Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe – review

Margaret Thatcher once declared that “a person who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself a failure”. Taras Grescoe is proud to be – in Thatcher’s estimation, at least – a failure. Even though he can power, the Canadian writer, who is in his mid-40s, has by no means owned a vehicle. And he is not by myself. 1/2 of cities, including Big apple, Toronto, and London, do not have personal vehicles. Every day a few a hundred and fifty-five million humans take the underground. And Even though being a straphanger in North The can be, as Grescoe shows, a “miserable enjoy” because of underfunding and bad planning, some other place public delivery – especially in cities – is playing a renaissance. The heyday of the auto has passed.

Grescoe takes the reader on a whistle-prevent excursion of worldwide towns and their delivery structures in this passionately argued and critical ebook. He accuses the non-public vehicle of destroying towns, turning streets into kill zones for the vulnerable, polluting the air, and burning up more and more scarce fossil fuels. Even though the scope of Straphanger is international, it clearly objectives automobile-loving, gas-guzzling North America, and the data he cites are virtually surprising. In the US – “the maximum extravagantly motorized country In the history of the world” – cars now outnumber drivers with the aid of five to four. L. A., as soon as hailed as an “autopia,” is now the maximum congested town Within the US, with drivers losing 72 hours a year caught in visitors jams. People now spend 9 years in their lives sitting in their motors, and the pollution they produce kills 30,000 US residents each year.


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But change is Within the air. In 2009, the whole wide variety of motors Within the US shrank. In its early days in office, the Obama administration conjured visions of a new golden age of public shipping, providing funding for bold rail and subway schemes. Streetcars, which were the principal mode of public transport in American towns, are being reintroduced in such not likely places as Houston and Denver, and, in 2010, public delivery use reached a 54-year high. In this suburban state, people are also moving returned into the cities.

Currently released figures from the 2011 US census show that lots of the largest cities are now growing faster than their suburbs, the first time this has happened in a century. This fashion is being led via young People, many of whom are also selecting now not to learn to pressure But are as a substitute relying on bicycles and public delivery. Even Ny‘s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is now called the “straphanger mayor,” driving the subway more than one instance per week. Even though, as Grescoe notes, he’s taken to the subway forestall with the aid of chauffeured SUV.

Quite for an e-book approximately public shipping, London isn’t always one of the towns Grescoe visits. Indeed, the metropolis is simplest cited for its “criminally highly-priced” tube tickets, the failed test of privatization in 2003, and the dearth of air-con (“merciless and unusual punishment”). These days greater than one billion passenger trips a yr are made on the London Underground, a discern equaled by using the subway device of the latest York and the Paris Métro. Although Shanghai did not open its first line until 1995, its rapidly expanding metro has now emerged as the longest subway network Inside the globe. Moscow’s underground is one of the busiest, wearing 9 million humans an afternoon, a determine matched simplest by using Tokyo Global Amend.

Grescoe stops off at all these towns. It changed into Paris that Blaise Pascal invented modern-day urban public shipping in 1662 with the “crosses à cinq sols,” carriages that ran along 5 constant routes In the city, Even though unfortunately simplest for the gentry. These days the Métro “is the most imaginative and efficient transit network ever constructed.” Parisian subway trains were the usage of autopilot generation since the Seventies, But now fully automated trains are being delivered. Grescoe is impressed by the way of Shanghai’s subway. Yet above ground, the people have swapped motorcycles for vehicles, as they embody a consumerist way of life. The result is congestion and pollutants: the air Within the town’s streets has become a fitness hazard. Moscow’s roads also are choked: it’s miles “site visitors hell”.

But its palatial Metro, built Inside the 30s, is “designed to ennoble and uplift the long-struggling straphangers of the arena.” In the Russian capital, it is the simplest manner to travel. In Tokyo, he visits Shinjuku, with a few 3.5 million commuters passing via Each day. In assessment, the busiest station Inside the US is Ny‘s Penn Station which handles a paltry six hundred,000 commuters. Grescoe is right to wonder on the “terrific clockwork” of Tokyo’s shipping device: it’s miles “the world’s quality instance of a transit city … a town built, and now kept jogging, with the aid of its trains”.

Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of the Colombian capital Bogotá, which revolutionized its public delivery with a bus fast transit scheme, makes an effective point to Grescoe: “I accept as true with a metropolis is greater civilized now not whilst it has highways However whilst a child on a tricycle is capable of flow approximately anywhere comfortably and protection.” Multi-lane highways have sliced through the cityscape in too many locations, destroying communities and growing obstacles between districts. However, the act of riding also basically adjustments the way humans use the metropolis. Internal automobiles, people are insulated from the sights and sounds of the city and remoted from different citizens. Through evaluation, public delivery is a democratic and social experience. In Tokyo, a person tells Grescoe: “To apply public transport is to understand how to cooperate with other human beings, how to behave in a public space.”

Excellent public delivery is important to the fulfillment of any international city. Grescoe argues that North America has fallen a long way in the back of Asia in its public transport infrastructure, and it “could be paying the charge, in phrases of lost competitivity, for decades to come.” That is a caution for every city. But even in North The usa a quiet revolution is taking area Inside the manner people journey. And That is taking place in cities everywhere, as people from Philadelphia (the metropolis with the highest percentage of Americans who shuttle strolling) to Copenhagen (“the world’s most bikeable city”) comprehend that the car is now not a vital part of the city lifestyles Inside the twenty-first century.


Writer. Pop culture buff. Certified alcohol trailblazer. Tv nerd. Music fanatic. Professional problem solver. Explorer. Uniquely-equipped for working on Easter candy in Las Vegas, NV. Uniquely-equipped for analyzing toy monkeys for the government. Spent a year testing the market for action figures in Minneapolis, MN. Spent high school summers donating walnuts in Phoenix, AZ. Earned praised for my work researching human brains in Orlando, FL. Spent college summers writing about pubic lice in Washington, DC.