KC Light Rail

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Archive for May, 2008

Regional talks inch forward to June 20

Mayor Mark Funkhouser's regional transit concept is inching forward after yesterday's initial public meeting with regional officials. A new regional steering committee was established with subcommittees for the election, governance, and routes. The deadline for those committee discussions is June 20.

The big decision is, of course, the election. It trumps all others because of the late start for these discussions and the looming August deadlines for submitting questions for a November ballot. November is critical and also was promised by the City Council, which includes the Mayor, after repealing the original citizen initiative ("Chastain") plan.

We posted yesterday on our issues with the route. While there were many, it concerns us that each county commission will be adjusting the map to make sure their constituents are well served. We encourage those leaders to move quickly and maintain a big picture to preserve momentum and the tight schedule.

We also strongly encourage the Mayor to televise all remaining public meetings. If he wants to expedite the process of engaging the public, live or recorded proceedings for transit discussions are critical to ensuring transparency and direct communication to potential November voters.

UPDATE: Video coverage from KMBC. Also, the suburban angle from the Lee's Summit Tribune.

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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.

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The Mayor’s Plan

Check it out here. We'll post more when we finish digesting it all.

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Clay 58%, Jackson 52%, Platte 52%

Okay, now look up and read those percentages one more time. We'll wait…

That's the level of support for a new 1/2-cent regional sales tax on the Missouri side of the KC metro, according to new polling data obtained yesterday by the Kansas City Star.

For those not familiar with Kansas City's geography, the urban core is in Jackson County, which is south of the Missouri River and largest in population; the suburban Northland is spread between next-largest Clay and mostly-rural Platte counties north of the river.

Now, a few more numbers: $132.19 and $3.79. That's the price of a barrel of oil for July delivery and the price of a gallon of 87-octane gasoline in the city, respectively. As analysts have already trumpeted, we'll be seeing $4 on station signs before you know it.

Add to the recipe one indisputably historic November election — when this question (or the local funding one, which only polled at 42% support earlier this year) will appear on the ballot — and you've got a perfect storm for light rail and improved transit in Kansas City.

The support in the Northland was only made more obvious last weekend when we participated in a 13-mile group walk from North Kansas City to Prairie Village. Looking for a way to get to the starting point from downtown, we discovered that there was no Sunday bus service that crosses the river. And you can forget hopping a bus in idyllic Prairie Village on any day, let alone a weekend. For the record, the 10-minute walk across the big-shouldered Heart of America bridge was pleasant on a traffic-free Sunday morning.

So back to the poll numbers: Why release them on a Friday before a long holiday weekend? Not sure there was any other choice, as KC Mayor Mark Funkhouser scrambles to secure support at a May 30 meeting with regional leaders. Hopefully, the data will be all these "leaders" need to change their tune and back what their constituents are telling them is quite obvious.

Either way, we get to vote. Those critical of the harried regional push should remember that there is a Plan B that faces stiffer resistance within the city's boundaries. Although that could likely change if another poll is conducted after we pass the $4/gallon mark.

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Feds release $2.16m to continue AA

A portion of the money earmarked last year by Missouri Sen. Kit Bond (R) was released to the KCATA yesterday. The $2.16 million will allow the FTA-mandated Alternatives Analysis to continue without local funding.

Originally it was reported that Sen. Bond was trying to secure $2.5 million, but only delivered $1.87 million in last year's transportation bill; the remainder came from a grant and an earmark from U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D) — a nice penance for Cleaver's having referred to a previous starter line as "touristy frou-frou".

On the local funding front, two options are still on the front burner: a 3/8-cent KCMO-only sales tax or a 1/2-cent Missouri-only sales tax across Jackson, Clay, and Platte counties. Mayor Mark Funkhouser will host a meeting with regional leaders on May 30 to raise support for the regional effort. Whichever funding plan wins out, a decision will need to be made by either the KCMO City Council or all three county commissions by late August for any question to appear on a November ballot.

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Round-up: This week in light rail

Local:

  • Bus rapid transit along shoulders of I-35 is considered (Kansas City Star)
  • Regional light rail hits another snag (Prime Buzz)
  • Trolley plan puts KC on the move (Kansas City Star)
  • A common sense approach to light rail (Kansas City Star)

National:

  • Gas Prices Send Surge of Riders to Mass Transit (New York Times)
  • UTA contracts for 77 light-rail cars, options 180 more (Salt Lake Tribune)
  • Vancouver transportation officials support replacement bridge, light rail (The Columbian)
  • Transit line potential discussed (Baltimore Sun)
  • Planners want Kirn light rail station to have an indelible identity (The Virginian-Pilot)
  • DDA looking for ways to fund trolley study (Augusta Chronicle)
  • Jaywalkers, beware (Arizona Republic)
  • Council delays $2M for streetcar plan (Business First of Columbus)
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