Archive for the 'Kansas' Category

Top transit stories of 2015

RideKC bus on 12th Street

Completion of the streetcar starter line and a new focus on regionalism were the hot topics in Kansas City’s transit discussion this year. Here are the top stories, ranked in order of impact.

1. Reardon takes the helm (then leaves)

Former Unified Government CEO Joe Reardon took the top executive spot at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in April and has been on a nonstop tour of the community ever since. The selection process was relatively quiet, but insiders knew Reardon was a top choice based on his history with regional cooperation — a necessity, if we’re to ever achieve a regional funding mechanism. Shortly after I finished drafting this list, Reardon announced he was leaving KCATA to head the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

2. Streetcar construction ends, vehicles arrive

KC Streetcar vehicles #801 and #802 arrived on Nov. 2 and Dec. 9, respectively, and immediately began test runs on Main Street. Just search #KCstreetcar on Twitter and Instagram to see how excited the community is to welcome rail back to the city. Service begins in Spring 2016 after two additional vehicles arrive.

3. More funding for transit

Johnson County passed a 2016 budget with a property tax increase for transit (as well as parks and libraries). KCMO sent $3 million more to the KCATA. The streetcar TDD exceeded revenue projections. The Missouri Legislature even extended the 1/2-cent transportation sales tax forever (it was due to expire Dec. 31). It was great year full of small-but-significant wins in the funding battle.

4. RideKC brand hits the streets (and the web)

New leadership made the new RideKC brand appear on buses much quicker than anyone predicted. “In the wild” appearances started in August, beating the brand new streetcar vehicles by several months (streetcars are also branded with the “RideKC” name). The entire fleet — including buses serving Johnson County, Wyandotte County, and Independence — will be repainted before the end of 2016. A new regional transit website debuted in October.

5. Transit carries 200,000 Royals fans

Whether the crowd was 800,000 or 500,000, KCATA provided an eye-popping 200,000 rides to and from the Royals’ World Series parade and rally downtown. Despite the crush of riders, the agency handled the demand as well as the local freeway network.

6. Kansas City commits local funding for Prospect MAX 

With little fanfare, the Kansas City Council passed a resolution in October that they would provide the local match for building the city’s next MAX bus line. Funding is expected to come from a future general obligation bond sale (if approved by voters).

7. Bridj announced

A totally new type of transit service called Bridj is coming to the region. KCATA will be the first public transit agency to partner with the startup, which is currently only providing service in Boston and DC.

8. Real regional passes — finally

A regional month and day pass was made official in April. It wasn’t technically difficult, but required four transit agencies (and their funding partners) to agree to make it work. The next stop is off-board fare collection, possibly on Prospect MAX, as well as smartphone payment.

9. Megabus leaves Kansas City

Declining ridership took a toll on private intercity carrier Megabus, which ceased twice-daily runs in September serving Kansas City and Columbia via it’s Chicago hub. During an eight year span in Kansas City, the low-cost curbside provider changed boarding locations from 10th & Main to 3rd & Grand and peaked a three KC departures. Most intercity bus passengers continue to use Greyhound and Jefferson Lines from the Greyhound station at 1101 Troost.

10. Stop consolidation

Up until 2015, no one bothered to make sure regular local bus routes were moving quickly. Stops would often appear twice in the same block, slowing service to a crawl. Now, we have the first attempt to eliminate redundant stops that are often too close together and make long bus rides unbearable.

A few updates from last year’s list:

  • Rock Island advances. Jackson County and KCATA announced in September that they had reached an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad for KCATA to acquire the Rock Island Railroad’s underutilized right of way that serves the Truman Sports Complex, Raytown and Lee’s Summit. The right of way will become a trail in the near future and will reserve space for future transit service. As of this writing, the deal had not been signed.
  • Bike share expansion #3. After expanding into Midtown last year, seven new B-cycle stations were added in greater downtown, Brookside, and Waldo. A total of 27 stations now cover the interior parts of KCMO.
  • WiFi expansion. By the end of 2016, the entire fleet of Kansas City buses and streetcars will have WiFi available onboard. Zero Kansas City buses had WiFi as recently as 2008.
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The Mission Effect

Tidy first-tier suburb Mission made big news this week by passing a Transportation Utility Fee that focuses local taxation on infrastructure impact instead of assessed value.

By assessing fees based on the amount of car trips generated by each parcel — and, hence, the wear and tear on local roads — Mission has fired the first, tangible warning shot that Kansas City’s sprawling days may be numbered. While other cities fiddle with form-based codes, climate protection plans, and a lot of greenwashing, Mission’s new taxation method is binding and very real.

Comparing a McDonald’s (2,700 trips per day) and a single-family home of equal lot size (9.5 trips per day), the one with drive thru service pays much more. Even churches and schools will pay the fee.

The most interesting beneficiary of this new approach will be the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway bus rapid transit route, currently in planning stages. Mission’s contribution will now be a stable $1.2 million per year, far more reliable than sales or property taxes (both of which are down everywhere, with “down” being “the new normal”).

Connecting Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, existing (Main) and new (Troost) BRT routes, Metcalf BRT will be another thread that stitches together a functional, regional transit system one line at a time.

SmartMoves is actually playing out slowly and without much drama, instead of the typical big splash (or public vote) of a major transit proposal. Overland Park has yet to decide how they will fund their portion of the BRT service.

This move is not the penultimate step towards an urban growth boundary — which is what naysayers of smart growth fear most, yet unlikely to ever occur — but a very practical solution for an aging population and a shrinking tax base in a land-locked city.

Mission officials and residents (whose property tax bills will be lower, as a result) should be commended for their innovation and leadership.


July 20 meeting to discuss Metcalf/SMP transit

The Star reports that Overland Park, Mission, and Johnson County Transit will host a public meeting from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 20, to discuss transit along Metcalf Avenue and Shawnee Mission Parkway.

Those two streets will eventually be served by something resembling “lite” Bus Rapid Transit, like KCATA’s MAX on Main and (soon-to-be) Troost. The corridor recently got a boost as part of a $50 million TIGER grant, which will also benefit the State Avenue corridor in Kansas City, Kansas. All routes are part of MARC’s SmartMoves Urban Corridors plan.

The JO has yet to ask for a dedicated funding mechanism, instead relying on the good graces of the Johnson County Commission to dole out whatever annual subsidy they see fit — although that amount has grown in recent years.

Coincidentally, US DOT is seeking a third round of TIGER funding for next year. Let’s hope the metro creates more compelling applications that will encourage more elected officials in Kansas to make transit funding a real priority.


A message for transportation advocates

We recorded the above message for advocates with Dan Johnson-Weinberger, a lobbyist for the Midwest High Speed Rail Association, at their annual meeting over the weekend. Dan’s message is basically to keep it local by talking to your local elected officials first (mayor, council, aldermen), then having them talk to their state and federal counterparts.

While Sens. Bond or Brownback may not take a personal call from you, they will take one from your mayor.

Feel free to pass the message on to others.

A perfect example of this groundswell is the recent success in Kansas. Bipartisan majorities supported a bill that enables (but does not fund) state-sponsored passenger rail service in the state… something that, until recently, was widely touted as forbidden by the state’s constitution. Grassroots advocates sought resolutions of support from every city council along the proposed route, encouraging their legislators to act.


KDOT, Amtrak release passenger rail study

The Kansas Department of Transportation and Amtrak released a feasibility study today outlining costs and ridership potential for a new state-sponsored passenger rail route between Kansas City and Fort Worth.

Four alternatives were studied, daytime and nighttime, each with varying price tags and connections to existing Amtrak services. The clear winner is Alternative 3 — a daytime train that provides a direct, 12-hour trip between Fort Worth and Kansas City — but the Kansas Legislature must decide which option to advance for state and federal funding. Alternative 3 has the highest ridership (174,000) and highest capital cost ($479 million).

Any option terminating in KC would use Amtrak’s existing facility at Union Station. Station stops include Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, Wichita, and Oklahoma City.

The chosen option will need to win political and financial support from Oklahoma and Texas, which will also benefit from the additional service.

Annual operating costs for all four options range from $3.2 to $8 million. Missouri currently pays Amtrak $8 million to operate two round-trips between KC and St. Louis. Oklahoma and Texas share the $2 million cost of one daily round-trip between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.

This week also marked the first official legislative approval for the effort: SB 409, authorizing KDOT to enter into passenger rail agreements, was approved by both chambers and is on it’s way to Gov. Mark Parkinson for signature.

The Lawrence Journal-World has the best recap of today’s press conference. History of this effort can be found at

UPDATE: We also have comments about the study from Northern Flyer Alliance President Deborah Fischer-Stout about the study.


Live-tweeting the TIGER press conference

We’ll be covering the follow-up TIGER press conference in Mission tomorrow at 10 a.m. Follow us at Local officials from Johnson and Wyandotte counties — recipients of most of the transit portion of the TIGER grant — will hopefully provide more detail on when improvements will begin and whether there will be operational support for expanded bus service along the Metcalf and State corridors.

There’s also a major press conference in Topeka on Thursday to unveil the Amtrak feasibility study for passenger rail service in Kansas. We’ll be at KDOT headquarters covering that event as well.

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Round-up: This week in local transit

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State Avenue BRT recap

State Avenue BRT Map

The only city in Kansas with Sunday bus service is about make another serious move. This time it’s a KCK version of the MAX running down State Avenue from downtown KCMO to Village West.

The message at last night’s public meeting was mixed: the route, frequency, and technology has basically been selected, but no funding mechanism exists to operate the service. The Unified Government has posted a survey for you to weigh in on whether transit should be included on a November sales tax election.

The operational funding question must be answered before KCK can apply for federal funding to cover capital costs. Currently, the city’s transit services (a mix of fixed and circulator routes that serve over a million rides annually) are funded directly from the city’s coffers. As with all municipalities, cuts are expected this year as a result of the economic downturn.

Transit has ranked high on KCK resident surveys in the past [PDF, see p. 4], so chances are good that any sales tax dedicated to it will pass.

The proposed route is served daily by #101 today. The BRT route is straighter (no loop at KCK Community College) and bypasses the West Bottoms in favor of the Intercity Viaduct (I-70); the Bottoms would continue to be served by local KCK routes. New transit centers would be built at 7th & Minnesota in downtown KCK, Indian Springs Shopping Center, and Village West.

The State Avenue BRT project is part of the regional SmartMoves transit program. The first line on Main Street in KCMO opened in 2005, the second line on Troost Avenue is slated to open in 2010.

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State Avenue BRT meeting tomorrow

Three questions beg your input at tomorrow’s State Avenue BRT meeting in KCK. We offer reasonable expectations for those who plan to attend.

Where would it run?

Preferably on State Avenue, eh? Unfortunately, the top benefit of a bus is also it’s worst enemy: they can go anywhere there are streets. But should they be shoehorned into door-to-door service at the cost of ease of use and visibility? Does simplicity ever trump convenience in bus routing? Not really in KC due to our erratic development patterns.

Regardless, expect ridership estimates to drive route diversions like those made along Main and Troost, although the proposed alignment appears fairly straightforward.

What will it look like?

What you will get: the “BRT lite” imprint established by the Main and Troost BRT lines (normal 40-foot buses, limited traffic signal priority, real-time arrival at most stations, and frequent service.

What you won’t get: “light rail on wheels”, as is frequently promised (off-board ticketing, level boarding, a comfortable ride, any capacity improvement over an existing bus); more than a 10-20% improvement over the current hour-long travel time (although the current claim is 30 minutes from KCK to Village West). Due to the light traffic loads on the sprawling western portions of State or Parallel Parkway, don’t expect dedicated lanes outside of downtown KCK.

How would it be paid for?

Establishing frequent service that people can depend on requires a dedicated operational funding mechanism that can’t be raided by elected officials when times get tough (here’s why). Limited capital funding ($10 million) is being sought at part of MARC’s TIGER stimulus proposal. Total cost is estimated at as much as $35 million for the entire route. Residents should encourage the city to require the purchase of hybrid or natural gas buses, which could offset the impact of increased frequencies.

Meeting details:

4:30 to 6 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 3, 2009
Eisenhower Rooms A & B
Hilton Garden Inn
520 Minnesota Ave.

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Attention WyCo residents: Ask for a transit sales tax!

Tonight, the commissioners and mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, will discuss sales tax options that may be placed on the ballot to address budget shortages. KCK does not have dedicated transit funding like KCMO, and will be experiencing service cuts this year while simultaneously asking for federal capital funding for the State Avenue BRT line.

This is your chance to ask the mayor and commissioners to consider a 1/8- or 1/4-cent sales tax to be dedicated to bus services, eliminating entirely the annual line item that comes from the general fund (which is subject to the whims of the mayor/commission). This sales tax could be used to cover and expand existing routes, as well as the operation of BRT.

Sales Tax Hearing
5 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 6
KCK City Hall
701 N. 7th Street

City Hall is accessible from routes 101, 102, 103, 104, 106, 107, and 115. See Google Transit for a trip plan.

A public meeting to discuss this year’s recommended service cuts is also this evening:

4-6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 6
Indian Springs Shopping Center, Community Room
4601 State Ave.


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