Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile

Straphanger Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile by Taras Grescoe (Times, 336 pp., $25, April 2012)Across the globe, car-centric urban planning has wreaked havoc on many a city. In Straphanger, Taras Grescoe explores this problem by traveling on public transportation in cities like Tokyo, Copenhagen, Los Angeles and even Philadelphia. He interviews people involved in the movement to create affordable, sustainable urban transportation. Part urban history and part travel narrative, Grescoe shows how transit defines cities—from the endless highways of Phoenix, the city with no downtown, to the rapid transit of Bogota, Columbia, which has expressway lanes and large, clean bus stops.

His chapters on Moscow’s lavish subway stations, replete with chandeliers and marble columns, and New York’s ghost subway lines are inspiring, but the chapters on Copenhagen and Los Angeles are most memorable. Grescoe portrays Copenhagen as heaven on Earth. There the city planner is worried about bicycle rush hours, and bike lanes are plowed before car lanes. In contrast, Los Angeles is a public transit nightmare as the overpopulated city is clogged with cars. But Grescoe doesn’t give up hope, as he cites that even this city is starting to make some major investments in their public transit infrastructure.

-review  by Katherine Silkaitis