She and others in the field turn to one another, and to the internet, as their primary sources of transit news. One often-mentioned source is The Atlantic Cities, the urban affairs site run by The Atlantic (disclaimer: I have written for Atlantic Cities since 2011). Another is the Streetsblog family of sites, covering transportation topics in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. A number of NPR outlets collaborate on Transportation Nation, based at WNYC in New York, and there are a variety of other sites, some focusing on public transit, others on gear, and still more on transportation planning.
The individual model for mainstream media transportation coverage may be a former assistant city editor in Montreal named Andy Riga. In early 2009, he was asked by his paper, the Montreal Gazette, to begin covering the overhaul of the formidable Turcot Interchange, used by 300,000 motorists per day. The three-level interchange, built for Expo ‘67, links three highways and provides access to the Champlain Bridge over the St. Lawrence River. The massive project is now projected to cost $3.7 billion, and is Canada’s equivalent of Boston’s Big Dig.
Riga had just begun that task when the Bixi bike-sharing program was announced for the city. “I decided to cover it,” he says. Then bike paths became a bigger issue, “so I threw that in.” More recently, Montrealers have become focused on pedestrian safety, and Riga added that to his portfolio. The idea of a multimodal transportation reporter makes sense for Montreal, often considered the most European city in North America, ranking No. 11 on Danish bike blog Copenhaganize’s list of the world’s bike-friendly cities. “Everybody drives, or cycles, or walks, or uses transit, or a combination of them,” Riga says. “There’s real interest on the part of our readers.”
His coverage goes beyond consumer journalism. Over the last three years, Riga has been tangling with the Montreal police department over access to statistics on crimes against people and property for every subway station in Montreal. Like Douglas at LivableStreets, Riga says he’s surprised at the lack of news organizations that have followed his lead. “I really do think you have to have an editor who understands this is important, even as newsrooms shrink,” Riga says.
The people who get it pop up in some surprising places. In January, Jalopnik, the unabashed car-enthusiast site (to which I have contributed), tackled the topic head on in a story called, “We May Have Already Hit Peak Car, And That Means We Are All Doomed.” The story was based on a finding from Quartz, the business-news site, which reported that driving was dropping not just in the US but also in a number of countries. For automakers, such a development was “potentially catastrophic.” And it certainly could be for the media, whose revenues and readership depend on attracting people who are enthusiastic about automobiles and the industry.
All those reporters at the auto shows—and the editors who send them—should take heed: For a growing number of Americans, the automobile is becoming fundamentally less central to their lives. Northwestern’s Boyle makes a salient point: “The wonder of this industry was that manufacturers managed to sell a product nobody needed, and a society built up around it,” he says. “Humans got along without it for a long, long time.”