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Jawnt's Transit Reading List

Jawnt's Transit Reading List

To help you kick off your summer reading, we’ve rounded up a list of the Jawnt team’s favorite transit-focused books.

Jawnt Team
June 26, 2024

The Jawnt team spends a lot of time thinking about transit–and when we’re not riding it  or brainstorming ways to improve it, we’re probably reading about it. Countless urban planners, academics and advocates have published their insights and best practices to illuminate what’s possible for the future of transportation, but with so many great books to dive into, the selection can be overwhelming.

To help you kick off your summer reading, we’ve rounded up a list of the Jawnt team’s favorite transit-focused books.  Did we miss anything? Reach out to us and let us know!

Streetfight, Janette Sadik-Khan

Changing our cities can feel daunting, bureaucratic, and slow, but Streetfight demonstrates how that doesn’t need to be the case. As New York City’s Department of Transportation commissioner from 2007 to 2013, Sadik-Khan’s hustle and perseverance dramatically changed the landscape of New York for the better. Sadik-Khan’s tenure saw the development of NYCDOT’s Summer Streets program, as well as the explosion of pedestrian plazas. In Streetfight, she reflects on  her experiences to explain the tactics that reallocate street space in a way that’s safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs
The Death and Life of Great American Cities was Jawnt’s first book club selection. Jacobs, an urbanist and activist, kicked off a movement that became the highway revolt, ending the practice known as “slum clearance” and triggering a nationwide effort to prioritize and preserve dense and walkable urban neighborhoods.

To paraphrase [Jawnt’s Director of Product Partnerships, Ruth Miller], “Jacobs’ legacy is somewhat complicated, as the external pressures on neighborhoods changed from transportation to housing and she became aligned with the NIMBY movement (or it with her). But her first book remains a moving celebration of the things we love about cities.”

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do and What It Says About Us, Tom Vanderbilt

At Jawnt we deal first-hand with a lot of assumptions about traffic and driving–namely that both of them are inescapable, especially in cities. As much as we love challenging assumptions about driving, Tom Vanderbilt enjoys it more. 

Traffic pops the hood on the psychology of traffic: What makes us good or bad drivers? Why do interventions intended to protect pedestrians backfire? How do traffic jams form? They’re all great questions, and taken together, they explain driver behavior in a way that’s surprising and illuminating. If you want a taste of the book, you can listen to Vanderbilt’s talk at Google from 2008

Making Space: Women and the Man Made Environment, Matrix

Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative, a London-based collective formed in 1980, was one of the first explicitly feminist architectural groups, known for their work in designing women’s and community centers as well as publishing several books and papers. Making Space was their direct challenge to patriarchal modes of design, exploring the “sexist assumptions on gender and sexuality that have a fundamental impact on the way buildings are designed and our cities are planned.” Matrix’s philosophy around design was rooted in making it a collaborative and accessible process, so it’s no surprise that the re-issue of this feminist manifesto still feels fresh and approachable. 

Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, Jarrett Walker

Jarrett Walker, a transit planner with over 20 years of experience, has written one of the most approachable guides to functional transit for everyone from casual riders to fellow transit planners. Walker’s breakdown of the seven key functions of transit is a useful primer for people unfamiliar with transit, but also a great resource for riders and planners alike.

Similarly to how Jane Jacobs insisted that “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans,” Walker believes that transit should be built to serve riders, with users at the center of transit planning. This approach resonates with a lot of the Jawnt team, given our aim is always to build products that are a joy for riders to use. 

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, Robert A. Caro

Let’s get this out of the way first–yes, the book is very long. 1,344 pages, to be exact, putting it head and shoulders above heavyweights like Middlemarch (~880 pages) and Infinite Jest (~1,079 pages). But there’s a reason that this Pulitzer-winning biography of Robert Moses, originally published in 1974, is perennially on transit enthusiasts’ bookshelves and even prompted a New York Times article by Robert A. Caro in 2014 titled “‘The Power Broker,’ 40 Years Later.” 

Beyond prestige, The Power Broker’s account of how bridges and highways were used to consolidate power in New York City and shape the lives of the people there is invaluable for understanding how transit planning can impact a city. 

And, if you’re feeling leery of starting a book that might break your toe if you drop it, the Jawnt-favorite podcast 99% Invisible has started a Power Broker Book Club, covering five chapters a month!

The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald C. Shoup

When American drivers park, 99% of the time they’re doing so for free. Beyond just their own driveways, drivers have an abundance of free parking options, from legally-mandated lots outside of new developments to street parking in congested cities. How was this standard set, and if drivers aren’t paying for it, who is? These are the questions Donald Shoup explores in The High Cost of Free Parking, which is as thorough as it is insightful. Published originally in 2005, and updated in 2011, Shoup’s work digs into how free parking “distort[s] transportation choices, debas[es] urban design, damag[es] the economy, and degrad[es] the environment.” Prepare to never look at a free parking lot the same way again. 

The Lost Subways of North America: A Cartographic Guide to the Past, Present and What Might Have Been, Jake Berman

When Jawnt had its first all-company retreat to Philadelphia, we were lucky enough to be joined by Berman, the writer and illustrator of The Lost Subways of North America, for a talk about his book. Berman’s gorgeously-designed maps outline the history and future of public transit across the United States. For instance–Rochester, New York used to have a full-blown subway system, completed in 1927, which was later deprecated in 1956. Berman’s humorous voice, (chapter titles include “The City Too Busy To Hate,” “72 Suburbs in Search of a City,“ and “The Tortured History of the Second Avenue Subway”) thoughtful research, and beautiful maps combine for an overview of public transit history that’s just as engrossing to read as it is to look at.

Jawnt Team

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