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Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  578 Ratings  ·  87 Reviews
Taras Grescoe rides the rails all over the world and makes an elegant and impassioned case for the imminent end of car culture and the coming transportation revolution"I am proud to call myself a straphanger," writes Taras Grescoe. The perception of public transportation in America is often unflattering—a squalid last resort for those with one too many drunk-driving charge ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Times Books (first published September 9th 2011)
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William Cline
Jul 03, 2013 William Cline rated it did not like it
Offers a few quick outlines of American transportation history, as well as anecdotes about specific cities, but all this book really amounts to is a guy who loves transit talking about transit to his transit-loving readers for a few hundred pages. There's no thesis here, and despite a long bibliography, few hard facts around which one could be built.

Some of the facts that do appear are suspect, particularly Grescoe's figures for U.S. average commute time and San Francisco's transit mode share, n
...more
Ken
Apr 17, 2012 Ken rated it really liked it
An amalgam of journalistic feature writing, travel writing, history writing, and persuasive writing, STRAPHANGER is a State of the Mass Transit Union speech worth heeding. Author Taras Grescoe takes readers to 13 cities -- Shanghai, New York City, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Paris, Copenhagen, Moscow, Tokyo, Bogota, Portland (OR), Vancouver, Philadelphia, and Montreal. Here he provides a history of each city's mass transit, where they stand now in their progress (or lack thereof) of moving people quic ...more
Ellen Keim
Oct 20, 2013 Ellen Keim rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I love nonfiction like this! A mix of history, social commentary, technical explanations, travel writing, and personal anecdotes, this book satisfies on so many levels. Anyone with an interest in city planning, urban living, the energy crisis, ecologically responsible lifestyles, other cultures, and of course different modes of transportation has to read this book.

The only thing I didn't like about this book is that after a while I got really confused about all the kinds of public transit and h
...more
Kristen
Jan 28, 2012 Kristen rated it it was amazing
In the first paragraph of this fabulous book, Taras Grescoe writes, about the Shanghai Auto Show, biggest in the world: "Throughout the cavernous showrooms, lithe motor-showgirls in shimmering nylon evening gowns and leatherette miniskirts drape themselves over aerodynamic fenders, like molten watches drizzled over branches in a Dali landscape. On rotating platforms, surrealistic concept cars languidly pirouette…"

Wow. Beyond absolutely jaw-dropping writing, so good you want to linger over it, Gr
...more
Andrew
Apr 01, 2012 Andrew rated it really liked it
A One-Minute Review
Straphanger is a smart bit of urban writing from Taras Grescoe, who collects transit systems like tourists collect snow globes. Transit-map geeks like me need no longer feel alone. Grescoe’s travels from Shanghai to Montreal unearthing unique social, historical, and political stories about how urban and suburban environments develop transit systems. From what could have been in Los Angeles, to the propaganda-driven architectural beauty of the Moscow Metro, Grescoe identifies s
...more
Leif
Feb 01, 2016 Leif rated it it was amazing
Just as shopping malls killed main streets and sidewalks, and gated communities replaced real neighborhoods, the private automobile usurped the social space once shared on subways, buses, and trains. When a society eliminates public space – when your only contact with your fellow citizen happens at 55 miles per hour, separated by layers of glass – it stops knowing itself, and can start believing the most outrageous lies: that crime is rampant, that people have no shared interests, that races and
...more
Justin
Oct 21, 2012 Justin rated it really liked it
A recent surge of interest in city planning lead me to randomly put several related books on hold at the library. This was the first one I happened to read and it couldn't have been a better introduction to the fascinating field of urban studies. Grescoe is a travel writer by trade, but with a historian's love of research and a passionate love of city life -- in particular, the cities' public transit systems. (He has never owned a car.)

Strap Hanger operates under a simple premise: Grescoe simply
...more
David McClelland
Dec 15, 2012 David McClelland rated it really liked it
If you're at all interested in public transit, cities, or how the two relate to one another, this is a very good read. Even if you're not, it's probably still an enjoyable book as Grescoe has a very good and approachable style, though he can occasionally get a bit repetitive. The book is essentially a look at transit planning in North America, and how that has shaped our cities, done as a series of chapters about various public transportation systems around the world. Grescoe compares North Amer ...more
Jennifer
Apr 15, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. The chapter by chapter explorations of different cities provided vivid illustration of what's working, what isn't, where and why. The author argues for reasonably funded, comprehensive, intelligent public transportation networks not simply because they are "green", but because they permit people to get places and live their lives in ways that make sense, and ultimately, make them happy. Public transportation is an issue I care a lot about, so it was easy for me to be pulled in ...more
Vincent Geels
Aug 24, 2012 Vincent Geels rated it really liked it
funny to read grescoe's take on philly's pt system. pretty fun topical analysis of different public transportation systems around the world, along with quick historical/political primers that attempt to explain how and why these different transits developed within their specific ecosystems. makes me want to travel to copenhagen so i can travel on a bicycle highway and get stuck in a BICYCLE TRAFFIC JAM.
Alison
Oct 06, 2012 Alison rated it it was amazing
Loved it! The author did an excellent job of laying out why public transport works and why we need it for a vital future rather relying on further proliferation of automobile culture. Made me miss Tokyo and want to move to Copenhagen.
Janet
Aug 24, 2013 Janet rated it really liked it
Enjoyed this book very much. It gave me a great deal to think about.
Steven Lee
Mar 15, 2015 Steven Lee rated it really liked it
Over the summer I finally put aside some time and read Taras Grescoe’s Straphanger (2012). I say finally because it sat on my shelf for about a year while I spent my reading hours with my latest science fiction obsession or fantasy rabbit hole. Straphanger is neither of those things, which is why a review of it belongs on this blog.

Taras Grescoe begins with a simple premise, he is a straphanger, as are millions (or perhaps billions?) of others around the world. "Straphanger" refers to those who
...more
Krista
Sep 09, 2012 Krista rated it liked it
A combination of a manifesto against the automobile and an ode to trains. With a coda grudgingly giving credit where credit is due to the bus.

One thesis is a worn one; we're running out of oil to power our personal automobiles and even if we go electric, most electricity comes from coal. So it's lose lose.

But Grescoe approaches his ode not from an environmental standpoint, but from a social standpoint. And a community structure standpoint. And a health standpoint. The automobile has isolated us.
...more
Malin Friess
Sep 22, 2012 Malin Friess rated it it was amazing
If you don't know....a Straphanger is a person who rides the bus, subway, or lightrail with a right hand above hanging on to the strap.

Taras Grescoe is a straphanger. He has never owned a car..along with 600 million other people in the world he rides the bus, train, or subway to work. And he thinks it is a much better way of life. In fact he thinks the automobile is dead!

What makes a city great..Paris, New York, Montreal..they have great public transportation systems. 1/2 of New Yorkers and Lond
...more
Kaitlin
I'm giving this five stars because I would happily recommend it to both people who want to learn more about transit or find transit an interesting topic and readers who like a great anecdotal story rich with with history, facts and personal tips.

I read a lot of reviews that panned this book for not being as informational about transit as it is advertised to be and that it was more a personal story on riding transit. While the book is heavy on personal story -- that was pointed out in his introdu
...more
J. Corbett
Jul 26, 2015 J. Corbett rated it really liked it
Overall– a well-written, easy to ready book that will broaden your perspective on how transport shapes your life and likely act as a starter text to read even deeper on the topic and make you want to move to Copenhagen.

Unfortunately I don't think this book will carry much impact with my Texas friends and relatives who never really left the state, or if they did, continued to get around by car. However, if you are one of the ones who escaped a car-based life from experiences travelling abroad or
...more
Jane
Apr 29, 2013 Jane rated it really liked it
A straphanger is a person who hangs on to the strap while riding a train or a bus or, more generally, a person who commutes to work by public transportation. Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile is a thought-provoking look at public transportation in a number of cities around the world. Author Taras Grescoe begins his Introduction with the Salvador Dali quote “Any man of forty who still rides the metro is a loser” but proudly boasts that although in his mid-forties he ...more
Mary Soderstrom
Mar 17, 2013 Mary Soderstrom rated it it was amazing
Earlier I said I'd be posting about road books: at the time I was thinking of novels of quest and self-discovery. But in the last few weeks I've also read three entertaining, informative (and in one case extremely thought-provoking) books about road trips.

The first is relatively recent: Taras Grescoe's Straphanger. Published in 2012, its subtitle might seem in conflict with the idea of a road book: "Saving our cities and ourselves from the automobile." But Grescoe roamed the world to look at the
...more
Jeffrey
I received this book for free in a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

Taras Grescoe is a lifelong urbanist and views transportation as fundamental to the formation of the modern city. Visiting locations both in North America and abroad, Grescoe advocates strong public transportation infrastructure as the key element to long term health and growth.

While cars dominate major American metropoli like Phoenix, European and Asian cities have developed significant rail infrastructure that obviates the need
...more
Sean Goh
Feb 13, 2013 Sean Goh rated it liked it
The personal automobile has broadened our horizons, but at the same time, paved them over.

Because the subway was able to move so many people so quickly, it quickly became the ultimate urban density amplifier.

Digging a subway is essential surgery for compact high density cities. Whereas highways are open wounds that never heal.

Free parking is a fertility drug for cars. If people can't park, they won't drive.

Euclidean zoning made car ownership a prerequisite of suburban life, by making commercial
...more
Lise
Dec 30, 2012 Lise rated it really liked it
So I loved this book, but in the interest of full disclosure I have what some consider an unnatural interest in public transit, specifically the underground kind. I've been to some of the cities that the author focuses on, and his investigations deepened my understanding about how people get around in those places. My interest in using high speed rail in Europe and Japan has been renewed. What stung was the chapter on Toronto as I live in the '905'. It's not that doesn't accurately capture the f ...more
lisa
May 25, 2012 lisa rated it it was ok
I have been excited to read this book for the past year, and now that I have finally gotten around to it, it is something of a disappointment. Personally, I prefer to live close to city centers with good public transit; I have been happily living in such a place for the past several years. However, I was put off by the author's bias to city living. He seemed just as inflexible as the people who believe everyone should live in suburbs, work from home, and drive everywhere else. The fact that he s ...more
Richard Thompson
Oct 27, 2012 Richard Thompson rated it it was amazing
It took a while to longer than it should have to finish this book, not because it wasn't compelling reading, but because I was just a few pages from the end when Jesse and Peter headed off to Half-Yearly Meeting and I passed it along to Jesse to read on the trip.

Grescoe visited a number of cities around the world and looked at how they had approached trying to solve the myriad problems caused by the proliferation of private automobiles (traffic jams, pollutions, destruction of neighborhoods, spr
...more
Evan
Jul 24, 2012 Evan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the future of cities
I read this for fun while completing my master's degree in urban planning and it was actually the best read I've had in planning. I believe books on crucial topics such as this should be fun, interesting, and fast-paced. Straphanger accomplishes all three with ease.

This is THE book you need to read if you want a book about urban planning, suburban sprawl, transportation, sustainability, and world travel all in one.

Grescoe seeks to understand why some public transit systems are awesome while othe
...more
Salimbol
May 20, 2012 Salimbol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
[4 1/2 stars]
I was amazed at how interesting and readable I found this book about public transport. It's as much a social history as one focused on transport technology, and the author elegantly demonstrates how deeply enmeshed urban planning is (and has always been) with commercial interests, often to a city's detriment. He adopts a compare-and-contrast approach, examining the public and private transport systems of a variety of cities around the world (such as New York, Moscow, Copenhagen, Tok
...more
Tommie
Jun 15, 2012 Tommie rated it liked it
Probably more a 3.5

This book is well written, but if you have more than a passing interest in cities a lot of the examples aren’t going to exactly be revelations or new information. Yes, we’ve heard about the suburb in Germany free of cars. Yes, we’ve heard about Portland’s urban growth boundary.

There are some interesting nuances to his reporting on the privatization of public transit, and I wish the author had delved deeper into how race has effected transit planning and marginalized communitie
...more
Alexis
Sep 06, 2012 Alexis rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
This is a fascinating book, but I'm not going to lie; it's dense and it's not an easy read. If you want to understand this, you're going to have to have some knowledge and understanding of cities, especially the cities profiled in the book. There were a number of things in this that just went completely over my head.

Taras Grescoe is a good writer and I'll read ANYTHING he writes. In this book, he travels to a variety of cities, examining their public transit and how public transit shaped a city
...more
Jacqui
Aug 12, 2012 Jacqui rated it liked it
This was an excellent book that somehow managed to exceed my interest in public transit systems. Every chapter goes into great detail about a particular city's public transit, including its history, the builders, the ridership, the layout of the city and how it affects usage patterns, plans for its expansion, and how the riders experience it. I loved reading all that kind of stuff, but it turns out a whole book of it is just a little too much for me.

That being said, I'm left with vivid impressio
...more
James
Aug 15, 2012 James rated it really liked it
Taras Grescoe really doesn't like cars: or rather, he really doesn't like what happens to cities when car-centric development is the dominant mode for decades or longer. I'm more or less in agreement with him on this, so I am a receptive audience for this book. In fact the arguments against car-centric development were for me the least enjoyable part of this book, as I've heard most of them before and agree with them. More interesting to me were the many different alternatives, from the supertra ...more
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Taras Grescoe was born in 1967. He writes essays, articles, and books. He is something of a non-fiction specialist.

His first book was Sacré Blues, a portrait of contemporary Quebec that won Canada's Edna Staebler Award for Non-Fiction, two Quebec Writers' Federation Awards, a National Magazine Award (for an excerpted chapter), and was short-listed for the Writers' Trust Award. It was published in
...more
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“* Engineers have had to invent a new category for the commuter trains of Mumbai, whose Western Railway Line is the world's single most crowded public transport corridor. When fourteen or more people are standing per square meter - above 275 percent capacity - the train has attained "Super Dense Crush Load." In Mumbai, of course, this means people are actually sitting on the roof and hanging out the open doors.” 1 likes
“For Peñalosa, TransMilenio was a crucial victory. “If, in a democracy, all citizens are equal before the law, then a bus with one hundred passengers should have the right to one hundred times more road space than a car carrying only one person. When a fast-moving bus passes cars stuck in a total traffic jam, it is an unconscious and extremely powerful symbol that shows that democracy is really at work, and it gives a whole new legitimacy to the state and social organization.” 0 likes
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