As a travel writer for publications such as National Geographic, Taras Grescoe travels around the world. But he doesn’t own a car. In fact, the Montreal resident says 90 percent of his transit is by foot, bicycle or subway. His keen observations while moving around cities from Moscow to Bogota led to his 2012 book, Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile.
Grescoe will be the mid-day keynote speaker at Greentopia’s Futures Summit Oct. 21 at Monroe Community College. While he sometimes uses a car-sharing service in Montreal, he says exercising individual rights by driving cars “is diminishing the commons for everybody.” Personal automobiles hog urban space and make moving around harder for others, he claims, adding that nearly one-third of urban residents don’t or can’t drive a car.
“The biggest obstacle is the presumption that every citizen has access to a car,” Grescoe told a transportation conference in Portland, OR two years ago. “Transit is about mobility, not trains or buses,” he said. Some examples include moving ramps in hilly cities in South America that turn an arduous, 30-minute walk uphill into a five-minute ride. Or the “Mom bike” in Japan, an inexpensive bicycle that allows a parent to peddle along with two children. Or the “cargo bike” in Denmark, where an adult can carry a week’s worth of groceries or up to three children.
Bigger modes of transportation, such as subways or light rail, work best when they’re not competing for space with cars and when they’re speedy and well connected, Grescoe said. He suggests cities go for low-hanging transit fruit by providing services in the more densely populated parts of a city that were perhaps designed for pedestrian traffic before automobiles became ubiquitous in the American landscape.