KC Light Rail

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Archive for November, 2008

Other KC transit developments

With our singular focus on the starter line election, we've neglected several non-light-rail transit initiatives that have had some successes:


  • City Council approves Trails KC plan
  • Put People on Paseo raises funds for bike/ped crossing
  • City gathering public input for capping I-670
  • New downtown area plan to focus on pedestrian experience
  • Katy Trail advocate wins state senate seat

Mass transit:

  • Kansas City includes transit in 2009 legislative priorities
  • Johnson County addresses increased ridership with $2.45m in emergency funding
  • Blue Springs/Lee's Summit express bus fare to increase
  • Lawrence voters approve dedicated transit taxes


  • St. Louis intermodal hub opens for Missouri Amtrak service
  • Megabus adds double-decker coaches to meet demand
  • Union Station property tax may appear on 2009 ballot

Please consider transit alternatives if you must travel this Thanksgiving. Fatalities always spike over the holidays due to longer travel distances and increased congestion. Kansas City is served by Amtrak at Union Station, Megabus at 10th & Main, Greyhound and Jefferson Lines at 11th and Troost, and all major domestic airlines at KCI (all services offer last-minute online ticketing). Frequent MAX service is available for the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.

We'll return on Dec. 1.


Urban core apartments near transit = HOT!

And of course it makes sense with the weight of the economy dragging down housing prices and $4 gas in recent memory. Care of The Overhead Wire, here's a new report from the Urban Land Institute:

Distress in the housing market is benefiting the apartment market, which the report lists as the number-one "buy." Moderate-income apartments in core urban markets near mass transit offer the best buy, a trend that carried over from the previous year.

…and the full recap for 2009:

* Investors should sit tight. Opportunities will surface at significant discounts.
* Buy discounted loans.
* Recap distressed borrowers – invest in maturity defaults, construction loans/bridge loans, or take mezzanine positions and equity stakes in properties.
* Invest in publicly-held real estate investment trusts (REITs) – they will lead the market’s recovery.
* Focus on global pathway markets – 24-hour coastal cities.
* Staff up asset managers, leasing pros and workout specialists. Separate good assets from bad.
* Retrench on development and reorient to mixed-use and infill. Higher-density residential with retail will gain favor in next round of building.
* Go green – cutting energy expenses is likely to be a priority.
* Buy or hold multi-family; hold office; hold hotels; buy residential building lots, but be prepared to hold.
* Purchase distressed condos in urban areas near transit.
* Focus on neighborhood retail centers with strong grocery anchors and chain drugstores.

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Is regional transit really on the horizon?

By Ron McLinden

Light rail in Kansas City? "Regional" transit? County and municipal elected officials in three Missouri counties have been talking for almost a year, but it's getting so you have to be able to read their minds to even correctly interpret what they say in public.

Last Friday (November 14) the "Regional Transit Steering Committee" met at MARC to talk about how to go forward. Present were the following: Raytown Mayor David Bower; KC Mayor Mark Funkhouser; KC Councilman Russ Johnson; Riverside Mayor Kathy Rose; Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders; Presiding Clay County Commissioner Ed Quick; Platte County Commissioner Betty Knight; outgoing Clay County Commissioner Craig Porter; and maybe one or two other. Also present were MARC staff, some transit consultants, and several RTA board members, along with reporters from The Kansas City Star, the Sun, and the Wall Street Journal (The WSJ is reportedly doing a story on Kansas City — presumably with a focus on the Mayor, so nobody is looking forward to reading it.).

Sanders was the most outspoken, saying it was important that talk of regional transit be slowed down (so as not to heighten public expectations), and that the three county leaders would need a few months to work out "governance" issues related to regional transit.

Maybe so, maybe not. I've never been convinced that "governance" is a necessary issue. Just have the three counties each pass a tax to support transit, and then negotiate separate contracts with the KCATA to provide service. (Ten local municipalities already do it this way.)

Even though there was talk of rail on Friday, rail transit seems all but dead for now. Kansas City voters have just said NO to light rail. Commuter rail is either too costly or simply not feasible: existing rail lines are either too busy carrying the nation's freight, or they're in such bad shape that it would cost megabucks to get them in shape so commuter trains could run at a reasonable speed. Light rail in the RCP corridor makes sense, but it's not likely that regional voters would OK a plan that has rail in the core and just buses everywhere else. Thus, we appear to be "on the road" to a bus-only system — if we get any expansion at all.

Meanwhile, I've heard reports that the county officials are actually leaning toward a county-by-county approach to providing better transit service. Realistically, that makes sense — at least in the near term. More and better transit — beginning tomorrow morning — is what we need, not interminable day-dreaming about commuter rail or squabbling about what street light rail should run on.

Eventually we need to get back to a rail-based system — one that supports and catalyzes a more compact and high-quality urban environment where people who want to escape the drive-everywhere paradigm — and be part of the solution to rising energy prices and climate change — can live their lives.

In retrospect, maybe the real accomplishment of the meeting was that the three county leaders — Sanders, Quick, and Knight — made it clear that they are taking the transit issue away from Mayor Funkhouser and Councilman Johnson.

Ron McLinden is transit reliant by choice and is a member of the Regional Transit Alliance. His views are his own.

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Let’s start paying attention to county commission elections!

Now that the baton has been unofficially passed to the tri-county regional planning effort, it's time to start checking in on exactly who is going to be pulling the strings for you in Platte, Clay, and Jackson county governments — because, let's face it, you normally don't care because the counties don't fund transit at all today and these electeds are all transit newbies (Yes, Virginia… there is a SmartMoves!).

Today's Star article hints around at who the leaders and nay-sayers are. We'll be watching these developments closely — and praying that these stories get transferred to the transportation beat — but the good news is that there is consensus on developing a plan that will pass (you know, with ridership and stuff).

We are already raising a red flag about Platte County — home of KCI, Zona Rosa, a water tower… and what else? — which is struggling with the fact they are by far the least populated of the three counties (85K?) yet are expecting equal coverage. We kid because we love!


You were warned: Chastain returns…

…with another legal challenge of the City Council's repeal of the 2006 initiative voters approved and Chastain spearheaded. Laugh if you want, but there is actually an important legal question that would benefit from a higher ruling: whether or not the Council's chartered ability to repeal a citizen initiative after passage is in conflict with the state constitution.

Chastain had threatened that he would continue his legal challenge if the vote on the city-backed plan failed. That way, he reasoned, KC residents could get light rail either way.


The Infrastructure Bailout: Could KC compete for funds?

Momentum continues to build for the next economic bailout package to include a major infusion for infrastructure funding. The chorus of economists pushing the idea point to jobs, jobs, jobs. Why? It takes a lot of local hands to build stuff. Turns out the $600 "refund" checks were a total waste and the hastily-approved toxic assets purchase has already been abandoned. One alternative is to take a page from China's playbook. Yes, our rail systems in the US are considered third world.

The Chinese government says it will create six million new jobs by investing $87-billion in railway projects next year. It also plans to invest a similar amount in urban mass-transit projects, where Bombardier has traditionally been a top supplier of rail cars and other equipment. Bombardier has already sold about 1,300 metro cars in China and it is currently tracking about 200 possible transit contracts in 37 cities across China, Mr. Zhang said.

But after a failure at the ballot box, KC might have to play catch up — again — to capture part of a domestic infrastructure package for urban or commuter rail, or even for the oft-discussed combined sewer replacement project. Earlier this year, Mayor Funkhouser was one of several big city mayors to testify before the US Senate that additional infrastructure spending was needed.


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