KC Light Rail

Your source for news and information on Kansas City’s light rail progress

Message To Funkhouser: Think Regional, Act Local

In today's Star — and in many other places where light rail is being discussed (here, here, here, and here) — there is consensus building that a 5-mile, locally-funded starter route would be the best way to get moving and keep voters and activists content. Unfortunately, new Mayor Mark Funkhouser doesn't yet see it that way. Although Funkhouser has been 100% consistent in his stance about a regionally-funded public transportation system, the tide has turned and threatens to drive a wedge between him and an invigorated electorate — honestly, who doesn't have an opinion about light rail these days?

This site was started as a means of sharing information and viewpoints about the light rail vote. We are users of public transportation here (MAX and the lonely local and JO buses) and in other cities. It is quite possible — and not in any way ground-breaking — for the City of Kansas City to:

1. Complete a simply-worded, revised ballot proposal in time for a November 2008 vote that would rely only on the 3/8-cent transit sales tax (no federal funding). The route should reflect the consensus from all of the design discussions held recently (in other words, the modern streetcar on a Main/Grand alignment from Cleaver II & Troost to just across the Missouri River). This general route has already been studied several times by everyone under the sun, so let us remind everyone that they won't discover anything new. These streets also supported the original streetcar system for nearly a century.

2. Seek additional bus funding from other cities already served by KCATA on the Missouri side (Independence, Raytown, North Kansas City, Gladstone, Liberty, Blue Springs, Lee's Summit) to offset the loss of the 3/8-cent tax expiring in 2009. Oh yeah… and ask the casinos to pay for the Casino Cruiser (#173) — one of the KCATA routes, besides the MAX and a few other urban routes, with all-day Saturday and Sunday service.

3. Seek funding from adjacent local property owners (Highwoods, Block, Hallmark, Cordish, Copaken, DST, Tower Properties, AEG, Nicholson) who would in turn profit from development along the light rail line (instead of giving them tax breaks).

4. Eliminate tax incentive financing of public parking along the route. Eliminate all parking requirements within a one-mile radius of each station. Couple this with reduced rate monthly transit passes to all major employers along the route.

5. Ask Kansas to expedite the I-35 commuter rail (instead of "bus rapid transit") project to increase ridership on the starter route; send them to the federal funding trough. Continue Smart Moves talks with our metro brethren without affecting the starter line progress. BRT is not a logical solution for a route that is expected to be clogged with freight traffic within a decade.

6. Develop a plan to move the existing MAX route to an east/west alignment to serve the Northeast/Independence and downtown KCK, replacing the #12, #24, and #101 (or all three). Complete the Troost BRT line in time to offer light rail connections at downtown and the Plaza. To offset the loss of MAX service south of the Plaza, develop a plan to return a heritage streetcar to the right-of-way now being used by the trolley trail.

7. And finally, once the voters approve the revised plan (and if it's simply worded without any touchy pro-developer language, they will), give the KCATA a deadline when the system must be operational.

So simple, you say… right? Well, that's what leadership is: thinking, communicating, and delegating… clearly and concisely. Leave the details and tinkering up to the engineers and accountants, then go about setting direction on the thousands of other issues facing the City.

On a side note, the Urban Society will be trotting out it's original revised plan (strikingly similar to the winning BNIM proposal) at 5:30 p.m. at the Downtown Library.

20 Comments so far

  1. doinkman June 5th, 2007 9:40 am

    good post.

    I’ve never quite understood the stance that we need to incorporate suburban access into the initial plan. If suburbanites want to ride light rail from home to work in five years they will need to move out of suburbia. Furthermore, isn’t it just Jackson County that is voting on the new ballot proposal?

    I don’t like the idea of no max service S. of cleaver. A heritage streetcar on the trolley trail will never be supported by brookside residents / politicians. Lots of power lives along that trail.

  2. Eric June 5th, 2007 9:47 am

    Doink, it is the city of KCMO that is voting, including the parts of the city in Clay and Platte County. But it’s the rest of Jackson County outside of KCMO, i.e. not Independence or Lee’s Summit.

  3. Dave June 5th, 2007 10:34 am

    okay, maybe not a streetcar… how about a clean and quiet hybrid busway/pedestrian/bike lane, or maybe Ultra Light Rail? separately, a friend told me that they used to run the streetcar along that line once a year through the early 80s since the rails were still there, even though actual service ended in 1957. regardless, using that ROW for people and bikes only is a waste of space… that’s what sidewalks and bike lanes are for.

    we will need to have a long-term plan that incorporates suburban connections. that’s where all of the real congestion is generated.

    and yes, it was a city ballot proposal, which means there are voters in three counties.

  4. doinkman June 5th, 2007 11:29 am


    Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of using it for more than bikes and dogwalkers….I’m just see lots of potential resistance to the idea. Plus, there the whole issue that the trail just disappears through Brookside.

    I also agree that KC does need a regional plan, but building that plan all at once is going to very difficult politically, physically, and anything else *ally. I’m with everybody else (except Funk) that if we get a starter line built sooner than later, the suburbanites are going to get a taste and start pushing for things to happen locally.

    Is the 3/8 cents sales tax, + funding from other cities, + funding from local property owners going to be enough to design/build/construct a starter line and operate our current bus routes? Seems like a stretch to me. If we go to the voters, lets be damn sure we are asking for enough to make all this happen and laying it out in such a way for maximum support.

    ….and lets keep the gondolas just for fun…

  5. mainstream June 5th, 2007 11:41 am

    The proposal starting this thread may be just fine, but most of it is brand new information.

    It seems that just about everybody blogging here is of the same mind and convinced of the correctness of this direction.

    How do expect anyopne, at this stage, to evaluate all of the information in that proposal, including all of the route adjustments?

    And how can anybody read that proposal and get any assurance that current bus service will not be degraded? Especially to the African American community on the east side of who is losing all of the money…

    And this propsal doesn’t answer what has to happen to make this starter line successful, what comes after the starter line in later phases and what will make those later phases successful, and why on Earth someone on the northland, southland, east side and westside (who are not near the starter line - in other words, 90%+ of the people that will be voting on this) would want to support something like this.

    These are important questions without straightforward answers at this point.

  6. Dave June 5th, 2007 1:17 pm

    from the election brou-ha-ha, it was stated that 3/8-cent would raise (i think) $25 million annually for 25 years. a modern streetcar (not light rail) system using overhead catenary can be built in the streets for around $25 million/mile (5 miles x $25m = $150m). operating figures are an unknown, but could be easily calculated once route, length, operating hours, and headways are determined. that money would then need to be replaced by new bus-specific revenue collected from other munipalities. most of these streets will need to be torn up anyway when the EPA forces us to replace our antiquated sewer system… there’s no reason these projects couldn’t create synergies resulting in overall cost reduction. the only urgent items above are 1 and 2; the rest is icing on the cake.

    there is nothing in the ATA’s comments that shows the east side would suffer disproportionately if funding for today’s bus service was diverted without a replacement. there are nearly 80 ATA bus routes that run every weekday across the metro, about 50 with saturday service, and about 20 with sunday service. the #1 route in ATA’s system serves the east side 7 days a week and could likely support itself on fare revenue, the rest of the routes are up for debate IMO. there is no need to continue running MAX after the streetcar opens.

    besides, my point is not to personally figure this whole thing out and hand it over to ATA to implement… that’s the city council’s job, and they’re scared to death to make a real decision so early. They just need to remember that JFK didn’t hand NASA a detailed schematic when he said we’d put a man on the moon.

  7. mainstream June 5th, 2007 1:46 pm

    Dave, obviously you’re more knowleagable than I on this stuff. But taking $25M annually from the buses has got to have an impact.

    I agree that it is the Mayor’s, and council’s job not to micromanage - and to delegate. However, when Kennedy told Nasa to send somebody to the moon, there was a heck of a lot of research already done on how to do it, we new the route in question, and we knew how we could pay for it.

    I like light rail, live within three blocks on Main street on the proposed routes (pick your plan) and I’ll be a big winner when these plans come to fruition - but

    (1) first and foremost mass transit HAS to serve the east side well, and other lower income areas — and over the next ten years at least it’s probably going to be primarily bus and BRT. We have first duty and obligation to serve those people who cannot afford or don’t have access to transportation for whatever reason;

    (2) We have to give the 90%+ of voters who won’t be able to conveniently use the starter line a reason to vote for it; (to say it another way, what comes after the starter)

    (3) We have to show the social and economic ROI of ridership and the science behind the economic development forecasts that ostensibly justify the starter line, even at this point at an intuitive level.

    Perhaps I’m just dense but I’m not seeing the science, due diligence and research that speaks to these and other important points.

    I’m probably missing something, but there doesn’t appear to be anything close to a business case (even an intuitive one) that would convince public officials this is the right thing to do, and just as importantly, that it would win in an election.

    And I’ll defend Funkhouser and the City Council here - we need to let the facts, demographics, solid math and science guide us. This direction may be the way - it just doesn’t seem even halfway baked for a public official to act.

  8. Kyle June 5th, 2007 2:01 pm

    hey doinkman, your question about suburbinites is a good one and often asked. I would ask you though, who works at HR block? IRS? and any major downtown employer? More than likely more than 50% of the workers are suburbinites (Yes I know, 90% or people who use statistics make them up).I would also bet less than 10% actually live in walking distance. If you do not plan on bringing us JOCO MOFOs in from the south or those in Independence or KCK, why would I want to park my car at a park and ride and take the last mile via rail instead of driving directly?
    If you can offer me a way to get from Olathe to the P&L district, I’m interested, Irish Fest, I’m interested, City Market, I’m interested, and those who work downtown everyday will be interested as well, with their JOCO MOFO money.
    Great article and discussions!

  9. Paintfumes June 5th, 2007 4:11 pm

    After reading your post I feel allot better that lightrail won’t happen for another 8 to 15 years. Thanks.

  10. Zack June 5th, 2007 9:16 pm

    I just bought a house in Old Hyde Park Historic Distric. After listening to KCUR yesterday I felt sick because I live 1 block west of Main Street. I checked around and apparently this neighborhood has low density. So after lightrail comes, so does re-development. Should I move?

  11. mainstream June 6th, 2007 5:31 am

    Zack, no need to move. Especially if you’re in a designated historic district. They won’t mess with Hyde Park…

  12. thepaintman June 6th, 2007 7:53 am

    Dave………..I dont know why you are supporting what Kansas City Design Center would say. Because isn’t Jonathan Kemper, chairman of KCDC, of Commerce Bank the same one who was tearing down all the historic buildings in the downtown area for parking at his bank?
    It’s what you guys were saying in kcskyscrapers forum. Why would you support KCDC, jonathan kempers decision then?

  13. Dave June 6th, 2007 8:07 am

    my point in this post was to ask the mayor to *acknowledge* that a consensus is building around a locally-funded starter route and give it some thought. there are funding alternatives that are easier than putting the entire effort on hold just to get JoCo and the feds on board. we talk all the time about emulating denver… why is it different this time?

  14. thepaintman June 7th, 2007 7:49 am

    I like this part:

    Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser said he will be in no hurry to push light rail but wants to gain regional cooperation through “robust discussions.”

    “There are at least three citizen plans that I know about. I’m being pushed in 100 different ways in this,” he said. “But I want to do a regional plan. It doesn’t make any sense to just transport people through Kansas City, Mo. I want to leave this whole thing in flux for much longer.”

    Transport people throught Kansas City, MO.

  15. mainstream June 7th, 2007 1:39 pm

    Paintmeister, where’s ya get that Funk quote?

  16. thepaintman June 8th, 2007 7:42 pm

    This is a really nice thing to do for the Mayor:

    Honda of Tiffany Springs has graciously offered to provide, at no charge, a Honda Civic Hybrid for the Mayor’s use during his term of office. Since this will not be a contract with the city and will in no way cost the city any money, Funk is accepting the car and will report it as a personal gift through the Missouri Ethics Commission. The only problem that I can see with this is if my 6’8” man can fit through the door of a Civic; as it is now, he folds himself into his Corolla, and the Civic is smaller than that.

  17. northlander June 11th, 2007 8:01 pm

    A Streetcar would be the way for a start up line. The number one reason is cost.City Hall would not give up 5-7 million dollars from the general fund to pay for operational cost ,which we know the neighborhood fund would decrease if they did. Cost for streetcar $800,000 to $1,200,000/ Rapid streetcars $2.2 million. Work out the bugs and see how start up does and go from there.

  18. Dave June 12th, 2007 1:00 pm

    exactly. i’m not sure why there is such resistance to the starter line concept when a more robust metro-wide plan will be decades in the making. imagine the cred funkhouser would have if he oversaw completion of the starter line during his term(s)?

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  20. linda smith November 29th, 2008 1:09 pm

    I have been to Dallas, Tx. several times in the past 5 years and they have light rail and it’s incorporated into their bus system,you can ride the bus to the light rail and (depending on were you’re going)get off . All it cost is bus fare. The 1st time I rode it I road all over just to see where it went! I loved it!

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