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Reporters covering proposed transit systems and expansions have a distinct disadvantage -- there are literally no visuals. How do you illustrate something that doesn't yet exist? Most stories resort to showing areas where the train might run if built, abandoned railroad tracks the trains might use, or incorporating video from other cities with existing transit systems. So how do you turn a vision of future transit systems into a visual story?

This tip sheet offers some suggestions, plus a guide to Internet resources on transportation.

Consider All the Angles

  • Focus on the process of building the system, rather than what the system will be when finished. Many things are needed to build the system: land, trains, right of way, construction of tracks, funding, public support. How are all these components being aquired?

  • Spotlight the hidden issues such as racial discrimination. Are people opposing light rail because they're afraid it would bring people out from the city?

  • What's your community's history with transit? Look at car usage in your community vs the country as a whole. How many cars are there in your area for every 100 people of driving age? Have you ever had a trolley system? What's the usage history on the public transit that you do have?

Focus on the Individual

  • Find characters to build your stories around: a suburban commuter who can't wait for light rail vs a working mom with so many stops in her day that light rail is not a feasible option; a bus rider whose route would be altered by light rail plans; a bus driver hoping to get a job as a train operator. Look at all the different types of people affected by light rail on an individual level.

  • What is the annual cost per person carried? If you assume that each of those people whould have driven a car alone, what could that annual cost have bought them?

  • Who are the people making and losing money because of the project? Are there business that stand to gain profits from being located near a light rail stop? What about the businesses that used to be located on a bus route, but won't be easily accessable once light rail goes in? How long will construction take and will it affect businesses on or near construction sites?

  • Remember that there are two populations of people affected by transit -- the converted auto drivers and the transit dependent. Look at how the addition of light rail to your community would affect both groups.

Investigate the Assumptions

  • How many riders per day are expected? Are these projections realistic? Compare the projects from your community with the experience of other cities. Where will these riders come from? Will bus riders simply switch to rail? How many cars will be taken off the road? What percentage of traffic is that on your busiest interstate? What do traffic engineers say about what effect it will have on congestion?

  • How long will the construction really take? What does that really mean? How old will a kindergartener be when the project is finished?

  • What will the effects be on pollution? Most cities find that there is actually little effect, yet environmentalists love light rail. Why?

  • Where will the rail lines go and who will be served? Is there really a need for suburb to downtown mass transit or is most of the commuting in your area suburb to suburb?

  • Are there other more feasible choices for your community? HOV/reversable lanes? Pay-a-premium lanes? Small commuter buses? More direct bus routes?

  • What do people really want from light rail vs what the experts say they want? Are people's priorities safety, speed, convenience, comfort?

Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009

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