Archive for May, 2012


Straphanger by Taras Grescoe is not a book for everyone. If you’re like alot of North Americans and addicted to your car you won’t be the least bit interested in reading this. And if you don’t know what a straphanger is you really do spend too much time in your car. But if you’re more inclined to travelling on foot, by bus or metro, or even bike, then you might like to read about how cities all over the world deal with creating an environment that is not focused on cars. Boy, are we ever in trouble here in North America. Here’s an interesting fact… the average American household owns 1.9 cars and spends $16,700 a year keeping them running, not including parking and tickets. That’s more than it spends on food and healthcare combined. Grescoe gives us a first hand glimpse of what it’s like to be a metro user in Paris (a city he loves by the way). They have more miles of track in their city center than London or New York. The chapter on Copenhagen made me drool, which isn’t hard because I love Copenhagen anyway. Between the bikes – everyone has at least one! – and the honour system on the subway (no turnstiles), they seem light years ahead of most cities in Canada. And when the Cityringen, a circle line that will add 15 new stations is completed in 2018, only the residents who live in the most isolated districts will be more than a 600 yard walk from a metro station.  Imagine! And more people commute by bike in Copenhagen (population 1.8 million) than cycle to work in the entire US. Shanghai China got its first subway line only 15 years ago and now it has the largest system in the world. Compare that to Ottawa where we’ve been debating and bickering over a light-rail system for the past 17 years and still haven’t put shovel to the ground yet. I found the chapter on Toronto sad. Opportunities lost, bad decisions made by city council, and way too much urban sprawl. He even mentions Toronto’s illustrious Mayor Rob Ford giving the axe to the approved transit plan for the future. The car definitely rules in TO. Grescoe lives in Montreal, which is where in 2010, the transit system was voted the best in North America. Go figure! (That boggles my mind.) He’s been all over, seen it all, and chooses to live there. And he’s really committed to public transit. The dedication at the beginning of the book says it all… “To desmond, who arrived, unexpectedly, after his parents rode the 80 bus to the hospital for a routine ultrasound.”

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