What’s the Big Idea In A 2-Mile Streetcar Line?
The Star’s Speaking the Public Mind has been consistently visited by streetcar opponents with little grasp of what Kansas City’s Downtown Streetcar investment is intended to do.
Our sister cities, who’ve already started more robust regional transit services, have all begun with small first phases, including Denver, St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Houston, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Diego and Seattle. These starter lines were followed by several rail connections to suburban destinations that brought “discretionary” riders from the suburbs to their downtowns without the need for parking or driving in congestion. The same lines took urban center residents to newly developing employment opportunities in the suburbs. Two years ago the citizens of Denver voted to tax themselves THREE BILLION DOLLARS to extend their transit lines into a more comprehensive multi-modal network of mass transit that will finally get to their airport thirty or more years after that first one-mile line. Denver’s downtown, similar to the rest of the aforementioned cities, today is a case study in successful urban reinvestment built around transit.
Kansas City’s Downtown Streetcar is intended to play a similar role in the Kansas City region. The Mid America Regional Council (MARC) has been developing the Smart Moves Regional Transit Concept over the past twelve years, and has recently published the Transportation Outlook 2040 report demonstrating that without investing in mass transit to reverse the sprawl development pattern we’ve been producing over the past sixty years, we will expend more than FIVE BILLION DOLLARS in infrastructure and urban service extensions like roads, highway expansions, sewer lines, police and fire protection. These dollars would be unnecessary if we used mass transit to generate economic reinvestment and infill development in Downtown Kansas City and our region’s many town centers with existing infrastructure capacity.
Jackson County’s Regional Rail proposal is another facet of this Smart Moves vision. After thirty years of failed light rail proposals, and motivated by the transit discussions that emerged in 2008 when gas prices topped four dollars, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders has put his shoulder behind another mass transit proposal that makes sense. Collaborating with the railroads, Jackson County proposes three commuter lines to Independence, Lees Summit and Belton, each of which hope to use Union Station as its terminus, the same terminus of the phase one Downtown Streetcar. Like Denver’s suburban rail lines, this proposal will stimulate ridership to and from suburban locations, arriving at Kansas City’s most widely recognized icon, Union Station, the only regionally elected investment in the history of the Kansas City metropolitan region.
Yes, ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS for this Streetcar is a big investment. But it’s chicken feed in comparison to the wasted investments we’ll have to make if we stay the current auto-dominated transportation course. Without following the lead of three widely trusted officials in this region, MARC Executive Director David Warm, County Executive Mike Sanders, and Mayor Sly James, we face a deteriorating regional perspective that will see Kansas City losing the growth spurt and market share that we’ve enjoyed over the past decade as other regions who do invest in transit pass us by. We cannot let that happen.
Kite Singleton, Chair, Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance