Award of Merit:
“Mr. Roadshow” Tackles Commute Issues
Gary Richards’ popular Q-and-A column started at the San Jose Mercury News, and now appears in a number of daily papers around the region. (Photo: Noah Berger)
October 22, 2014
Gary Richards, aka the “Mr. Roadshow” columnist for the Bay Area News Group, has heard it all when it comes to commute issues throughout the Bay Area. He’s been writing his transportation column since 1991, back when readers called in with complaints and queries and he still used a typewriter. The column now appears six days a week in the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, the Oakland Tribune, the Marin Independent Journal and several other newspapers around the region, and he gets up to 1,000 emails a week in addition to tweets and Facebook messages.
Throughout the 23 years he’s written the Mr. Roadshow column, Richards’ wide readership has benefited from his unparalleled knowledge of transportation issues in the Bay Area. He has also saved lives by publicizing dangerous highway conditions. The Award of Merit honoring Richards this year is actually his second — he first earned an MTC Award of Merit in 1994.
“When they opened Highway 85 in Santa Clara County, there was no median barrier; it hadn’t been put in the budget,” Richards said. “I started getting calls from CHP officers and readers about the dangers. If it’s a real safety thing, I’m going to write about it.” After a series of fatal accidents on Highway 85, Assemblyman Jim Cunneen, R-Campbell, joined Richards in his campaign to install a barrier on the South Bay freeway. Largely thanks to their efforts, California adopted a new policy that added median barriers to highways throughout the state, greatly increasing safety on the road.
Richards maintains an upbeat tone in the Q-and-A column, highlighting regional transportation issues and advocating for improvements. Many thousands of loyal readers know him as the go-to guy for fast, accurate and current travel information — although his columns also delve into the history of Bay Area transportation. When Mr. Roadshow hears about choke points in commutes, backups on toll bridges or road construction complaints, he ferrets out the reasons for the slow-downs and finds out when and how the issues will be resolved. As for distracted driving, aside from the ubiquitous talking or texting on cell phones, Richards’ readers report seeing drivers painting toenails, shaving, knitting, reading books and applying makeup.
Bay Area News Group Managing Editor/Content Bert Robinson had this to say about Mr. Roadshow: “Gary — and this is rare for a journalist — understands issues the way real people understand them. He has an uncanny ability to give voice to the commuting public, on issues ranging from protected right turns to HOT lanes to solid white lines on the freeway. And because his readers know that he’s there for them, they listen to him — I credit Gary in large part for the growing acceptance of carpool lanes and metering lights in this area over the last decade. No other journalist I know has quite that ability.”
The Mr. Roadshow column isn’t always a one-man show. Since he has faced some health challenges recently, Mrs. Roadshow, Jan Richards, drives her husband to work and back home, and frequently collaborates with him, providing her reaction to various issues. She coined the descriptive term “road boulder” (a slower driver who blocks a passing lane, refusing to move to the right). “I’m so proud of the work Gary does,” she said. “He performs a real service as the voice of the driver, the commuter, the transit user. His work saves lives and changes conditions on the road. This award from MTC recognizes his value and the impact he has.”
— Georgia Lambert