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Breaking Gridlock: Moving Toward Transportation That Works Hardcover – December 11, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this informative but scattered survey of transportation issues in America, ecologist Motavalli presents a legion of reasons why automobiles are the wrong choice for metropolises. They range from the global (ozone layer depletion) to the personal (long commutes) to the social (isolation and urban sprawl) to the near-farcical (increasing numbers of women giving birth on the way to the hospital because highways are too congested). Despite all this, of course, Americans are still addicted to their cars so much so that they'll even use dummies to fake their way into HOV lanes. Partly, Motavalli believes, this is because cars seem to fulfill Americans' desires for individualism. But it's also because of the historic narrow-mindedness of city planners like Robert Moses, who had such distaste for mass transit that he purposely built highway bridges around Long Island and upstate New York that were too low for buses. Unfortunately, Moses's modern counterparts aren't much better. For every Portland, Ore., which has committed to light rail and refused to spend money on highways, there is a Boston, which has thrown billions of dollars into its Big Dig program to extend highways underground. While Motavalli is a proven expert at diagnosing these problems, he is less adept at prescribing solutions. He believes in an interconnected hodge-podge of transit systems subway, light rail, buses, ferries, bicycles along with (most importantly) a total readjustment in American sensibilities based on the European model. Readers will undoubtedly have their own opinions; after finishing Motavalli's earnest and well-researched book, however, they will have no doubt as to its necessity. Agent, Sabine Hrechdakian.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

If the eternal cycle of more cars/more roads/more cars causes angst in your community, library patrons may be interested in the range of options explored here. Motavalli--editor of E: The Environmental Magazine and author of Forward Drive: The Race to Build "Clean" Cars for the Future (2000)--recognizes that "for transportation to change, the nature of home, work, and family has to change." Even without this sort of fundamental change, however, he sees possibilities. Breaking Gridlock surveys past science-fiction scenarios and current transit struggles in five U.S. "transit cities" (New York, Boston, L.A., Portland, OR, and Arcata, CA) and regionally planned European cities such as Zurich and Copenhagen. It examines smart cars and smart tolls as responses to sprawl, and telecommuting and e-commerce as a reaction to burgeoning "edge cities." And Motavalli's study considers both the auto industry's and environmentalists' visions of cleaner cars, as well as potential improvements in bus technology and opportunities for improved water and air transportation. A lively exploration of a broad range of potentially valuable transportation improvements. Mary Carroll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Sierra Club Books (March 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578050391
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578050390
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,411,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jim Motavalli writes on environmental topics for The New York Times, CBS MoneyWatch, NPR's Car Talk, AOL, Mother Nature Network and (Hearst). He is author or editor of six books, including Forward Drive: The Race to Build Clean Cars for the Future, Feeling the Heat: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Climate Change, and Naked in the Woods: Joseph Knowles and the Legacy of Frontier Fakery. His next book, tentatively titled High Voltage (about electric cars), will be published by Rodale. He is also a senior writer for E/The Environmental Magazine, a contributor to the Environmental Defense Fund publications and to Knowledge@Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania.

Motavalli is a two-time winner of the Global Media Award from the Population Institute, and hosts a radio program on WPKN-FM in Connecticut, with frequent live music. He lectures widely on climate and transportation issues.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on February 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
In the face of increasingly long and difficult commutes and rocketing gas prices comes a title which explores not one but a range of viable options for transportation. Introductory chapters examine the state of the U.S. transportation system and introduces the technology and choices which can help re-create systems for the future. Examinations of the nation's most congested suburbs and cities provide critiques and suggested models for future transportation alternatives. An important guide.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robert Davey on September 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Motavalli has produced a stimulating, always readable account of the traffic woes that beset us, taking as his starting point the gridlock that faces commuters in southwestern Connecticut every morning. He considers new approaches such as ferries, "clean" buses, bicycles, light rail--his message is that just about anything that gets us out of our cars is good.
This book is best read as a companion to Motavalli's earlier book on the new non-polluting cars with hydrogen-fuel-cell technology that are just around the corner--although he recognizes the irony that clean cars are no less a cause of gridlock than their dirty brethren.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By D. N. Roth on February 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Motavalli is not particularly good about keeping his details correct. For example:

1) He refers to Boston's Central Artery as the John F. Kennedy Expressway. Lots of people make this mistake. It's actually the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway. What is bad about this error, is that he states that JFK would not have approved of the orginal Central Artery.

2) He states that parts of Acadia National Park are only accessible by shuttle. That is not true according to the National Park Service website, insofar as I can tell.

Overall, I find his premise disturbing as well. Although the idea that transit can dampen congestion was a novel idea a decade ago, more and more transportation officials and researchers are realizing that transit operates as a supplement to roads, rather than a replacement. If you build a new transit line, you are adding capacity to the transportation network. There may be an initial shift to transit (for those for which it is convenient), but that frees capacity on the highway, which causes more people from utilize the highway. The highway will be congested no matter how much transit is built.

Instead of reading books like this, there are much better, more thorough reports/analyses out there, from transit authorities/advocates (i.e. not polemic journalists), MPOs, state DOTs, and transportation research organizations/firms (and others).
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