence of the roads lobby. There is no opportunity as exists in Melbourne for people to cycle and ride:
Instead the film shows Sao Paolo cyclists (all without helmets) duelling daily with car, truck and bus drivers for lane space, which leads to one bicyclist death every week in the country's capital. 'Ghost Bikes' - bikes painted white as a memorial to killed or severely injured cyclists - are regular sights around San Paolo.
These days, as in so many of the world's largest cities, grid-lock is part of life and peak hour starts earlier and extends later into the night, with the average commuter in Sao Paolo spending up to 4 hours in their car every single working day.
By the end of the film - in an unexpected twist and with a change of government - with no warning and literally overnight, Sao Paolo streets, to the delight of bike activists and the horror of motorists, were decorated with an expansive network of pink bike lanes.
This tension between motors and feet was best illustrated in Toronto, which did the opposite of Sao Paolo. Former mayor Rob Ford, in response to what he declared a 'war on cars', simply had all the city's bike lanes summarily removed. It was also illustrated by interviews with a taxi-driver in Copenhagen, who finds the 40% of residents who cycle daily, to say nothing of the wheeled tourists, an ongoing menace and cause of stress.
Copenhagen and Amsterdam are identified as the world's two best cities for cyclists. It was interesting to hear that neither place has a car industry, and so cycling interests have never been stymied by car lobbyists influencing governments.
The film included a brief visit to Bogota, Colombia where a local bicycling advocate was doing great work encouraging children to cycle in a city with few facilities for bikes. Even though there are plenty of places in Australia where cyclists have to take that same risk:
it was hard to watch primary schoolers blithely weaving through the traffic.
Although I did find 'Bikes vs Cars' interesting, I do have a major problem with it. The issue ignored within the film, as in so many other places, is that the world's oil is running out. Reserves will inevitably become increasingly expensive. This has profound implications for future private car ownership patterns, as for many other things, especially as air pollution and climate change become greater health concerns - and provide more political leverage.
I believe that in a relatively short time oil-based transport will largely become a thing of the past, and for those who can't afford the motoring alternatives, bikes along with PT (as was the case in pre-car industry California) will be increasingly attractive options.
So, in my view, although cars are currently in the ascendancy, soon they will start losing ground.