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The perception of public transportation in America is often unflattering—a squalid last resort for those with one too many drunk-driving charges, too poor to afford insurance, or too decrepit to get behind the wheel of a car. Indeed, a century of auto-centric culture and city planning has left most of the country with public transportation that is underfunded, ill maintained, and ill conceived. But as the demand for petroleum is fast outpacing the world's supply, a revolution in transportation is under way.
Taras Grescoe explores the ascendance of the straphangers—the growing number of people who rely on public transportation to go about the business of their daily lives. On a journey that takes him around the world—from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia—Grescoe gets the inside story on the world's great transit systems, going beneath the streets to see subway tunnels being dug, boarding state-of-the-art streetcars, and hopping on high-speed trains. As he profiles public transportation here and abroad, he highlights the people and ideas that may help undo the damage that car-centric planning has done to our cities and create convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation—and better city living—for all. With a compelling mix of solid historical research and up-to-the-minute reportage, Straphanger makes an elegant and impassioned case for the imminent end of car culture and the coming transportation revolution.
Any time we don't have crowding during rush hour, there'll be a receiver sitting in the mayor's chair and New York will be a ghost town. Why, they talk about the rush hour and the crash and noise. Why, listen, don't you see that's the proof of our life and vitality? Why, why, that is New York City!
--Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, 1943
1. The Subway that Time Forgot
New York, New York
Something impossibly big and powerful was moving beneath the city.
In a portable office at a construction site in Chelsea, I could already sense its presence as a low rumbling rising through