If you want to understand the battles over transit in the United States, is there one book you can read? We asked our contributors.
An organizer who works for a social justice-oriented group and is planning to start working on transit issues recently asked what book she should read to get up to speed.
If she were going to deal with how we design our roads and public spaces, I’d recommend Jeff Speck’s Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At a Time or Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us. Is there a comparable book about transit?
Both John Ricco and Matt Johnson suggested Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker. Johnson said, “The book is fairly concise, but explains the basic information behind transit operations in depth in language that the layperson can easily understand and digest. Personally, I think everyone who rides transit should read this book. But anyone interested in transit at a higher level than just catching the bus should absolutely, definitely, positively read this book. As soon as possible.”
Ben Ross endorsed Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves From the Automobile by Taras Grescoe. The book’s summary says, “On a journey that takes him around the world―from New York to Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogotá, Phoenix, Portland, Vancouver, and Philadelphia, Grescoe profiles public transportation here and abroad, highlighting 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.”
Gray Kimbrough wrote, “This book isn’t the only one you need to read to learn about transit (though I’m not sure such a book exists), but I recommend Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century [by Stephen Goddard] for its in-depth background of the policy processes that gave us the system we have now.”
While this isn’t the transit policy overview our question-asker was looking for, anyone interested in transit in the Washington region should certainly read The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro by Zachary Schrag. This is the definitive way to learn why our Metro system is the way it is. It’s also just full of fascinating facts, like how WMATA’s first head, Jackson Graham, tried to resist putting elevators in the stations because he could personally ride the escalators in a wheelchair.
Have you read these? Which do you think our organizer friend should read? Or what other suggestions do you have?