Bikes vs Cars: A pale, misdirected truth about the perils of cycling

Bikes vs Cars logo

There is always a conciliatory tone in the discussion of cars and bikes, how cycling advocates are almost apologetic in their accusations against the overwhelming presence of automobiles. Cars vs Bikes promised to be a far stronger voice in showing the actual war that happens every day between the two very opposing means of transit. Unfortunately, it failed and has returned to the same “let’s get along’ tone. There is a war being conducted by cars against cyclists, but this is not the film that exposes it. 

For film maker Fredrik Gertten, if there is a struggle for the future, it is being done by huge corporations and massive profit machines against the underfunded, low cost, individualistic bicycle culture.

The bike, with its low cost, low profit, low impact, has become the unfortunate victim of greater and far more insidious powers. The car drivers merely duped pawns in a bigger game.

While there is considerable truth in that position, it is also pretty well understood already. Nothing revolutionary. Nothing eye opening.

I was immensely disappointed that the war – and there is a war – by cars against bikes is presented in such anonymous, corporate terms that has created a culture driven by profit, profit and profit. But there is no real indication of how that position has been absorbed as a point of privilege by car drivers around the world. The roads belong to them and bicyclists should be gone.

There was the rather pleasant taxi driver in Copenhagen who gently moaned about the constant flood of cyclists on the streets. Scarcely a threat. Rather someone who moaned pleasantly. There was the reflection of the cyclist killed in San Paolo, crushed by a bus, but that was quickly explained as not being the fault of a human being but a result of poor city road designs.

Nobody is at fault. It is the infrastructure.

We get to see a fragment of the frightening numbers of everyday cycling. That a cyclist is hit every seven minutes in Toronto. That cyclists are killed every week in San Paolo, Brazil.

Yet Bikes vs Cars refuses to show accountability or privilege beyond corporations. The entire film boils down to the final message that drivers own their cars, not the road, this is not a war, this is a city.

Fair enough as a “Let’s get along” remark to placate everyone. Bland, tepid and easy-going.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the one-sided war of car drivers fighting to bully, intimidate, threaten, frighten, injure and, on occasion, kill, cyclists remains unexamined.

The UK has had a few dozen cycling deaths on the road due to careless driving and I think only one person has been charged. Go to YouTube and see cyclists with helmet cams documenting the reckless driving that threatens their lives, the physical and verbal abuse that comes from drivers in their protected cages.

At an even more obscene level, the doctor in California who was jailed for having harassed cyclists then stopping suddenly in front of them causing a terrible accident. See Doctor sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting cyclists link here…

Road rage toward cyclists is a steady source for YouTube. Like this encounter between  cyclist and one of those massive North American pick-up trucks, complete with Daytona 500 race number on the door. Road rage pickup truck with bicycle in construction zone. Link here…

Road rage against cyclist caught on tape Link here…

Road rage versus cyclist Link here…

Or have a look at this Google search result…

While we are at it, the complicit nature of police in their enforcement. The UK cycles deaths rarely sees a charge laid. In every altercation of one tonne of metal versus 10 kilograms of frame, police often look for “You are both at fault” excuses to do nothing. Or the even more insane physical attack from drivers where the cyclist ends up with a ticket. See Driver assaults bicyclists, police ticket bicyclist Link here…

But then, to get an idea about police and their acceptance to cyclists, there is the filmed assault of a policeman to a cyclists participating in a bike demonstration in New York. Critical Mass cyclist assaulted by NYPD link her…

Or Police assault on cyclist Link here…

And I have a love for how the British are far more willing to challenge their police. This cyclist did a great job berating police for being in a bike lane. And the police making up their excuses for pressing back on the cyclist. Fuming cyclist berates police Link here…

While society has created a car-centric world, this focus has created a mass, a huge mass, of drivers who truly believe cyclists have no place on the road. Or they are at least intolerant of cyclists and accepting of abuse directed towards them. That is the war. The one-sided, vicious, aggressive, supported war that is always excused in a “let’s get along” mantra.

Unfortunately Bikes vs Cars glides over this in favour of presenting the enemy as something anonymous and monolithic.

If you want to see the real war on cyclists, then head to YouTube. More and more cyclists are riding with helmet cameras to record their exchanges with uncaring and threatening drivers. These ad hoc filmmakers are documenting the reality of being on the road beyond infrastructure and no fault accidents.

These are the film makers who show the aggression, the abuse, the intimidation that has infected car drivers, who threaten with impunity because they are implicitly forgiven by society, police, and, by failing to address the issue directly,  cycling advocates.

And, as a final comment, even with films to support the abuse, it is a struggle to get police to act. Excuses are plentiful and the  “let’s get along” mantra continues to be the excuse that will always let drivers continue their abuse.

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