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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a joyful missive of transportation
I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to read this book. As a longtime fan of James Howard Kunstler's writings about suburbia and the automobile, Straphanger was a similarly inspiring text, only without some of the derisiveness that Kunstler exhibits in his writing. I live in the hometown of the MBTA, in a city cut apart by a highway and that has been struggling for...
Published on May 12, 2012 by Shannon B Davis

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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas but doubtful implementation
I really wanted to like this book and as someone that has deliberately, steadily and progressively limited the use of a personal automobile the idea of giving it up on a permanent basis is very attractive.

First, a bit of background. I used to drive an average of about 80 miles per day x 5 days per week. Over the years, via a deliberate relocation to a super...
Published on May 30, 2012 by javajunki


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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a joyful missive of transportation, May 12, 2012
By 
Shannon B Davis "Nepenthe" (Arlington, MA United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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I feel so fortunate for the opportunity to read this book. As a longtime fan of James Howard Kunstler's writings about suburbia and the automobile, Straphanger was a similarly inspiring text, only without some of the derisiveness that Kunstler exhibits in his writing. I live in the hometown of the MBTA, in a city cut apart by a highway and that has been struggling for decades to get a transportation extension through our town. I have owned a home here for seven years, and the planned subway station two blocks from our house isn't even close to breaking ground. Yet, I can see just how desperately it is needed. So I am a huge fan of public transportation. But I was beginning to lose faith in it, seeing only how it could be late, smelly, crowded. This book gives one hope. Some countries DO do it right. It can be done.

I was also inspired so much - as was the author - by the way he wrote about the Danish! I am newly inspired to get a bike for those journeys that are a bit to far to walk. In fact, I can't stop thinking about Copenhagen! I love this idea that elderly people are fit enough to bike around town. I bet their health care costs are very low. I'm amazed they do all this with nordic winters - to the point where I am now disappointed in myself, as a New Englander, I take my car in winter almost every time I leave the house, because I don't like walking in the cold and ice. And these people are biking in it!

A great book on public transportation and how we can live happily without the automobile. Written by a travel writer, it's also quite an interesting way to learn about other places and mindsets. As he travels the rails (underground, light, etc), he talks to other passengers and learns more about the people in each place.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Journalism, April 17, 2012
This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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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 quickly, conveniently, and relatively cheaply, where they hope to go in the future, and what (and who) are the obstacles.

To achieve this, Grescoe meets key personalities of the mass transit scene in each city, interviews them, and weaves their words into the chapters. He rides buses, subways, bicycles, bullet trains, and electric trams, describes the experience, and gives us a feel for what it would be like to live in each of these cities today (consider it a scouting report if any of them are on your radar as possible places to move to). He builds a passionate, yet reasonable and realistic, argument against the automobile. He identifies freeways as the nooses that strangle cities, destroy neighborhoods, undercut attempts to resuscitate urban life. He celebrates the renaissance of city living, the fact that the post-Baby Boomer generation is migrating back to urban centers and questioning the "American Dream" known as the "suburb."

In fact, even those approaching retirement with a gated community in the suburbs in mind as a final home might reconsider after reading STRAPHANGERS. There's a certain appeal, a certain charm, to thriving, safe neighborhoods in a city that include easy access to trustworthy, clean, and safe public transportation, with all one's shopping needs within miles of your home. If this sounds unrealistic, Grescoe's description of cities like Tokyo, Copenhagen, and many others not mentioned in chapter headings (Strasbourg, for instance) proves that a "Brave New World" for mass transit is not some pipe dream. In fact, it is a reality in many places -- right here in 2012. Leaders in these progressive cities understand that the long-term approach of financing mass transit is worth every penny, that revenues poured into highways are lost monies which only add to our traffic, pollution, and health woes.

As you might expect, there are good guys and bad guys in this picture -- and many in between. Read STRAPHANGER, and you'll find out where you stand in this picture. Grescoe writes as well as he rides. As a fiction reader, I was pleasantly surprised with my commute through these pages. Hopefully, you will be, too.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Any man of 40 who still rides the Metro is a loser." Salvador Dali, March 13, 2012
This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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Taras Grescoe introduces Strap Hanger with two thoughts - Salvador Dali's opinion that anyone over forty who still rides the Metro is a loser and Margaret Thatcher's belief that anyone over twenty-six who rides the bus is a failure.

It's hard to argue, especially with Thatcher, at least when it comes to America. Riding the bus is something that no one does in most of this country unless they can't afford a car or are prohibited by law or by infirmity, from driving a car. Even Grescoe admits he hates riding the bus. Every year, when the insurance bill and registration renewal bills come, I calculate if we can dump the car completely. Take the bus? Rent a Zipcar? Bicycle? Walk? Every year, we pay the renewals and keep the car. It's just too inconvenient to do without, if you have a choice.

But Grescoe envisions cities that make it too inconvenient to have a car, so convenient to take mass transit, that having a car is an unthinkable hassle.

It's not impossible - many cities have done it, and not just socialist European cities and ultra modern Asian metropolises. New York counts as a success story. Hardly any Manhattanites bother with a car for trips within Manhattan. But there are failures as well. Grescoe doesn't dwell on them, but does point up one spectacular failure - Phoenix - as a cautionary example. Phoenix fails in so many ways, as Andrew Ross shows in his book, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City.

Strap Hanger looks at mass transit city by city, rather than by type of transit. Grescoe is not so much a champion for particular mass transit systems, as he is for creating communities that work. The mass transit systems should grow from the community, not the other way around. If it doesn't fit, people won't use it, as is the case with Phoenix's light rail.

Strap Hanger is not what I would call a fun read, but it's important and it does include some interesting tidbits among the crunchy ideas. For instance, Grescoe gets a tour of the mysterious City Hall Station in New York, closed in 1945 and now a ghost stop, eerily majestic with its Gaudi-esque design.

Only a decade ago, Taras Grescoe was writing books like The Devil's Picnic: Travels Through the Underworld of Food and Drink and The End of Elsewhere: Travels Among the Tourists. He's gone from writing about hiking the Pilgrim's Trail backwards and where to find absinthe to authoring earnest books about important topics such as how to eat ethically and not destroy the planet with fossil fuels. As much as I admire his progress to more mature subjects, I do miss the irreverent, irresponsible Taras.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ten stars Wonderful informative book, March 7, 2012
This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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This is one of those rare books that you read, then read again and then again, because there is so much information to soak up that each time to read the book you pick up more information you missed the time before.

Started reading this excellent book the same week various newspapers here in California were reporting on the fight to NOT fund mass transit rail system from northern California to Los Angeles, which would actually help with pollution, as well as get someone from here in Sacramento or San Francisco to Los Angeles in a few hours vs and all day drive.

And then I kept thinking while reading of the excellent mass transit options in places like Paris, Tokyo and even Moscow how far behind most of America is when it comes to 21st century transportation. Even reading of Trans Milenco in Bogata Colombia I was impressed. Same with mass transit in Montreal Quebec. Denmark is also way ahead of the game. Copenhagen Denmark where the Lego was birthed.

One of my favorite people in the book is Mikael Colville-Andersen from Copenhagen who has an online blog copenhagencyclechic.com. Love how he notes that how the Danes bike rider is a bit different from the bike rider in NYC, San Francisco. In Denmark women ride bikes wearing dresses and nice shoes, or bundled up in winter. They sit up straight where their center of gravity is in the same place as when walking. The reason I appreciated reading this is because its a good reminder to get a bike that fits you. From the seat to the height of the handlebars. It will prevent a plethora of body pain, from backs that hurt to arms that feel like they have lugged a ton of weight up a flight of stairs.

The author then writes 'I was reminded of how seamless and pleasant overland travel could be as I embarked on a 1,0000 mile journey from Paris to Copenhagen. Checking out of my Left Bank hotel late one morning, I trundled my wheeled suitcase around the corner to a metro station, and rode to Gàre se l'Est, where I bought a ticket for a train a grande vitesse, the TGV, France's bullet train.....Two and 20 minutes after leaving, we pulled into Strasbourg's train station, only a minute behind schedule, which meant we had averaged 105 miles per hour. Then she writes how there are more bike than citizens in Copenhagen. How I look forward to this becoming the norm in ALL the major American cities.

But it's the authors wonderful narrative that holds your attention.From describing the Dostoyevskaya station in Moscow with its line 10 wall size portrait of the author of Crime and Punishment. Or when writing about Paris he
writes 'Paris,simply put, was saved by the mètro' and then the visual he paints with words, that make you feel as if you are there, in the moment soaking in the sites,sounds and flavours of this wonderful city.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solutions to automobile dependency, February 26, 2012
By 
Malvin (Frederick, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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"Straphanger" by Taras Grescoe is an exceptionally well-written book that explores how we might revive our cities by breaking our addiction to the automoble through greater investments in public transportation. Mr. Grescoe, who has happily never owned a car, visits eleven cities around the world to assess their transit systems first-hand. Sharing his personal experiences including interactions with civil engineers, community activists, politicians, fellow passengers and others, Mr. Grescoe delivers a highly engaging, informative and fascinating book.

As a successful travel writer, Mr. Grescoe has a keen eye of observation, sharing details about what he sees and experiences around him. Whether he is contemplating a smog-shrouded California vista, enjoying a gypsy-klezmer band in the streets of Portald, or sandwiched into immobility on a Japanese commuter train, Mr. Grescoe has a knack for vividly rendering the scene for us. Providing plenty of context about the places he visits, Mr. Grescoe helps us understand how various transportation choices have been made by diverse communities, for better or worse.

For example, Mr. Grescoe shares that Los Angeles ironically first became a sprawl city thanks to its early 20th century electric car system only to later become gridlocked by cars; but is now redeveloping its transit system to breathe new life into aging urban districts such as downtown Hollywood and to better serve its growing working-class population. Similarly, Moscow, New York and Paris are cited as examples of cities that had developed world-class transit systems but were later compromised by a preference for the automobile; however, lately these cities have renewed their commitments to mass transit. Elsewhere, Mr. Grescoe finds that in Copenhagen, bicycles have improved fitness levels while creating a more liveable city; Japan has concentrated development along its rail lines, reducing car ownership and nurturing more peaceful neighborhoods; Bogota has reduced pollution and street congestion with its relatively low-cost, innovative bus services; and so on. The author effectively uses these case studies to persuade us that quality of life improves when people have access to afforable transportation solutions.

On the other hand, Mr. Grescoe cites the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Arizona as an example of the limitations of automobile dependency. Mr. Grescoe describes how thousands of foreclosed homes sit empty, turning significant parts of the suburban landscape into latter-day western ghost towns. In this case, Mr. Grescoe sees the failings of influential 20th century Americans such as Frank Lloyd Wright whose elitist thinking led to a myopic embrace of detached, automobile-centric subdivisions as substitutes for real community. Fortunately, Mr. Grescoe finds hope in a new generation of Americans who are settling in places like downtown Philadelphia and Montreal precisely for their cultural diversity and access to the kind of public transportation systems that can enable them to spend less time and money on commuting; and more on living in inclusive and democratic spaces.

I highly recommend this timely, eye-opening and insightful book to everyone.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas but doubtful implementation, May 30, 2012
This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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I really wanted to like this book and as someone that has deliberately, steadily and progressively limited the use of a personal automobile the idea of giving it up on a permanent basis is very attractive.

First, a bit of background. I used to drive an average of about 80 miles per day x 5 days per week. Over the years, via a deliberate relocation to a super convenient area combined with a lot of other choices, we are a one car household and put less than 4k miles per year. We'd love to realistically downsize even more as the cost of maintaining a car, insurance maintenance etc for so few miles makes little sense. To say that we're inclined to this type of idea is an understatement. Still, despite wanting to like the ideas (and actually liking many of them), the bottom line is that I don't think this is "do-able" for the United States.

The author presents many wonderful alternatives, many of which are being used throughout the world on a limited basis. Unfortunately, retrofitting cities across this nation and trying to change the time-tested tradition of driving will take more than a few good ideas...our economy is highly contingent upon it for better or worse.

On the other hand, part of the problem is the lack of a cohesive approach. While this or that might work well for one particular area, what is needed is a big picture approach that could be funded via federal initiative rather than a collection of smaller ones. Even more problematic, some are just not convenient. Let's face it, sitting in traffic is time consuming but people already multitask. Many (such as myself) rarely ever encounter traffic...making the idea of public transportation a ridiculous alternative.

To provide an example, we took our local bus across town...approximately 10 miles away and about a 15 to 20 minute drive at the peak of the day. The same trip took 90 minutes via bus. Multiply this by several days per week and 2 people.. the time/cost would be HUGE. Until these real problems are taken into account, there is little to no chance of regular people opting for an inferior mode of transportation no matter how dedicated they might be to the idea. The reality is that it's not merely a mindset but the INFRASTRUCTURE that needs to be radically changed before even the most limited ideas can be truly implemented.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Public transportation must be a matter of public policy, October 2, 2014
By 
atmj (Rochester, NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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Having for years bewailed the lack of good public transportation in our small city in the USA, this book was an immediate draw. Co-workers and friends have assured me that there are reasons, we don’t have such transportation as I saw in Japan and the Netherlands. Well, this book shows me that without a doubt, the only reason is “politics”.
The book contains an absolutely stunning series of reviews of various places that have addressed public transportation. Essentially to get it right, it must be a pervasive mindset, not just a bandaid to address a temporary transportation issue.
With today’s ageing population and concerns about pollution, now more than ever, this is a real issue that needs to be addressed.

Besides setting the tone for a fundamental issue we face, this book also reads like a travelogue. When you are done you will feel like you have traveled to each place and settled in for a bit. I have taken a long time reading the book, as it is one worth savoring. The writing is wonderful and captures the subject at hand. It also helps formulate ideas of where to travel. Since transportation in a strange place is worse done by car, places with great public transportation help tourism as well.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I Hate Driving!, December 20, 2012
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So this book is made for me - an exploration of mass transit around the world and what makes it work so well in some places while failing in others. I have lived with good transit and loved it and currently live with basically no transit, which drives me crazy. I liked the variety of places Grescoe visited and his ideas about what makes a system work and why some systems accomplish so little. Also, he and some of his interviewees had good ideas about how to make new systems successful and how to improve systems that aren't so good. They do admit, though, that some of these systems can't be saved. well worth reading.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The case against auto sprawl, married to a fine travel book, March 18, 2012
This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
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Taras Grescoe doesn't own a car, and never has. He relies on public transportation wherever he goes. He is also an engaging travel writer and one who is able to make his case without pomposity or point-scoring or polemics.

In Straphanger, Grescoe tours the world, stopping only in cities with good public transportation systems (with the exception of Phoenix, which barely has one but helps him make a point). We ride the rails and buses with him in each city and listen as he recounts how each city ended up with the transportation system it has.

Luckily, most of the world's more interesting urban areas rely on good public transit, so we travel to interesting places with him.

Along the way he makes his case against the dominance of the auto. Suburbs clearly are not sustainable forever in the age of declining fossil fuels. And we can't assume that electric cars or hydrogen fuel or some other quick fix will arrive in time to save us. Grescoe doesn't get all pious about how dull the suburbs are compared to the cities he prefers. That's not the point. There are lots of good reasons to live in single family houses that have yards. We just can't afford to drive cars to and from them forever. Grescoe is fair-minded enough to give a couple of anti-transit pro-car activists plenty of space to make their case.

He also talks about the mutual influence of transportation and city layout, including the original streetcar suburbs, and makes some points I had not heard before.

So I do recommend this book, even if you are familiar with the basics of public transportation and even if you've seen many of the cities he takes us to. It's entertaining, noncombative, and informative. A refreshing set of qualities in a book that is, at least partly, about public policy.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars confessions of a transit rider, August 10, 2012
This review is from: Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile (Hardcover)
Superbly written, informative and very entertaining trip through various transit systems of this planet, their history and future - and a declaration of love for public transport.
For someone like me who grew up riding trains for as long as i can remember this book really pulled some heartstrings and is uplifting in the way that there really seems to be a future for transit - and that the future of transportation must be public transit.
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Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile
Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe (Hardcover - April 24, 2012)
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