For a while now I've been aware of one film that took a different tone than many, but until very recently, I couldn't find a copy of it anywhere. That film is Only One Road: The Bike-Car Traffic Mix, which was produced by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety in 1975. Coming from the American Automobile Association, one would probably expect the film to be more of the same -- promoting bicycle "safety" while simultaneously marginalizing cycling, and/or projecting the image of cyclists as a problem for motorists. On the contrary, while there are certainly moments in the film that may seem like the producers are implying cyclists are a bit of a nuisance to drivers, on the whole, the message is more often one of being aware of one another and understanding how to interact. More importantly, Only One Road is one of the few bicycle safety films I've seen that puts the focus on adults riding bicycles - as a legitimate transportation option.
Like a lot of other old educational films, Only One Road is another film that is a product of its time, following right on the heels of the Great American Bike Boom, in which adults took to cycling in a way that they hadn't in decades.
|"There's a complex mix of vehicles on the road today: cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, pedestrians, and more than ever . . .|
|. . . Bicycles. The characteristics of the new bicycle, its lighter weight and gear selection, make it much easier to pedal, therefore a realistic choice for serious transportation."|
The film then shows a number of different adults riding their bicycles for various "legitimate" reasons (as opposed to "illegitimate" reasons?).
You mean they're not insane? Anti-American? Socialist? Right there, you know the tone of the film will be different.
|"Someday there may be separate facilities for bicycles, but for now, we're confronted with the reality of a mixed traffic system . . . in which vehicles of vastly different sizes and characteristics are sharing the same roadway."|
Something else that hasn't changed in 40 years is that when it comes to bikes in the traffic mix, "People are confused, and not sure what to expect." We then hear from two cyclists and two drivers admitting their confusion.
About 5 minutes into the film we get to this guy:
|After telling us how accidents among adult cyclists are increasing, he points out the "trouble areas" in the bike-car mix.|
|From the motorist's point of view, "Bikes seem to swerve without reason."|
|"The most drastic roadside obstacle for the bicyclist is the open car door." The cyclist then demonstrates how to perform a panic stop. They do NOT, however, warn drivers to look before opening that door in traffic (not yet, at least).|
|There's also a "left hook" scenario presented. The film doesn't get specific about how to avoid that type of collision, apart from both drivers and cyclists being more aware of one another - watching and anticipating what might happen.|
|Several scenes from the driver's point of view. See the cyclists?|
|"There are some things a cyclist can do to make themselves more visible, and it's his responsibility to go out of his way to be seen," says the guy with the model cars. I'm all for visibility - but they kind of lose me with the dork flag.|
|Random observations: the old lady in the Cadillac totally seems like she has a stick up her @$$, while the guy on the bike has some outrageous mutton chops.|
For the cyclist's part, he describes how he was keeping up with traffic pretty well -- probably too well, as he apparently rode alongside the car in the blind spot for a while, unable to see her turn signal, and in a position where he had no "out" when she turned into him.
The driver in that scenario also describes how she's going to need to pay more attention to cyclists, look for and anticipate them, and be more aware of their speed and position in relation to her car.
Regarding "rules of the road" the film says "The problem is that many people don't see bicycles as legitimate vehicles with full rights and responsibilities." That problem, as the film claims, can include both cyclists and drivers alike. They go on to describe some cyclists who seem unaware that the traffic laws apply to them. Likewise, a driver admits that she never considered the idea that a bicycle has the same right of way as an automobile (as we see a driver pull out in front of a cyclist, cutting him off).
The guy with the toy cars sets it straight: "A bicycle is a vehicle, not a pedestrian . . . the motorist knows the rules as they apply to cars, but he has to learn to apply the same rules to bicycles . . . in other words, grant the cyclist equal status." He also describes road users - cyclists and drivers - who know the rules, but choose to ignore them -- motorists who "still want first option to the road" and some cyclists who "want to be conveniently in and then out of the traffic system as they please." He concludes, "If this mixed traffic system is to function smoothly . . . these people will have to change their attitude."
The film wraps up on a fairly optimistic note that the number of bikes on the road is only going to increase, and through shared respect and good examples, cars and bikes should be able to share the road peacefully. Yes, and we'll all hold hands together, and sing, and buy the world a Coke, too. I wonder if the filmmakers had any idea that 40 years later, things would be almost exactly the same?
On the whole, I think Only One Road is a pretty even-handed look at the bike vs. car issues. Like the post-collision interviews that reveal avoidable mistakes made by both parties, the film mostly shows a shared responsibility for safety. As a cyclist, it would be easy to want to point more of the blame on drivers -- and yes, there are lots of times that drivers can be completely arrogant, or completely clueless when it comes to cyclists -- but realistically speaking, the best defenses a bicyclist can have on the road are knowledge and experience. Many of us recognize that the best cyclists are the ones who take a very active role in their own safety on the road. Yes I want drivers to look out for me when I'm riding -- but I'd be stupid to assume (and ride as if) they always will. Ultimately, better education for both drivers and cyclists is needed, and badly lacking even 40 year after this film came out.
Oh yeah - one last thought - I can't even say just what a relief it is to watch an entire bicycle safety film that doesn't mention helmets even once. Understand - I'm not bashing helmet use - but for most transportation and safety advocates out there today, it seems like it's all about the helmets, as if nothing else matters.
The full version of Only One Road (approx. 25 minutes) was just posted to YouTube earlier this week. Thanks to YouTube user Laxbikeguy.