British Columbia·Q & A

'Bikes vs. Cars' director reveals global cycling conflict at Vancity Theatre

Fredrik Gertten, the Swedish director of a new documentary playing at Vancity Theatre, says cyclists, drivers and city planners are all at odds in cities around the world.

Swedish director Fredrik Gertten says Vancouver is experiencing the same tensions as cities around the world

A new documentary opening Friday at the Vancity Theatre explores a tension that is all too familiar on the streets of Metro Vancouver — the conflict between motorists and cyclists.

Swedish director Fredrik Gertten told The Early Edition host Rick Cluff that Bikes vs Cars takes a look at the conflict that exists in city planning when it comes to building infrastructure for cars and bicycles.

Cities such as Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, Copenhagen and Toronto are featured in the movie.

"This film could probably have been shot also in Vancouver, or Victoria, or any other city in the world, because it's almost the same problems facing cities [everywhere]," said Gertten.

"I picked a few cities to make the story a bit clearer."

Bikes vs. Cars is playing at the Vancity Theatre from Aug. 21-27. (

The film explores different perspectives, featuring avid cyclists, urban planners, and a taxi driver who says the changes in Copenhagen have made his daily life more stressful.

Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who led the effort to remove the bike lanes from Toronto's Jarvis Street in 2012, also appears in the film, which shows at the Vancity Theatre from Aug. 21 to 27.

Here is more of what director Gertten had to say:

The word "war" is thrown around throughout the film to describe the relationship between drivers and cyclists. Is this really a war?

No, the title refers to conflict within city planning, not a conflict between motorists and bicyclists, because many of us can be both....It's about city planning, which has been car-centric for half a decade now. This is creating a lot of problems for cities and a lot of frustration, because a lot of people lose (time from) their lives in congestion and traffic, and that's no fun.

How is that battle around planning and infrastructure playing out in the cities you visited — such as Sao Paulo and Los Angeles?

Los Angeles is like the model city — they had the best public transport on the planet, and then the car and oil companies took over and killed them off. Now that city is totally car-dependent. It's really hard to move around... And people are not happy with that.

We should remember most trips in a city like LA or in Vancouver are less than five kilometres. If people were driving less and walking or biking short distances they could still have their car, but there would still be more space.

A cyclist in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Janice D´Avila/WG Film)

Here in Vancouver we've grown accustomed to a much-improved system of bike lanes. But still, many people still despise the bike lanes. Where do you think the vitriol comes from?

I think the anger comes from people who drive cars, who are really frustrated because they are stuck in traffic all the time. And then they see people on bikes moving faster...So it's a direction to put your frustration, but it's not the correct way to put it, because if you're stuck in traffic you are a part of traffic.

If you watch the streets in Vancouver today, you will see that 99 per cent (of vehicles) are one driver per car. That's all over the planet... It's a space conflict. Cars consume an amazing amount of space, and bikes don't.

What did you learn about bicycle culture in Copenhagen, Denmark, which has 1,000 kilometres of bike lanes?

In Copenhagen, bikes are now number one in city planning...When the snow falls, you take away the snow first on the bike lanes...Bicyclists feel they are protected and they use the bike lanes.

Suddenly the city works much better, and you can see people riding their bike to parliament, or lawyers on bikes. It's not a statement to be on a bike. Everybody is doing it because it's the most convenient way to move around.

Fredrick Gertten, director of Bikes vs. Cars, says this film could have been set in Vancouver. (Michel Thomas/WG Film)

You gave viewers a taste of Copenhagen rush hour, which is very different than rush hours here in North America. What was that like?

It's bikes everywhere. It's also beautiful because if you stand by a red light there are like 20 bicycles waiting for a red light. Imagine 20 cars, that's a really long line. The cool thing is when you stand there you can meet an old can talk, you can have fun. What I've seen travelling the planet now, filming this movie, is that people on bikes, they love their cities more, because they also see the cities more... They see the trees, they see the beautiful side streets.

I was riding a bike in Vancouver a few years ago, and it's also a great city to get to know on a bike.

This interview has been edited and condensed for online.

To hear the full interview click on the audio labelled: Bikes vs cars documentary


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