Public transportation, whether it’s buses, railways, or cars, does a lot to connect communities to one another. The following books look back at how far public transportation has come. Many of them also look forward to how much more public transportation can do through urban planning to uplift communities and make our lives more convenient. When it comes to public transportation history and its future, these books are fascinating accounts of where we’ve been and where we can go.
by Sam Roberts
Foreword by Pete Hamill
Grand Central is a beautifully illustrated, informative, and fun book that celebrates the history of the iconic Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Starting with the train station's grand opening in the winter of 1913, this book covers the rich history and legacy of Grand Central Station, with interesting stories that range from movies filmed at the station to the painting of the celestial ceiling in the main lobby. The book also lets readers in on the hidden areas of Grand Central, like secret tunnels and hidden passageways. This is a truly unforgettable book for anyone who loves trains or history.
Janette Sadik-Khan; Seth Solomonow
— Janette Sadik-Khan, the author of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, is New York City's transportation commissioner. In her book, she discusses her vision for urban planning. She uses clear step-by-step guides to explain her process, showing how she changed the streets of New York City and made transportation safer for everyone.
With William Rosen
Author Samuel I. Schwartz is the Traffic Commissioner of New York City, so he knows a lot about cars. In Street Smart, Schwartz looks at why American cities became so dependent on travel by car. Schwartz also explains how the current shift away from car travel has the potential to forever alter America's urban landscapes. Street Smart predicts a transportation revolution on our horizon, forever changing how people in cities get around.
With Karen Kelly
With No One at the Wheel, Samuel I. Schwartz is back with another book predicting the future of transportation. In the future, Schwartz predicts that human drivers will not only be a thing of the past, driving will be illegal. The future is the driverless vehicle. Schwartz says we are on the brink of a driver-free revolution that will transform highways, urban planning, and laws across the globe.
Robert D. Bullard (Editor); Glenn S. Johnson (Editor); Angel O. Torres (Editor)
While other books on this list optimistically predict the future of transportation and urban planning, Highway Robbery points out the flaws in our current transportation system and the problems with the system that we have yet to address. In this book, authors Robert D. Bullard, Glenn Johnson, and Angel O. Torres point out the harmful ways transportation policy and urban planning continue to enforce racial and economic inequality. But there is hope. The authors also discuss what can be done to fix these injustices, citing past activists such as Ella Baker and Rosa Parks. There is still so much work to be done, but the authors urge future transit rights organizers that change is possible.
Christian Wolmar is a journalist who focuses on the history and politics of railways. In his book Great Railroad Revolution, Wolmar looks at the rise and fall of the American railroads. When the first American railroad—the Baltimore & Ohio line—was built in the 1830s, it sparked a revolution as suddenly Americans were able to rapidly travel across the country. There were dreams of connecting every town in the country by railway. Then, other modes of transportation such as cars and airplanes began to outshine railroads, and many people forgot about them entirely. In recent years, however, America has begun to reclaim the railways, and Wolmar agues that we're possibly on our way to reinvigorating travel by train.
Wolmar is back to talk about more trains in his book To the Edge of the World. This book is about the Trans-Siberian Railway Line, which stretches nearly 6,000 miles between Moscow and Vladivostok. It is the world's largest railway line, and it was the most ambitious railway project of the nineteenth century. Highlighting the political and economic events that helped shape this railway's story, Wolmer looks at the history of the railway from conception to construction to today.
In the third Christian Wolmar book to make this list, Blood Iron and Gold, the author explores the dawning of a new era in transportation, and it all started with world's first railroad in Britain and America in 1830. Wolmar looks at how these first rail lines lead to a global railway system that would forever change the world and the way we travel.
Gordon H. Chang
If you're here, it's because you're interested the history of transportation and probably specifically the history of trains. So you don't want to miss this important part of the history of the Transcontinental Railroad, Ghosts of Gold Mountain by Gordon H. Chang. Chinese workers migrated to the United States by the thousands, escaping poverty and war of their country to work on the American railway system. Their blood and sweat is what formed the United States railways, and this book is their history, much of it previously forgotten or untold.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter
After looking back at public transportation history, it's time to end this list by once again looking forward. In Move: How to Rebuild and Reinvent America's Infrastructure, Harvard Business School professor and best-selling author Rosabeth Moss Kanter argues that currently America is at a transportation standstill. Sometimes quite literally, if you look at the country's traffic problems. Kanter visits cities across America to witness the country's problems with transportation firsthand. And then, more importantly, she offers up solutions.
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Ashley Holstrom is a book person, designing them and writing about them for Book Riot. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color.