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Bar “trolley” an affront to KC public transit

City Hall has kicked public transportation in the nuts, yet again.

Instead of providing additional funding to KCATA to extend service hours on the weekend — as is done in many other cities nationwide — the City Council has given $195,000 to a private operator to run a tourist "trolley" that duplicates existing transit services.

Good intentions aside, it shows how disconnected our elected officials are from the state of transit in KC — easy to do when driving from the attached garage at home to the underground garage at City Hall. This effort continues to propagate the myth that city buses are for poor people and that tourists and suburbanites should be coddled in faux streetcars — that go door-to-door. Several bus lines (MAX, #51-Broadway, and #57-South Oak) already connect Kansas City's various entertainment districts, serve a larger area, and easily connect with other routes and park-and-rides… all with taxpayer dollars.

Officially, KCATA doesn't see this is as competition. That is 100% wrong. City funds are scarce and KCATA's funding continues to drop in every budget year, even though demand is growing. There's a reason other cities aren't doing this.

By the way, the "trolley" will cost you $15 to ride. Save yourself some change and buy a day pass on the MAX for $3. It stops at Waldo, Brookside, Plaza, Westport, Crossroads, Power & Light, and the River Market. Out past midnight? Take one of the many cabs right to your front door and avoid the drunken foolishness.

UPDATE: Here's the Star's version of the route map, compared to MAX.


Why Portland actually means something for KC

After years of struggling with a stubborn Bush administration that refused to consider streetcars a valid form of urban transit, Portland and the Federal Transportation Administration announced a reversal last week.

The flood gates are now open, and that flood includes Kansas City's streetcar proposal. Finally, Portland actually means something for Kansas City.

Cities across the country have been actively planning modern streetcar lines, mostly with the intent of reviving their urban cores. Moving more transit riders is still critical, but secondary to the economic development motive. While the previous administration dithered, cities moved ahead and proved them wrong; Portland, the darling of new urbanism, was at the forefront.

The money for Portland comes from the FTA's Small Starts program, which also is funding our Troost MAX BRT line. Federal funding requests must be less than $75 million; Kansas City's downtown streetcar proposal clocks in at $60 million.

While the federal transportation funding situation is in flux — and will continue to be throughout next year — the viability of a federal match, and potential for an early kick-start via the regional TIGER application, enhance our prospects significantly.

In short, it's Kansas City's best shot for initiating light rail service. We discourage readers from erfahren Sie hier signing Clay Chastain's latest petition, or voting for it should he successfully garner enough signatures. Forcing the city to deal with yet another legal quagmire would distract from the effort to move a real plan forward. If anyone thinks the city would every actually try to implement one of Chastain's plan, we have a gondola to sell you.


Light rail and climate change

Bloggers around the globe have united today for a massive online campaign to raise visibility on the issue of climate change. What does that have to do with our site? A lot, actually.

The major motivation for our use of — and advocacy for — improved public transportation is concern about the environment. Kansas City is one of the most energy-intense cities in the country, which not only takes a toll on the air we breathe, but also our bank accounts. Diesel buses and trains are great and serve their purpose as we transition, but electrified (or non-motorized) transit based on a future without dirty oil or coal is the ultimate goal.

You may not think about it when you're driving effortlessly down our many wide-open freeways (you can't see the damage with your own eyes, right?), but that oil you're burning comes from somewhere and we all pay a hefty social cost to get it to you for such a low price. You are responsible for the footprint you're leaving, like it or not, and it's going to take more of your effort than just recycling or buying CFL bulbs.

Should you feel guilty? Well, yes. The feedback from Mother Nature is growing louder. Will you heed the call?

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Some perspective on consultant fees

The Star tackled light rail consultant fees this week, noting that $17 million has been spent over the last 15 or so years on various failed light rail plans. Most of that money came from the federal government — and usually from our earmark-loving congressional delegation — but the "faux outrage" in the article's comments section mostly ignores reality and perspective.

For example, the new garage built for JE Dunn's downtown headquarters rang in at about $18 million in TIF (and you'll be charged to use it). That's just one of a string of publicly-subsidized garages built for companies who could otherwise rely on transit to deliver workers to their door.

No major construction project gets built without consultant involvement, and thus, their fees. That includes roads, airports, or any other public structure. Most public works departments and transit agencies simply don't have the manpower or fine-tuned expertise to handle them, whether it's design and engineering or public engagement.

While it's informative to know what's been spent thus far, it's more crucial to have repeated confirmation of where rail transit investment will work: the I-35, I-70, and central business corridors. Years of study make the next consultant's job easier, and, theoretically, cheaper than starting from scratch.

So yes, we are a "permanent klatch". We sit around, sip lattes, and wish Kansas City's transit future were brighter than it appears today (which is pretty grim).

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Avoiding the obvious: Union Station = transit


Today's coverage of Union Station's continued financial troubles avoids the most obvious solution: transit.

Ask any resident what they think the station's primary function should be and you'll get the same response: Trains. Obvious, right? While the facility is somewhat officially designated as a transit hub, the non-profit that runs it is still focused on the beleaguered Science City and traveling exhibits. Annual attendance at the science museum has stabilized at 140,000, far less than the Kansas City Zoo or the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Exhibits have had success, but don't provide consistency.

Their solution: Boost the station's bottom line with a tax increase while continuing to focus on being a tourism destination. It's a recipe for continued failure.

Transportation built the station to suit that purpose and only transportation can save it.

This would still likely require a new revenue stream to heat and cool the monster-sized interior — the largest expense, at $2.5 million annually — but this obvious connection would be an easier sell to voters, perhaps as part of a regional transit plan already in the works.

The current focus on passenger rail expansion — including Kansas City's designation as a high-speed terminus and the extension of an existing route from Oklahoma City through Kansas — hold great promise for increasing foot traffic.

Kansas City's next attempt at urban rail — a streetcar circulator connecting the station to the downtown loop — will also help.

The main sticking point for creating commuter rail service in the metro has been the distance between Union Station (about a mile) and the region's top job center (the loop). Improving passenger rail and adding a streetcar connection would enhance the prospect for the station as a commuter rail hub. Today's BRT stop at the station barely registers.

Also, shifting intercity bus carriers (Greyhound, etc.) from their far-flung station at 11th and Troost is the next logical choice. Amtrak already has contracts with bus providers that extend the network; currently, they must make stops at both Union Station and the bus depot. We don't have to look far to peer cities like Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, who have paved the way for this shift to intermodalism. All modes benefit as a result of the synergy.

Add all those transit options together on Union Station's massive footprint and you get a base to build retail demand just like large stations in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Few cities can tout such a facility in such a beautiful setting.


The case for a downtown streetcar


On July 16, KCATA proposed a different kind of light rail for Kansas City: a 2.5-mile modern streetcar line serving as a downtown circulator between River Market and Crown Center.

First, some basic facts about the proposal:

  • Prior light rail studies indicate the "RCP" (River Market > Crown Center > Plaza) corridor is the best opportunity to reintroduce fixed rail transit in KC.
  • Capital costs (approximately $150 million) could be funded 100% by a TIGER grant program that's part of the ARRA.
  • Operating costs (approximately $2-2.5 million annually) could come from new revenue sources adjacent to the route that would not require a city-wide public vote, likely through approval of a Transportation Development District.
  • The Greater Downtown Area Plan, while still in progress, recommends reintroduction of a downtown urban circulator.
  • The line would operate in mixed traffic, remove no on-street parking, and require no property acquisition for right of way.
  • The Downtown Council has indicated they may support the proposal.
  • Modern streetcar vehicles are now made in the US.
  • The proposal is not a complete rehash of the 14-mile plan voters rejected in November 2008, which was designed to bring commuters to downtown from the north, south, and east (although consultants noted earlier this year that only the RCP portion would have had a good shot at federal funding through existing programs).

Now, the tough part:

  • TIGER grants are competitive and are capped at $300 million per request and for each state; St. Louis and others will compete for all or part of that amount.
  • Every city, transit agency, railroad, MPO, and state DOT in the US can apply with separate proposals for the $1.5 billion that's available nationwide.
  • Other Kansas City proposals from MARC, the Port Authority, Public Works (one for bike/ped/trails, another for roads), and the Kansas City Terminal Railway have been presented.
  • Funding will be granted at the complete discretion of the US DOT.

The dilemma for city leaders now is how best to package this or a combination of proposals to compete by the Sept. 15 deadline (insanely short by typical federal standards). US DOT has provided criteria and certainly indicated highways won't be the top priority (sorry, MoDOT).

KCATA did not indicate exactly how, or if, the current MAX line would be affected. It's important to note, however, that the MAX takes an overly-complicated route through downtown and could certainly benefit from a good straightening out.


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