Bikes vs Cars centers on the battle for the streets

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      A documentary by Fredrik Gertten. In English, Portuguese, and Spanish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable.

      The title Bikes vs Cars suggests some kind of argument to be weighed, but it’s probably called that because Us vs Cars was deemed too heavy to fly.

      Sure, this documentary feature centres on people who ride bicycles and are articulate, and socially involved, enough to describe what they’re up against. But whether folks want to travel by bike, skateboard, public transit, or on foot, the common enemy is the automotive industry, which just can’t seem to get its collective head around the fact that its product is killing the planet.

      This latest effort from Sweden’s Fredrik Gertten, who detailed agricultural abuse in Big Boys Gone Bananas!*, doesn’t single out any malefactors by name. But the breezily edited film, which gets you there in less than 90 minutes, details a background in which postwar highway construction—accompanying the move to suburban living—was abetted by the sudden destruction of efficient rail lines in large cities like Los Angeles.

      The tale begins there, and in the first third cuts between a SoCal activist, trying to find traces of an elevated bicycle highway built around 1900, and a young female student in São Paulo, where there’s more than one gas-guzzler for every third person in a city of 20 million, and one cyclist dies in traffic every week. (But really, shouldn’t she be wearing a helmet?)

      The film lingers a little too long in these admittedly emblematic settings, but eventually careens to Bogotá, Toronto, and other hot spots of change (or not, since this was filmed when Rob “Bicycles Are Stupid” Ford was still in charge). Copenhagen, where 40 percent of residents ride two-wheelers, is seen from the POV of a harried cab driver. Gertten has made an entertaining package here, full of colourful side trips, amusing contrasts, great graphics, and clever use of music.

      The film’s message is certainly distressing—there’s no way humans can survive this collective auto-da-fé—but at least the ride is fun.