Los Angeles & The Straphanger: Surviving The End Of The Automobile Age

A century of auto-oriented culture and bad city planning has left most of the country with transit that is underfunded, ill maintained, and ill conceived.

But as rising oil prices portend the end of the era of cheap energy, a remarkable revolution in transportation is underway.

In Straphanger: Saving Our Cities And Ourselves From The Automobile, author Taras Grescoe joins the ranks of the world’s 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 to New York, Moscow, Paris, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Bogota, 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.

While the entire book is interesting, the lengthy and wide-ranging chapter devoted to transit in Los Angeles really catches the eye.

Here, Grescoe writes extensively about the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension, our “tortuous” freeway system, the Bus Riders Union, plans for a Westside Subway Extension, “the trouble with Downtown,” transit-oriented development and more.

Regarding the “Roger Rabbit Theory” as it relates to the demise of the old streetcar system, he recalls the systematic dismantling of the Pacific Electric Railways and Los Angeles Railway, noting that “in real life Los Angeles, it was Judge Doom and his freeway, not Roger Rabbit and the Red Cars, that ultimately triumphed.”

Grescoe recounts the 1940s business-owners campaign for “Rail Rapid Transit — Now!” and the 1963 Alweg Monorail proposal to build a 43-mile system for free, both of which are found in our Archive.

He discusses the six different rail transit plans were placed before the citizens between 1948 and 1980 — all of which failed.

The author wryly notes the irony of emerging from the Hollywood / Vine Metro station in the middle of the Walk Of Fame where his feet cross the star of Ozzie and Harriet — television’s quintessential suburbanites — on his way to inspect an urban transit-oriented development catering to those desiring city life and accessible public transportation.

Grescoe interviews Mayor Villaraigosa and other figures to keep the writing lively and engaging.

Along the way, he uncovers new ideas that will help undo the damage that a century of car-centric planning has done to Los Angeles and other cities around the world.

With a compelling mix of solid historical research and up-to-the-minute reportage, Straphanger envisions a future with convenient, affordable, and sustainable urban transportation — and better city living — for all.