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Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile Hardcover – April 24, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“All the cities we admire most in the world--the places young people want to live--boast great public transit systems or are in the process of building them. Taras Grescoe explains why: there's nothing more civilized than a great subway, or a bus rapid transit system, or a squad of ferries, or any of the other ways we've learned to move ourselves around urban space. As this splendid account makes clear, a car isn't liberation: not needing a car is liberation!” ―Bill McKibben, author Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“Grescoe presents a strong and timely argument for moving metropolitan motorists away from their cars.” ―Publishers Weekly

“[Straphanger] is rife with bits of interesting trivia, and it almost reads like a travelogue as the author revels in the wonders of his diverse destinations. With a smooth, accessible narrative style…each chapter is packed with important information… A captivating, convincing case for car-free--or at least car-reduced--cities.” ―Kirkus

“Entertaining and illuminating...Grescoe's adventurous, first-person inspection of the world's latest high-tech transit systems keeps readers engaged while underscoring the importance of developing greener forms of transportation.” ―Library Journal

About the Author

Taras Grescoe is the award-winning author of four books and countless articles focusing on world travel. He's written for The New York Times, The Times (London), Wired, the Chicago Tribune Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. He currently lives in Montreal. He has never owned a car.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091731
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #724,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Shannon B. VINE VOICE on May 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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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Format: Kindle Edition
To understand how badly this book fails to achieve its objective of transit advocacy, one needs to read no further than Chapter 3. In this chapter, Grescoe claims to focus on Phoenix, even though most of the chapter is devoted to rambling prose about Frank Lloyd Wright and the author's encounter with noted anti-urbanist Joel Kotkin -- in California, not Arizona. Kotkin is often wrong, but he was right to say that Grescoe had reached his conclusions before doing his research. Grescoe admits as much when he writes that before he observed what other cities were doing right, he had to observe what one city was doing wrong.

In other words, Grescoe came to Phoenix not with an open mind, but with a predisposition to hate the city. Unfortunately, Grescoe was so blinded by his prejudice that he saw only what he wanted to see in order to confirm his negative impressions and ignored signs of success all around him. Grescoe claims he saw only a few university students when he rode the city's light rail line; however, I ride it to and from work every day, and it's crowded almost all the time. See the photo for an example. Since operations started in late 2008, light rail ridership has been approximately 50% higher than forecast, and the projected 2020 ridership level was achieved 8 years earlier than anticipated in 2012. Recognizing that success, Phoenix voters just approved a new sales tax increase that will fund significant light rail expansion.

Grescoe blatantly contradicts himself by first stating, incorrectly, that Phoenix has no historic city center. Then, a few pages later, he admits that prior to World War II, Phoenix was a compact and walkable city with an extensive streetcar network.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a strange, intertwined mixture of a personal quest for the best place to live on Earth and an overview of transit systems in various cities such as New York, Phoenix, Paris, Tokyo and Philadelphia.

The former is of no special interest with rather banal descriptions of the author’s childhood experiences in suburbia or of his current marital bliss.

The latter is quite enlightening and covers for each of a wide range of urban transit systems historical aspects, a diagnostic and a prognostic. The bibliography shows that significant research was made by the author who took the pains of personally visiting each city. The approach is by no means rigorous however and much contents appears based on impressions and interviews with specific stakeholders. Descriptions and analyses are certainly not exhaustive and for instance nothing is said of the extensive development of bus lanes in Paris over the last 15 years as a complement to the metro.

The writing style is overly dramatic with the chapter on New York City beginning for instance on the blasting site for a new subway line. The first sentence reads: « Something impossibly big and powerful was moving beneath the city. »! Strangely, no maps are provided and the reader must resort to Internet to adequately spatialize what is described in each city covered.

Though it does provide interesting vignettes on what goes on in terms of transit in many locations, this work presents too many quirks to be recommended.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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.
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