Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe – review

PD Smith admires a polemical excursion of the arena’s awesome underground systems

Margaret Thatcher once declared that “a person who, beyond the age of 26, unearths himself on a bus can count himself a failure”. Taras Grescoe is proud to be – in Thatcher’s estimation, at least – a failure. Although he can force, the Canadian creator, who is in his mid-40s, has by no means owned a car. And he is not on my own. Half the populace of cities which include New York, Toronto, and London, do no longer very own vehicles. Every day a few one hundred fifty-five million human beings take the underground. And even though being a straphanger in North America can be, as Grescoe shows, a “depressing revel in” because of underfunding and horrific planning, some place else public shipping – especially in cities – is playing a Renaissance. The heyday of the car has handed.

In this passionately argued and important e-book, Grescoe takes the reader on a whistle-stop excursion of global cities and their delivery structures. He accuses the private vehicle of destroying towns, turning streets into kill-zones for the susceptible, polluting the air and burning up more and more scarce fossil fuels. Although the scope of Straphanger is global, it in reality goals car-loving, gas-guzzling North America and the statistics he cites are shocking. In the USA – “the maximum extravagantly motorized country inside the history of the world” – vehicles now outnumber drivers using five to 4. Los Angeles, as soon as hailed as an “autopia,” is now the most congested town in the US with drivers losing 72 hours a yr stuck in visitors jams – Americans now spend nine years of their lives sitting of their automobiles, and the pollutants they produce kills 30,000 US citizens each year.

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But trade is within the air. In 2009, the entire wide variety of cars within the US shrank. In its early days in the workplace, the Obama management conjured up visions of a brand new golden age of public shipping, imparting investment for formidable rail and subway schemes. Streetcars, which was once the principle mode of public shipping in American cities, are being reintroduced in such not likely locations as Houston and Denver and, in 2010, public shipping use reached a fifty four-year excessive. In this suburban country, human beings also are shifting again into the towns. Recently launched figures from the 2011 US census show that a lot of the largest cities at the moment are growing faster than their suburbs, the first time this has befallen in a century. This trend is being led by way of young Americans, a lot of whom are also selecting no longer to learn how to force but are alternatively counting on bicycles and public shipping. Even New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, is now called the “straphanger mayor,” using the subway more than one times a week. Although, as Grescoe notes, he is taken to the subway forestall by chauffeured SUV.

 

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Surprisingly for an e-book approximately public shipping, London is not one of the cities Grescoe visits. Indeed the metropolis is only stated for its “criminally costly” tube tickets, the failed test of privatization in 2003 and the dearth of air con (“cruel and unusual punishment”). Today more than 1000000000 passenger trips a year are made at the London Underground, a figure equaled via the subway device of New York and the Paris Métro. Although Shanghai failed to open its first line until 1995, its hastily increasing metro has now ended up the longest subway community in the world, and Moscow’s underground is one of the busiest, carrying nine million humans a day, a figure matched simplest through Tokyo.

Grescoe stops off at some of these towns. It became in Paris that Blaise Pascal invented cutting-edge city public delivery in 1662 with the “carosses à cinq sols,” carriages that ran alongside five constant routes in the city, although unfortunately best for the gentry. Today the Métro “is the most innovative and green transit network ever built.” Parisian subway trains had been the usage of autopilot generation for the reason that Nineteen Seventies however now absolutely computerized trains are being added. Grescoe is inspired by Shanghai’s subway. Above the floor, the humans have swapped bikes for cars, as they include a consumerist life-style. The result is congestion and pollutants: the air inside the city’s streets has to turn out to be a health hazard. Moscow’s roads also are choked: it’s far “site visitors hell.” But its palatial Metro, constructed within the 30s, is “designed to ennoble and uplift the lengthy-suffering straphangers of the arena.” In the Russian capital, it is the most effective manner to journey. In Tokyo, he visits Shinjuku, with a few 3.Five million commuters are passing through each day. In contrast, the busiest station in the US is New York’s Penn Station which handles a paltry six hundred,000 commuters. Grescoe is proper to marvel at the “awesome clockwork” of Tokyo’s shipping system: it’s far “the arena’s exceptional instance of a transit city … a town constructed and now kept jogging, via its trains”.

Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of the Colombian capital Bogotá, which revolutionised its public transport with a bus speedy transit scheme, makes a powerful factor to Grescoe: “I consider a metropolis is more civilised not when it has highways but while a child on a tricycle is capable of pass about everywhere easily and safety.” In too many places multi-lane highways have sliced thru the cityscape, destroying groups and developing obstacles among districts. But the act of using additionally fundamentally adjustments the way people use the town. Inside vehicles, humans are insulated from the sights and sounds of the metropolis and isolated from different residents. By evaluation, public delivery is a democratic and a social revel in. In Tokyo, someone tells Grescoe: “To use public shipping is to recognize how to cooperate with different humans, how to behave in a public area.”

Excellent public shipping is crucial to the fulfillment of any international town. Grescoe argues that North America has fallen ways behind Asia in its public delivery infrastructure, and it “can be paying the price, regarding misplaced competitivity, for decades to come back.” This is a warning for every metropolis. But even in North America, a quiet revolution is taking region within the manner human beings travel. And this is taking place in towns everywhere, as people from Philadelphia (the town with the highest percentage of Americans who go back and forth strolling) to Copenhagen (“the sector’s maximum bikeable town”) realize that the automobile is now not an crucial a part of city life inside the twenty-first century.