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Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  462 ratings  ·  81 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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Walkable City by Jeff SpeckStraphanger by Taras GrescoeWriting About Architecture by Alexandra LangeDetroit City Is the Place to Be by Mark BinelliSmart Cities by Anthony M. Townsend
NextCity.org Book Club
2nd out of 22 books — 12 voters
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane JacobsThe Image of the City by Kevin LynchThe Geography of Nowhere by James Howard KunstlerA Pattern Language by Christopher W. AlexanderTriumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser
Top Urban Planning books Of All time
31st out of 86 books — 72 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,357)
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William Cline
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
Ellen Keim
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
Newengland
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
Kristen
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
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
Justin
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
Jennifer
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
David McClelland
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
Steven Lee
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
Vincent Geels
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.
Collins Roth
A well written stroll through various transit systems around the world, looking at the circular effect of transit on development, and development on transit.

It was a fairly quick read, although a few of the chapters could have been a little shorter.

What bothered me was the authors tendency to portray those on transit as good, honest, hardworking people, dedicated to the public good and those in cars as wealthy, selfish tools of the capitalist machine. Public authorities paying high union wages
...more
Alison
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.
Edufner
A whirlwind tour of the world's transit systems and a major eye-opener. Each chapter is focused on a city and its system (or lack thereof) and how the history of its transit shaped its development. I found the introduction to be a little preachy - he sort of hits you over the head with the main idea that not having a card is liberation and car ownership is evil, etc. But once he moves into the cities the storytelling really picks up and by the end of the book I was googling urban transit, city p ...more
Janet
Enjoyed this book very much. It gave me a great deal to think about.
Sean Goh
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
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
Malin Friess
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
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
lisa
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
Salimbol
[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
Richard Thompson
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
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
Mary Soderstrom
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
Evan
May 16, 2013 Evan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Krista
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
Jane
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
Alexis
Sep 14, 2012 Alexis rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Robert Parsons
Excellent look at urban and suburban transportation. While the book favours public transit, it does show some great cities where cycling works as well. Ultimately, the car and related infrastructure (highways/freeways) are seen as a problem. Living in Toronto, the lessons drawn from this book are quite evident every time I step out of my home. As a walker, cyclist, and driver, I recommend this to anyone interested in the roles public transit play.
Alexandre Normand
The author didn't have much convincing to do with me on the merits of public transit. While I was already in favor of most of what is advocated for in the book, there still was some good content for me. The stories and descriptions of the transport systems in various cities are fascinating. I doubt that the book can convince any car die-hard that we need to increases taxes on gas to fund public transit but it might provide a good picture for people that are not partial to either.

We all want to
...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
More about Taras Grescoe...
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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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