Taking It to the Streets

A documentary examines the global push to increase cycling in urban areas.

September 03, 2015

BIKES vs CARS - English Subtitles from WG Film on Vimeo.

In cities across the world, a war is playing out over exploding traffic and transportation systems stretched to the breaking point. But more and more people are fighting back with their feet—or bike pedals, rather—in search of a healthier, low-cost alternative to carbon-belching cars. Bikes vs Cars, a 90-minute documentary by Swedish director Fredrik Gertten now in screenings across the globe, explores this enormous effort.

Gertten makes clear that cars aren’t going anywhere: The number of vehicles is expected to double to two billion by 2020. The auto industry, as the film points out, helped fuel the downfall of bicycling in cities such as Los Angeles, where the proportion of bike commuters has fallen to 1 percent today from 20 percent at the turn of the 20th century. The documentary also delves into the dangers of urban cycling. In São Paulo, Brazil, where traffic accidents kill one cyclist and injure dozens more every week, a cyclist’s arm was torn off by a passing car and later found in a creek four miles away.

But it’s not all depressing. Gertten investigates how cities are finding solutions to the traffic madness, showcasing longtime leaders like Copenhagen, which has 620 miles of bike lanes. More people there commute by bike than in the entire United States combined.

But America and other countries are changing, with younger millennials growing less interested in car ownership and cities putting in bike lanes and bike shares at a feverish pace. Even the situation in São Paulo is improving under a new mayor, who tore out 40,000 parking spaces and installed nearly 250 miles of bike lanes last year. Brazilian urban planner Raquel Rolnik calls it a paradigm change. After decades of cars ruling the road, finally it’s “time to share,” she says. 

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.