TRANSLATING TRANSIT TO THE VIEWER
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
- How long will the construction really take? What does that
really mean? How old will a kindergartener be when the project
- What will the effects be on pollution? Most cities find that
there is actually little effect, yet environmentalists love light
- 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
- What do people really want from light rail vs what the experts
say they want? Are people's priorities safety, speed, convenience,