Public Transportation in Cities

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Public Transportation in Cities

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Edited: Jun 28, 2007, 10:31am

I own lots of books on public transportation. A book that comes to mind, that others may have seen, is Car-free in Boston. There are various editions of this and they exist for other cities. They give a fairly handy guide to the city, not just public transport.

Most bigger cities have some sort of trolley or streetcar history. One that comes to mind is 90 years of Buffalo Railway. This is kind of a disorganized book, that is frequently put out by "rail buffs". But it does add to the treasury of books on cities.

I have helped a friend, Jack Schramm, in his series of books on public transport in Detroit and environs. He has two volumes on Detroit's Street Railways. Touchstones pulled up volume 2, volume one is Detroit's Street Railways: City Lines. I worked with him on producing bus hisstories, which are in a periodical, "Motor Coach Age".

Regarding Detroit, the July 2007 issue of Harper's Magazine has a good article by Rebecca Solnit about the decline of Detroit and its reversion to nature in its unoccupied areas.

Jun 28, 2007, 3:10pm

Is there something you could recommend on the history and/or current state of public transportation in the US in general (ie. not just specific cities)? I've just had an American friend come visit, and she was amazed by public transport in Vienna. So I guess it must be quite different overseas (I knew it was different... but it's probably even more different than I've previously thought, based on the things she told me) and I'm wondering if I could find something to read on the hows and whys.

Jun 28, 2007, 3:16pm

I've read City Life by Witold Rybczynski, it talks about the development of urban transportation and design in North America.

Both are awful. Europeans can't imagine how much until they live here.

Jun 28, 2007, 3:49pm

Wow, this looks like exactly what I've had in mind, thanks! I'll try convincing Amazon to ship it to me.

Edited: Jun 28, 2007, 6:57pm

I don't think that Amazon needs a lot of convincing ... (although personally, I shifted my non-fiction buying to reputable marketplace sellers which charge a rounded-up price plus 3 EUR shipping while usually hovers around the US/UK list price).

The blog Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space is a goldmine about the topic with an extended blogroll.

I don't know if I am carrying owls to Athens, but Jane Jacobs' classic Death and Life of Great American Cities already highlighted one source problem, the dearth of sidewalks in the US (see also David Sucher) as walking and public transport are symbiotic. For European best practice look at the works by Danish architect Jan Gehl as well as Christopher Alexander's genial A Pattern Language.

If you want to have a look at US infrastructure, Brian Hayes' book shows and tells it all.

Jun 28, 2007, 7:00pm

It needs when I'm moving back to Hungary in less than 8 *hours*... if I order my books to Austria, I get them in less than a week with free shipping, if I order to Hungary, it takes months (my record was SIX months), and shipping costs a fortune.

My family lives practically next to the Austrian border, mind you. Apparently packages can't cross the border as easily as people can.

I'm currently considering opening a mailbox in Vienna and have things shipped there, I've gotten pretty much addicted to Amazon in the past months, and even when I don't live in Vienna I tend to visit once a month or so, and other family members tend to do the same, so it could be emptied regularly.

The more the merrier! I didn't even know the US had a lack of sidewalks :O

Unfortunately I didn't see the exhibition, I was busy moving from Norway to Hungary and from Hungary to Austria.

Jun 29, 2007, 12:44am

Happy moving!'s 6 EUR per delivery for Rest of Europe does not sound atrocious if one orders multiple books at the same time. It is even less than what the ugly stepchild of the Amazon family, Amazon France, charges to ship to Austria ... Regarding shipping time, we all suffer some of the time. Just last week, Amazon canceled one of my orders from April.

Re sidewalks. In some US suburbs, building sidewalks is no longer mandatory. In most cities, they still exist, but are guarded on both sides of the road by a glacis of parking space, so that even crossing a road becomes an adventure: When I was in Houston, TX, I foolishly walked to the next visible bank (500 m) which is not a good idea given the local climate, the paucity of legal venues to cross the road and the huge dedicated parking grounds. Pedestrian traffic in the US is in a similar situation to bike traffic in Europe: Often an afterthought and at the risk and inconvenience of the individual.

Jun 29, 2007, 12:58pm

For a beautiful invocation of the experience of riding the subway, you can't beat the opening of Don Delillo's Libra.

Delillo is a genius at invoking place: Cosmopolis takes place, mostly, in a limo edging through a Mid Town traffic jam, with character slipping in and out the car doors to have conversation with the protagonist, a billionaire on his way to get a haircut.

It's an odd book, to be sure. But the sense you get of the city at mid-day is uncanny.

Dec 14, 2007, 9:51am

Chicago Surface Lines by Alan R. Lind and Chicago 'L' by Greg Borzo provide both history and excellent photos of both the cars and the city.

Edited: Dec 14, 2007, 12:22pm

A great train ride leading out of Rome is described in Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War. This is set in the WWI era and very well written.