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Archive for the 'Trip Report' Category

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.


Light Rail Trip Report: Charlotte

Everyone in transit is watching Charlotte right now. Why? They're in political hot water as scorching as KC when it comes to light rail. The mayor's job is at stake. Voters might repeal a decade-old transit tax due to cost overruns. The transit agency is racing to open up their starter line before election day. What better time to visit and see how things are progressing?

Our visit was not just to see light rail, but we jumped at the opportunity to see the new LYNX Blue Line on test runs in advance of the November opening. Only one hour before leaving town, we stumbled onto a great pizza place near the tracks and — lo and behold! — the crossing gates came down and it appeared in a flash, barely enough time to snap the pictures below. Each LRV must go through 1,000 miles of testing before humans can ride.

LYNX Test 1
LYNX Test 2

Charlotte's new light rail line will run partially in an old rail bed (similar to St. Louis Metrolink) along South Boulevard, and will incorporate the vintage South End trolley and a new inter-modal station that will serve local and intercity buses, as well as intercity and commuter trains (North Carolina also has state-sponsored Amtrak service; commuter rail is in the planning stages). Modern streetcars and BRT are also under evaluation.

Gateway Station

The project was attacked from several angles, primarily because of the oft-cited "low density" argument. Significant cost overruns, however, vaulted light rail back into the spotlight and resulted in a punitive petition initiative to repeal a half-cent sales tax that currently supports the entire mass transit system (including buses). Transit leaders have not specified how service will be affected should the tax be repealed, but they have confirmed that light rail will begin operation, regardless of the outcome, on November 26. Polling shows the vote could go either way. We caught one vote of support in a downtown window, below.

Vote Against Repeal

Even though people say "Kansas City doesn't need light rail", rest assured our struggle with the issue is in no way unique, especially as other mid-sized peer cities attempt to tackle environmental concerns versus simply connecting people with jobs. Charlotte is the best example we have right now of what the fight will be like in February.