Books to Read on the Bus

Spring continues to offer some pretty chilly mornings in Portland, so I’ve been riding the bus more than I care to admit. One of the things I like to do when I ride the bus is read, which offers a perfect environment for the titles I’ve been delving into lately.

So without further ado, here are some great books to read on the bus (since you probably shouldn’t read on your bike):

• The Car and the City
Out of print, but available sometimes through Powell’s or always online as a PDF!

This report may have been written in 1996, but it still holds up as a succinct summation of why urban planning that is solely dedicated to the car is completely unhealthy. What’s even better is that the content focuses exclusively on the northwest (including British Columbia), meaning I was painfully familiar with all examples cited. As I was reading the first couple of pages on the chapter about sprawl, I had an enormous urge to read it verbatim to the Clackamas County Commissioners, as the copy precisely describes the clusterfudge that my county currently finds itself in:

Sprawl requires longer and wider roads, more sewer pipes, more electric and water lines, more television cables, and more stormwater drains. Extending this infrastructure to each new dwelling on the edge of an existing neighborhood–assuming housing is built at urban densities of twelve units per acre–costs about $23,000. In suburban-style tracts with three houses an acre, the cost of infrastructure raises by half. In “exurban” developments–those tucked into the countryside beyond the suburbs–the cost doubles.

Sprawl necessitates more and bigger garages, and more public parking spaces, each built for upward of $1,000 plus whatever the land costs; in parking garages, construction costs are more likely $15,000 per space. Sprawl pushes fire, ambulance, and police services to their limits. It makes trash and recycling collection–and postal delivery–more expensive. It lowers the effectiveness of workers and businesses because it leads to traffic congestion: in the Seattle area, time and fuel lost to traffic jams is estimated to be worth $740 million a year.

Taxpayers pick up the tab for billions of dollars of these increased costs because governments subsidize both driving and sprawl with handouts, tax breaks, and uncompensated services. Sprawl is even a losing venture for local governments: a 1993 review of research literature showed that residential development on farmland is usually a drain on government revenue because the increased property taxes and development fees do not cover the extra costs of public services. Even shopping center development is often a revenue loser, counting the extra police and fire service required and the unplanned strip development that tends to follow.

Just finished this one yesterday morning, and I’m tempted to not give it back from the place I borrowed it.

• Atlas of Oregon

A treasure trove of cartographic proportions. Maps showing sprawl, historic native lands, watersheds, and more. Okay, this one might be a little too big to read on a crowded bus unless your neighbor doesn’t mind having the edge of a book in their personal space. Fascinating nonetheless!

• Pedaling Revolution

Just started reading this on my way in yesterday morning. Released by OSU Press and written by Oregonian reporter Jeff Mapes, the writing style is engaging. Generally I’m not a fan of journalism, with its priority on short deadlines, “the scoop” and sensationalism over being factual. However, when I opened this book to have a peek, I came across the beginning of a chapter detailing Multnomah County Bike Fair, the pinnacle of bike existence for many of the people I associate with. Since he was covering an event I’ve been to several times, I was hooked. Who doesn’t want to see how their peeps are represented in print?

• The Constant Rider

This started as a zine about Kate Lopresti’s adventures on Portland’s TriMet system, but there is now a Constant Rider Omnibus available from Microcosm Publishing! You’ll read about Kate’s story of fainting on the MAX one summer morning and getting an unusual memento from one of the responders; the guy who hit on her during not one, but two different bus trips; and watching a TriMet operator buy unmentionables at Meier and Frank…what a read!

Originally I discovered this zine in an exhibit at the IPRC, and was fascinated about the brilliant idea of someone publishing stories of crazy people she met on the bus. Later I read almost all of the existing issues by checking them out of the IPRC zine library.

• How to Live Well Without Owning a Car

Pure and simple, this is an awesome book. If you’ve ever dreamed of going carfree, this book provides a world of practical ideas for making it as easy as possible. The author has spent years of carfree time living in cities not known for their alternative transportation options, so I am doubly impressed by author Chris Balish. You will finish the book inspired and completely ready to take the plunge into carfreedom.

• Divorce Your Car!

This book was more in-depth about the systematic dismantling of the nation’s streetcar systems by auto manufacturers than I’ve come across before. If I forget about the mentions of my employer in the book, the coverage given to walking or biking kids to school, or any of the other cool topics contained between the covers, I will always remember this book as the one that gave me my first significant look at the Great American Streetcar Scandal. The damage of which, incidentally, we’re still trying to slowly erase, some 60 years later. Boo.

In addition to all these fine reads, I hope to soon read Car Sick: Solutions for our Car-Addicted Culture and Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) soon. I’d also like to eventually read the work of Donald Schoup and John Pucher. Schoup has done extensive studies about the real price of “free” parking, and John Pucher is a vivacious fellow who looks at the public health impact of land use policies, particularly regarding active transportation. (I had the chance to watch him give a presentation at PSU last year and although he said he had two hours of sleep, he was charming, lively, and interesting–a pleasure to watch!)

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