KC Light Rail

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Archive for the 'Car-Free & Carefree' Category

Crossing the river is about to get easier

MoDOT broke ground today on Kansas City's first, safe Missouri River crossing for pedestrians and bicycles… ever.

See the video above for the Heart of America Bridge makeover.

Believe it or not, crossing the river on foot or bike today is a very dicey affair — unlike almost all other river cities. There is literally no room on the Broadway Bridge, Heart of America traffic zooms along at 50+ mph, and MoDOT slammed the door on ped/bike access on the brand-new Paseo Bridge.

The Heart of America crossing will be barrier-separated, although users will need to start their trip on 3rd Street in the River Market or on Burlington Street in North Kansas City. Auto users are treated to a plethora of access options.

This new crossing is even more necessary when you consider the limited transit options connecting the two halves of Kansas City — bus service is limited after 6 p.m., and non-existent on Sundays.

The HOA bridge had been tagged as the river crossing in most of the light rail plans that crossed into the northland. However, it was deemed in recent plans to be incapable of handling full light rail vehicles and would need to be rebuilt.


Take the Car-Free Challenge next week

Stop complaining that we don't have enough transit around KC and lace up your walking shoes (or get out your bike) for the Car-Free Challenge, which kicks off Saturday and runs through May 15.

When most people think of using transit or some other transportation mode besides a car it's for your daily work commute — an easy motivator since there's always frustrating levels of traffic during rush hour. Since our commuting distances in KC are long, however, try non-work trips if you're a newbie: grocery store, dining out, or any other errand that's under 5 miles from your home.

If you choose to give transit a try, use Google Transit (also good for walking directions). It's a life saver and far easier to use than any other online trip planner. KCATA has posted some great How To Ride videos to help you out.

You can also email us if you have any questions that you can't get answered anywhere else.

Here are a few car-free blogs worth reading:

  • Carless Parenting (Salt Lake City, UT)
  • The MinusCar Project (Sioux City, SD)
  • Car Free with Kids (Cambridge, MA)
  • Car Free Days (Seattle, WA)
  • Car Free America (Parkville, MD)

Car-Free & Carefree, Part 4: Forest Park

By Joe Medley

I had intended to do a second post on Saturday, but things didn't quite go as planed. I found out at the last minute that my meeting started two hours earlier than I realized. This sucked up all of my spare writing time yesterday. Then I had trouble finding a free wireless hot spot. So here's part IV a little late.

On Saturday, I looked specifically to see if it were possible for someone to live without a car in the St. Louis area. About midday, I noticed that I had seen yet another transit rider toting a bicycle. Although there are plenty of cyclist in Kansas City, my impression is that I saw more people using it as a primary means of transportation than I had ever seen in Kansas City. This is just an impression, so I could be wrong. I would imagine that good public transit makes this easier by helping a cyclist cover longer distances. Obviously, cyclists are limited in the shopping that they can do, but is useful for getting to work, going to a baseball game, or visiting a friend.

I found an area outside the Forest Park stop where apartments, houses, shops, a bus stop, a park-and-ride lot, and the entrance to a major city park were all within 100 yards of the MetroLink station. This spot lacked a few local services like a grocery store, hardware store, and a drug store. I didn't have the time to find out how far away these services were, or whether I could get to them by foot, rail, or bus.

Yet, just being able to take a transit system to work is a noteworthy start. I recently guestimated that the 3/8 cent sales tax supporting the KCATA is costing me less than $100 a year. If I start taking the bus to work again, I'll spend $1500 a year. Out at North Hanley, there is public use parking garage right next to the MetroLink station. Even this will save residents money by decreasing the amount that a commuter will spend on gas, parking, and insurance.


Car-Free & Carefree, Part 3: MetroLink

By Joe Medley

As I said before, sometimes the world can be downright hostile to pedestrians. The St. Louis Amtrak station turned out to be isolated. I debarked to find no MetroLink station and no bus stop. What was worse, the Amtrak station was in middle of a construction zone with no pavement and no sidewalks on the street near the station. Yet there were plenty of cab drivers willing to take my money. Fortunately, an Amtrak employee told me that the MetroLink line was less than a block away.

Unlike Kansas City buses, the St. Louis MetroLink uses off-vehicle ticketing. The vending machine in the photo above sells MetroLink passes for varying amounts of time. It even sells multiple tickets in a single transaction. The strange thing is, to get on the MetroLink, I didn't need to show my pass to anyone or pass it through any kind of reader. It didn't look like anyone else did either. I suspect St. Louis is getting the short end of the stick on this.

The boarding platform of a typical station is shown above. Trains are identified by the place where they terminate. To navigate, I locate my destination on the schematic map. I scan along the route line until I find a red or blue termination flag. That flag tells me which train to board. Then I wait for the train labeled with that termination point. For example, lets say I wanted to go from Civic Center to Wellston. The map shows that Wellston is on the line that terminates at Lambert Airport, so I would board the train labeled “Lambert Airport.” On the other hand, if I wanted to go to Grand, I could get on either the “Lambert Airport” train or the Shrewsbury train because both pass through Grand before they diverge at Forest Park. This probably sounds more complicated than it is. The good news is that when Kansas City gets light rail, this will be easier for area residents because we know our own geography.

In case you still thought it was an open question, yes, light rail lines can go around sharp corners, as the picture above shows. It's hard to see in the photograph, but this looked like a 90-degree turn to me. The caveat is that a train cannot take this very fast or it will jump the tracks. It's not a problem here because this bend is right next to a station where a the train has to stop anyway.


Car-Free & Carefree, Part 2: Amtrak

By Joe Medley

It took me longer to make my first report than I anticipated. I didn't have time to send an early morning report like I had planned. Amtrak ran about two hours behind. Then I had to learn to navigate the Metro (which takes a lot less time than learning to drive). Finally, the most difficult leg of the trip to navigate without a car was the last quarter mile from the Metro station to my Hotel. More about that later.

The day began with a bus ride from the end of my street to Crown Center and a short walk to Union Station.

7:17 AM I thought I was going to send my first post from the Union Station waiting room complete with pictures of the current waiting room and the old North hall where passengers once awaited departure. I didn't get the chance. I arrived about 7:00 and barely had time to get my ticket when they announced boarding for the 314 to St. Louis.

I managed to snap a picture of a model of the Pioneer Zephyr. This vehicle was the first diesel electric locomotive to enter revenue service on a North American railroad. Operating on the Chicago Burlington and Quincy railroad, the Zephyr began hauling passengers between Chicago and Denver in 1939. The Zephyr ushered in a fad for streamlining that eventually influenced the shape of cars and even kitchen appliances. You can tour the actual train at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Boarding was a breeze. I didn't need to check my baggage. I didn't have my personal belongings searched. I wasn't forced to open my belt in front of 150 strangers. And I wasn't fondled by Barney Fife. The best part wasn't the lack of dehumanizing security. The best part was that I could have arrived at 7:15 for a 7:30 departure and would not have been rushed for ticketing and boarding.

7:20 AM The spaciousness of the business class compartment must be seen to be believed. Seated with my arm fully extended in front of me, there is more than a foot between the tips of my fingers and the back of the next chair. The tray table is too far away, if you can believe that. I also get a free drink and a place to plug in my laptop. This cost me $45 one-way. A coach ticket costs $25. Coach seats are smaller than business class seats, but it looks like they have more room than an airline seat.

7:26 AM The conductor just came on the PA system and announced that it is time for visitors to leave the train. So, if I had an elderly parent, or a handicapped friend, I could board the train and help them get settled.

7:40 AM The view out my window so far has alternated between housing and older industrial areas. Another way to put it is that the view has alternated between places to live and places to work. Why don't we have commuter rail in this town?

8:05 AM We've stopped in Lee's Summit. I was surprised at how much open space there was between Independence and Lee's Summit. I thought sprawl had long since gobbled it up. If gas prices keep going up, I know good place to do some real estate speculating.

I only have two complaints about the accommodations. The temperature is too warm and the ride is a bit bumpy. I forgot to take my Dramamine, and I can't find it. All I can do is hope for the best.

Even though I had breakfast already, I decided to buy one of the club car offerings just to try it out. I had an egg and cheese bagel sandwich heated in a microwave. I had assumed there would be only one meal available which would be lunch. The bagel sandwich turned out to be same kind you get at a convenience store. Terrible. I noticed later that I could have a bowl of cold cereal. That's what my breakfast at home is.

10:00 AM The train stopped to allow an oncoming passenger train to pass. The conductor said that six years ago that passenger trains across Missouri were on time most of the time. But in the last six years, freight trains on this route have jumped from six a day to more than 40 a day. I've heard that this can sometimes lead to some terrible delays. Luckily, that is not the case today. We were moving again within ten minutes.

11:00 AM Jefferson City. On the way in, I caught a glimpse of the capitol building which is withing walking distance of the tracks. There are two wonderful Civil War-era buildings next to the tracks. They are of the same general style as those that existing on Kansas City's river front in that period. The yellow building looks very much like the Gillis House Hotel that stood on 1st street in the 1880s.

Between here and Kirkwood sat several towns with numerous structures from the mid 1800's, including Hermann and Washington. I've rarely ever seen that much 19th century architecture in a single day. I've never seen it in Missouri. These buildings are much more appealing to look at than the suburban-style sprawl that lines our highways.

2:30 Arrival. It's two hours later than I expected to arrive in St. Louis. I'm not complaining. I knew when I bought the ticket that Amtrak sometimes had to wait on a siding for an oncoming train to pass. To be fair, sometimes oncoming trains had to wait for Amtrak to pass.

The next leg of the trip showed me that our world isn't just unfriendly to pedestrians. Sometimes it can be downright hostile. More about that in my next post.


Car-Free & Carefree, Part 1

By Joe Medley

I've long felt that one of the problems with public transit in Kansas City is that area residents cannot imagine life without cars. The editorial pages of area newspapers first gave me this impression during the debates surrounding Clay Chastain's early ballot initiatives. Recent events have reinforced this impression.

At one of the public light rail meetings, a midtown resident thought that buildings would be torn down so that the number of car lanes wouldn't need to be reduced. Eric over at Let's Go KC told me that in another meeting, residents complained about loosing parking on Main until he pointed out that they could just take the light rail line to get where they are going. I've also responded to comments on blogs and news articles about light rail that tax dollars should go to things that "everybody can use." (I guess it never occurs to them that a restricted transit line would be just as illegal as a restricted neighborhood.)

What these stories illustrate is that people do not imagine themselves getting around any way other than by car. I'm hoping to change these impressions. That's what this series of blog entries is about.

This coming weekend, I'm taking a trip to St. Louis for a meeting. I was happy to discover that I can do the whole trip by bus, train, and light rail. I decided to chronicle my experiences as close to real time as possible to help area residents imagine life without cars, and to stimulate discussions about alternative modes of transportation.

My posts from the road will begin early Friday morning when I walk from my house to the bus stop at the end of the block. They will continue through a train ride out of Union Station and through a weekend in St. Louis, ending Sunday afternoon when I return to Union Station and catch the next bus to the end of my block.