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Review: Straphanger

2012-05-07

There is a new book just out by Taras Grescoe called “Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile.” He was interviewed on CBC Radio recently on “The Current”.  Last time that I checked, the full interview was still online here.  I’m more than halfway through the eBook version (for Kobo) and quite depressed at how far most of North America is behind many other parts of the world.

Chapter 9 talks about Portland Oregon and Vancouver (my region).  Happily Vancouver gets a pretty good grade by North American standards.

I especially enjoyed Chapter 5 focussing on Copenhagen, Denmark.  To see why, I only need quote a single paragraph:

Bicycles here actually outnumber humans.  At the last tally, central Copenhagen counted 560,000 bikes, but only 519,000 people.  In the greater Copenhagen area, 37 percent of residents get to work or school by bicycle – a proportion that jumps to 55 percent in the central core – and these numbers are rising every year.  To put this in context: more people commute by bicycle in greater Copenhagen, population 1.8 million, than cycle to work in the entire United States, pop. 310 million.

Before you start making excuses as to why your city could never embrace the bicycle in the same way go find Copenhagen on a map.  If it were at the same latitude but on the west coast of North America it would actually be in Alaska.

Overall, the book is easy to read and full of cool historic detail that helps provide perspective as to how different cities, regions and countries ended up, for better or worse, as they did. I prefer Taras’ writing style to that of many books that are littered with statistics and footnotes.

The title of a review of Straphanger in the Globe and Mail sums it up: “Why North America sucks at mass transit”.

Two thumbs up!

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