KC Light Rail

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Analysis: The Mayor’s Plan

Just in time for tomorrow's Big Day Out, we offer an independent analysis of Mayor Mark Funkhouser's regional transit plan. We've chunked the plan up into segments (some about modes, administration, connections, etc.) to aid discussion. Here we go!

Light Rail: Obviously the thing we care about most and we will say we are very disappointed. It's not that the light rail portion of the plan isn't interesting, it's just not what's already being planned. No questions asked, the mayor must swap out his line for the one underway at the ATA. Our biggest beef? First and foremost, people today don't come from the Northland to destinations along Troost. While there are major Social Justice points scored by sending the line east of Grand at Crown Center, it just doesn't make practical sense for connecting residents and visitors with job density and cultural amenities in the Main Street corridor.

Basically, don't make people coming from north of the river transfer to the streetcar to get to the Plaza. Bad move.

A simple change would be to put the modern streetcar on Troost — instead of Main — from Crown Center to 47th (about 3.5 miles), where it could have an effect more like that of Portland's streetcar (an urban circulator) and connect with the southern tip of the current ATA route. Think of it as a big transit oval circling midtown that wouldn't require people to go downtown first to make a connection. Troost BRT could still run in the corridor offering connections to Truman Medical Center on the north and Three Trails (formerly Bannister mall) on the south.

One last thought: Terminating the spine at Cleaver and Troost while skirting the Plaza would do nothing to attract a future light rail connection with Kansas. BRT is already in planning stages along Metcalf with a planned connection to the Plaza or downtown.

Commuter Rail: We love the idea of commuter rail. It has its detractors and certainly doesn't control sprawl, but it's ideal for a cities where long commutes need transit with dedicated right-of-way to be competitive. Light rail and streetcars in all proposals would run in the street, either in dedicated lanes or with traffic, thus making them susceptible to slow-downs over long distances. Commuter rail lines can eventually be electrified (see Denver) and can also generate Transit Oriented Development around stations.

A solid commuter rail plan could easily spur involvement from Kansas, who has fiddled with I-35 commuter rail studies for decades and decided on BRT running on the shoulder. This would be a huge boost to downtowns in Lee's Summit, Blue Springs, Grandview, and Liberty — especially if the services proved popular enough to offer weekend and evening trips (see Naperville, Illinois).

We applaud Kansas City Southern's push for this part of the plan and hope it is the one portion that continues unscathed after Friday's meeting. Few railroads are so welcoming for commuters to use their facilities.

Airport: No regional transit plan should be complete without strong connections to other modes, namely Kansas City International Airport. Today's paltry #129 doesn't cut it for anyone except the girl who works the day shift at the Starbucks counter in Terminal A. The Mayor's plan provides nothing worthwhile and that will surely change when Platte County commissioners are through kvetching. The Express Bus concept along MO-152 from Metro North makes the ride way too long for most of the metro. Express or local buses connecting from Union Station and the northern terminus of the light rail spine make much more sense (see LAX FlyAway).

Governance: A bit of a yawner to read through — org charts! — but we like the concept of elected officials overseeing the newly-proposed tri-county transit governing board. It fits with Funkhouser's accountability theme and helps suburban leaders get over the KC=corruption perception that dogs regional collaboration.

Next Steps: Having to wait until all of the required regional officials get on board will be yet another test of patience for transit advocates and Kansas City voters. The Mayor should keep his promise (our word, not his) to not derail the current light rail effort and not trample all over the good BRT work being done by MARC and the ATA along Troost, Prospect, State, and North Oak. If anything, the mayor's plan put transit on the front page of the papers, something the ATA plan has been unable to do lately.

Regardless, the polling results make us confident that voters will make the right choice in November and advance transit in the entire metro, whether it be by baby step or giant leap.

12 Comments so far

  1. Bryan May 29th, 2008 10:34 am

    You covered all of the gripes I have with his plan except one. I remember the mayor saying recently that he would like to see Union Station again become a transportation hub but his plan didn’t focus any attention on that idea. I suppose that could be ironed out later but from the map I saw, it appears the River Market would be a hub of sorts. Any thoughts?

  2. Brent May 29th, 2008 10:43 am

    I have a question, and maybe you know the answer. I agree with pretty much everything you say here (I’m a bit puzzled by a couple of the commuter line routes, but realize that we’re at the mercy of existing lines here), but where did the mayor get this recommendation? Is this just something he pulled out of his butt? Because it doesn’t make sense to have put this out there publically when it completely contradicts the work being done by the ATA group…

  3. Dave May 29th, 2008 10:56 am


    Oh yes, lots of thoughts on this matter.

    The ATA will tell you that Union Station itself cannot be a *commuter rail* hub. Move about one or two blocks east and it gets easier, but only from BNSF tracks that come from the south or west. KCS tracks mostly converge near 3rd/Grand by the current MAX terminus. Not a problem if light rail is the connecting mode.

    It’s all a matter of perception, really, since many of these connections aren’t as direct as they seem. The walk time between either Crown Center or 22nd and Grand would be less than it is between gates at some major airports or between Amtrak and the subway in New York’s Penn Station. Chicago’s old Union Station looks like it’s being used, but most of the facility is newer and underground. It’s nothing good signage and a covered walkway couldn’t cure.

    That being said, you can expect increased Amtrak services over the next decade and the parking area underneath Union Station is an excellent spot for an inter-city bus terminal (Don’t think there’s enough room? Check Milwaukee’s new intermodal facility). So there is definitely hope.

  4. Dave May 29th, 2008 11:09 am


    No commuter rail is coming from anyone’s butt. And please, no references to the Mayor’s Christmas letter. I still retain control to remove comments. :)

    What you’re basically seeing is the Mayor embrace the gift from KCS. The other big guys in town — BNSF and UP — must be coaxed into submission, and no one has yet to get serious about that. Those railroads have active tracks that go to north to Parkville, west to Lawrence, and south to Olathe.

    The commuter rail piece doesn’t really contradict rail work done by the ATA, it compliments it. MARC has studied all of these lines before and abandoned it when ridership didn’t seem promising. What it would replace is the few options long-distance commmuters have today: the ATA’s express or local buses.

  5. Brent May 29th, 2008 2:19 pm

    LOL on the Christmas letter. You should definitely remove all such comments.

    But the Trolly/Light Rail line doesn’t seem consistent with the recommendations that are likely coming out of the committee that is planning/studying. It just seems odd that he pulled the LR/Trolly routes from out of nowhere kind of…why ignore their recommendation?

  6. Dave May 29th, 2008 2:28 pm

    Yes, the modern streetcar down Main does vary from what the ATA is planning right now (mixed traffic vs. dedicated lanes). Dumb move, since almost every citizen who has participated said dedicated lanes were critical to travel times competitive with cars and MAX.

    The Mayor’s plan also sends light rail way north of Vivion Road; if he was paying attention to the ATA plan he would know that MoDOT has put the kibosh on going underneath I-29 without KC paying for reconstruction of that interchange. Another dumb move.

    But I grant one free pass here since the big work is simply gaining consensus on the regional funding approach. In comments this morning, the mayor indicated he’s not tied to the route details put forth in the plan. Very good news, indeed.

  7. Dan May 29th, 2008 11:51 pm

    I like the idea of a trolley cruising down Main Street other than a big arse lightrail train

  8. Joe May 30th, 2008 6:31 am

    So let me see if I understand. You’re saying that light rail should go down Main and street car down Troost because white Northlanders won’t go down Troost and because we shouldn’t make white Northlanders have to transfer if they want to go to the Plaza. Instead, we should have black Eastsiders transfer if they want to go to the Northland. I’m sorry, but that sounds racist to me.

    Also, I thought one of the big advantages of light rail is economic development. Troost is prime for redevelopment. The Main corridor already has good development. Troost is dense with residential on both sides and it has good commercial infrastructure at the main intersections. This seems to me exactly where you would want something like light rail to go.

  9. Dave May 30th, 2008 7:49 am

    honestly, joe… do you know any northlanders who come to the city for work? they’re headed to downtown or the plaza for those jobs. there is no job density along troost (part of the federal funding formula). if you think that’s racist, then direct your ire at decades of city leaders who’ve reinforced these development patterns. i’m just pointing to the data.

    there are also no cultural amenities along this section of troost. whether that’s good or evil is irrelevant. it simply won’t attract those riders on top of those who are commuting.

    if you re-read my comments you’ll notice that i specifically mention the streetcar as having a much greater economic development impact because it *could* stop every block like in downtown portland (versus every mile or so, creating disconnected nodes of development).

    i also advocate retaining the troost BRT line for faster service directly to downtown and points south. main street had BRT first to prove out the corridor and now it’s time to upgrade. troost should follow the same pattern.

  10. Dave May 30th, 2008 9:43 am


    the modern streetcar is not the same as a historic trolley car. the version portland uses is 66-ft long, 8-ft wide and double-articulated. the big difference is in weight and speed, not size. however, a light rail train could consist of more vehicles during rush hours, but the trains can be no longer than a city block *downtown* to prevent blocking of intersections (three to four cars at the most?).

  11. northlander May 31st, 2008 4:49 pm

    And which route has more riders? That’s right Troost. And yes the Streetcar would work better and for a lesser cost. Which means you could have twice as much track with the streetcars. Troost has more riders than all the Northland.
    As for transfers most people have to because most don’t live and work on the main bus line.

  12. Matt Fisher June 5th, 2008 9:41 pm

    I have a comment: For commuter rail, shouldn’t all lines be serving KCMO Union Station? In Toronto, GO Transit’s rail lines all terminate at Union Station, Toronto’s main train station, served by VIA Rail, Canada’s national rail service.

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