WATCH: Better bus routes needed Upstate to avoid ‘transit hell’: Taras Grescoe

Oct 22, 2015

If you’re a person who frequently rides buses and subways, particularly during peak hours, then you may have been called the “S” word. You stand in the crammed aisle and hold on to a strap or handrail so that you don’t fall down. History has it you’re a Straphanger.

It’s an old term, from the 19th century, currently used in places like New York City and London. Straphanger is also the title of a book written by Taras Grescoe, a worldly, avid transit user. 

Credit ROCHESTER GENESEE REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY

Grescoe was a featured speaker Wednesday at the Greentopia Futures Summit held inside Rochester's Monroe Community College (MCC). He spoke about some of the most interesting transportation alternatives he’s encountered through travel and how those ideas can be applied to American cities.

“Shanghai is a transit heaven. You can get everywhere in a city of 25 million on one card,” says Grescoe. “It’s very efficient, very modern, with air-conditioned cars.”

Grescoe says Rochester is one of a long list of American cities in which the state of its transportation network leaves something to be desired. Across the country, many transit systems need upgrading and fine tuning as they age and expand. In recent years, complaining about transit has become a pastime. But with an impressively structured downtown core, Grescoe says the Flower City has great potential.

“Rochester is a good example, with a dense downtown. There’s already 6,000 people living down there. You’ve got schools and a supermarket down there. That’s where you should start things.”

He says it’s likely wishful thinking for the city to revive its old subway line; a system that not many Rochesterians know existed and later died in the 1950s. Red and cream-colored trolley cars and four-car commuter trains rushed through tunnels beneath downtown Rochester. And there were several proposals in its final years that would have significantly expanded the line from downtown to Pittsford, Charlotte Beach and the airport.

Instead, Grescoe says Rochester needs to focus on areas where transit will work and build out from there.

“You’re probably not going to get a streetcar system in in the near future but you could get a much more efficient bus system that delivers people to these neighborhoods more efficiently,” adds Grescoe.

Grescoe gives a public transit gold star to Denver, which he says has formed a new city, by building up retail and residential properties around transit.

But whatever the transit solution, Grescoe insists more cities ought to find ways to do away with automobiles. He says car-free zones have worked well in places like Bogotá, Colombia, and could work in North America.

“Try a car-free Sunday for example, where you close city streets for a little while. People tend to pour into the streets and rediscover their city. That’s the way to go.”

Watch as Taras Grescoe speaks at MCC during the Futures Summit 2015.