We all have to do it — get from here to there.
Whether we’re driving to work or taking the bus to a doctor’s appointment or riding a train to a Seattle Mariners baseball game, we all rely on the local transportation network.
I suspect that’s why stories about roads and trains and buses are so well-read by our readers. They affect us all.
But until earlier this year, coverage of traffic and transportation matters was spread among several reporting beats at The News Tribune.
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Our statehouse reporters covered the gas tax and other legislative transportation bills. Our Tacoma City Hall reporter wrote about potholes in city streets. Suburban reporters covered county road-widening projects and Pierce Transit bus service.
One of our general assignment reporters wrote about major infrastructure, such as building the new Tacoma Narrows bridge. And he also wrote our Monday Traffic Q&A.
Beginning in January, we redrew several local news beats and decided to carve out one for transportation coverage. Other reporters will contribute occasionally, but one will have this as his sole focus.
We are fine-tuning all of our beats based on results of a recent reader survey, which reinforces decades of editor common sense. Readers want news they can use. We call that a “consumer” approach to storytelling, and we’re trying to do more of it.
On transportation, we want stories written for the people looking out through the windshield (like us) rather than the bureaucrats setting transportation policy (the proverbial “them”). So we’re calling it the Commuting beat.
Several reporters expressed interest in the Commuting beat. We selected veteran staffer and courts reporter Adam Lynn. He has solid reporting skills, a way with words and a short attention span for thick bureaucracy.
“Come on,” you’d hear Lynn comment on a colleague’s story idea, “tell me what it means to me. Why should I care?”
Plus, Lynn drives 19 miles to the TNT every day. He is the guy behind the wheel simply trying to get to work on time. Just like you.
Lynn came to us from The Spokesman Review in Spokane more than 12 years ago. He and his wife are raising two young boys in their home in Kent.
Why did he apply for this beat?
“In our region with some of the challenges we have with traffic,” Lynn said, “... on I-5 at 10 to 5 on a Friday evening with stop and go traffic, it just affects everyone.”
“Everybody has strong opinions about it and wants to know about it. As a journalist, I like to tell people things they need to know.”
What makes him crazy about his own commute?
“Just the congestion,” he said. “Where are these people coming from, and where are they going, and why are they in my way? I think that’s everybody’s frustration.”
Lynn wrote the Sound Transit story on today’s front page from another average-Joe perspective — that of a taxpayer. Whatever you think of the projects Sound Transit proposes in its next train and bus expansion, Lynn helps you understand the ways it will affect your pocketbook.
Lynn took over the Traffic Q&A in January, and nearly 25,000 people have clicked on his columns online.
His most popular one so far, “Surprise! Eating while driving illegal in Tacoma,” drew more than 6,600 readers.
Lynn found this law on Tacoma’s books: “It is unlawful for any person to operate any vehicle upon the public highways of the City of Tacoma while eating any food or drinking any beverage.”
He wrote: “Lordy, we thought, remembering all the fries we’ve gobbled after pulling away from the Ivar’s drive-thru down by Tacoma Community College.”
Thankfully, Tacoma’s finest said they rarely pull someone over for eating behind the while unless it causes them to drive erratically.
Lynn’s most popular commuting story so far was short and simple: “Freeway, on-ramp closures on tap for I-5 in Tacoma.” Installing girders for the Pacific Avenue overpass closed the freeway early on a Thursday and Friday last month, potentially affecting thousands. It definitely was news we could use.
“Driving, taking transit, buses, trains, ferries, driving your own car, driving in somebody else’s car, walking, riding your bike — we’ll try to cover all those things as much as we can,” Lynn told me.
Beginning Monday, we’re moving the Traffic Q&A to Page 2A in the regular columnist spot. It’s kind of a coming out for Adam and his new beat.
You’ll find a photo of him, plus his phone number and email address. Send him questions for his column. Send him ideas for stories.
Tell him of your frustrations — or maybe your coping mechanisms — for getting from here to there in the South Sound.
In addition to being a good reporter, he’s the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind taking a road trip with.
He gets what you’re up against, and he’ll tell it like it is.