Documentary-maker Monteith McCollum chose quite A Different Path when he made this film this year. I found the slower pace refreshing and could appreciate McCollum’s point, that our car-centered lives are moving too fast. It wasn’t that long ago when 50 kilometres an hour was fast and now we all forced to slow down to that speed on City streets. Almost everything is geared to serve car-culture with little room for alternative ways of getting around. Consider this example: in Seattle, which is well known to be ecologically active, there are 40 engineers on the city payroll who work on roads. There is just 1 for sidewalks, bike paths and other alternative forms of transportation. The streets have been made ‘safe’ for cars but not for anyone else. Seniors who don’t drive or who simply want to go for a walk or bike somewhere have been marginalized in their own cities.
In the case of Richard Dyksterhuis in Seattle, who lives on Linden Avenue North, he was feeling that his community has become a transportation corridor with parking lots for home and others for malls and a sea of cars in between. He had to fight to get sidewalks put in so he could walk to buy milk from a store he can see from his home.
In Toronto Michael Lewis Johnson has become an organizer to try to make at least some of the streets safe for people. He is a bicyclist. One unforgettable scene features Michael with some friends biking down the centre of a snowy and slushy street. He steers with one hand and plays Summertime and Silent Night on a trumpet with the other. Beautiful, ironic and funny. Johnson’s sense of humour is highlighted for he feels that the angrier you get about the problems the funnier you have to be to solve them. He dresses up as the ‘Klownen Fuhrer’ and haunts Kensington Market proclaiming how important it is for cars to take over our civilization. He is a hilarious devil’s advocate. And he has to be since , as he puts it, his activism is akin to truing to kill a fire breathing dragon with a thorn from your mother’s garden. He has bravely organized car-free days for busy streets in Toronto and, contrary to what you might imagine, the merchants want him to do it again. Shutting down the streets to car was actually a boon to business.
In Portugal we meet Miguel Camios, an engineer who hates his commute. He can see his work from his home across the water but it takes a great deal of time just to get across the bridge. After hearing about a man in New York who tried kayaking to work he decides to try it and now he gets exercise and still gets to work faster then he did before.
A lively discussion led by local activist Mike Nagy followed the film.
This film hit close to home for me as I commute by bike to work year round. I’ve had to develop a thick skin over the 10 plus years but even so I still feel marginalized trying to share the road with cars, vans and especially buses and transport trucks. At best bicyclers are tolerated but there are those ‘at worse’ times when I’ve been threatened by belligerent road hogs. Still I have definitely seen an increase in the number of bikers on the road. That, along with some of the grudging efforts by my local municipality to provide bike lanes and paths, is encouraging.
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