TransitKC

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MARC submits rail study application

Talk radio stalwart KMBZ reports that Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders the Mid-America Regional Council has submitted an application to the Federal Transit Administration to fund a formal study of his the rapid rail presentation. We’ll try to get a copy of the application and post it here.

UPDATE: MARC actually submitted the application. Download the Jackson County Regional Alternatives Analysis Application. Kansas City, KCATA, and Jackson County participated in developing the application.

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What it's like to ride a DMU

Westside Express Service, Portland, OR. Flickr image by DarkStarPDX.

One of the details in Mike Sanders’ rapid_rail_presentation is the proposal to use diesel multiple units (DMUs) — a passenger rail vehicle propelled by an onboard diesel engine. This is unique because most commuter rail operators run conventional locomotives pulling (or pushing) conventional passenger rail coaches. Regional examples of conventional commuter rail are Chicago’s Metra, Dallas’ TRE, Minneapolis’ Northstar, and Nashville’s Music City Star).

DMUs are easily confused with electrically-powered light rail vehicles and modern streetcars, and the difference is slight: other than the powertrain and the lack of overhead wires, DMUs that run on freight rail tracks must conform to strict crash regulations. This, unfortunately, makes them heavy. At the same time a DMU can be (arguably) cheaper to operate on routes with light demand.

To make matters even more confusing, one of the few places in America where DMUs operate — New Jersey Transit’s River Line — is actually called a light rail line. We can’t even tell you that the terms “commuter rail” and “light rail” are even 100% distinct, since systems bearing either label can perform similar goals — transporting commuters to and from the urban core — over similar distances. A good rule of thumb, however, is that light rail better serves urban environments with closer stops; commuter rail better serves suburbs with stops spaced further apart… regardless of the vehicle type or fuel source.

We had a chance to ride a DMU transit route on a recent trip to Portland. The TriMet‘s Westside Express Service has been in operation since 2009 and serves four suburbs. We’d like to be the one to tell you that this route was trouble-free to construct and operate, but that would be a lie.

Regardless, the day we rode WES it was glitch-free, on-time, full of passengers, and included in our $4.75 all-day transit pass (unusual for US commuter rail). The sensation was a mash-up of riding any other train with the subtle reminder that a large diesel engine was underfoot (and releasing particulate pollution, although not nearly as much as if all riders had chosen to drive congested I-5 instead). Bikes were onboard — you can’t really avoid them in Portland, even if you tried — and the easy transfer from light rail, plush seats, and a friendly conductor made our brief trip a pleasant experience.

As for the Sanders proposal, the reliance on DMUs for all-day service on multiple lines would indeed make it unique in all of North America, perhaps the world. The company that built the WES vehicles has reincorporated in Ohio — with a Missouri-based partner, no less — and plans to resume production soon. Hopefully they will engineer improvements that make the vehicles more reliable for daily service.

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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.

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Midwest HSR meeting this weekend

We’ll be attending the Midwest High Speed Rail Association’s Annual Meeting this weekend in Chicago and will do our best to offer live coverage via Twitter.

This event tends to be heavily focused on Illinois, but there will be an overview of passenger rail projects funded by the Recovery Act (which includes Missouri). There will also be an overview of a French proposal for 220 mph service in the Midwest, which includes a link to Kansas City.

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Sanders to discuss commuter rail at Central Exchange

This is the item to break our months-long silence: Jackson County CEO Mike Sanders will present his Regional Rail Plan to the Central Exchange on Jan. 26. Members attend for free, non-members pay $30. And yes, men are very much welcome to attend.

We haven’t heard a peep out of Sanders since he unveiled his plan to a surprised media way back in October. It was well over a month before any information even appeared on the Jackson County website (don’t let that date stamp fool you). The description for next week’s event still maintains that stimulus money is being sought to pay for construction, even though all stimulus deadlines related to transit have already passed and it’s not a given that a new jobs bill will include transit funding (assuming such a bill even passes, considering the results of this week’s special election in Massachusetts).

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Sanders set to unveil commuter rail plan

Regional Commuter Rail Map
The Independence Examiner reports today that Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders is planning to unveil a regional commuter rail system that covers three counties on the Missouri side of the metro — Jackson, Clay, and Platte.

Sanders has been quietly showing these plans to local leaders – mayors, economic development officials, railroads – for some time. He said the 2,000 or so people who have peaked [sic] at the plans have embraced the idea quickly.

“The majority of cities in Eastern Jackson County are on board,” Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross said.

On the Kansas side, Wyandotte County could conceivably participate as it does today by contract with KCATA. Johnson County has denounced any sort of true, bi-state transit entity — and don’t expect that to change anytime soon. There’s no indication who would operate the DMU-style service, but a well-known operator sits right in our backyard.

The plan is the result of planning work that began in the spring.

No capital funding has been identified for the estimated $1 billion cost, but county officials pledge trips to Washington for a majority of the cost (presumably in an earmark from retiring Senator You-Know-Who, since the next federal transportation bill is in limbo).

When it’s needed someday, just adding a fourth lane to Interstate 70 from downtown Kansas City to I- 435 near the stadiums will cost about $3 billion.

Operational funding would require a new sales tax of as little as 1/8-cent for each of the three counties, which share a population of just under one million. Presumably, some routes would negate the need for KCATA express bus routes paid for today out of affected cities’ general funds (Independence, Raytown, Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, and Liberty).

Some cities would be served that have no transit service at all, such as Grandview, Riverside, Kearney, and Oak Grove.

The proposed system appears to follow the Commuter Corridors that are part of MARC’s SmartMoves regional transit plan. A few complementary projects (here, here, here, and here) have also been submitted to MARC’s long-range transportation plan.

The terminus at Union Station would be served by the downtown streetcar proposed by KCATA.

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Take MoDOT's long-distance bus survey

Often forgotten in transit circles is the long-distance, or inter-city, bus — especially in KC since stations are nearly invisible. Greyhound and Jefferson are still serving more passengers here than Amtrak (from a small-yet-tidy facility at 11th and Troost; upstart MegaBus is a hidden gem for cheap trips to Columbia, St. Louis, or Chicago (from a lonely bus stop pole at the 3rd and Grand park-and-ride… don’t blink!).

Options within the state are fairly limited, however, so MoDOT is asking for your input on experiences and needs for possible expansion of LD bus service within the state and the area.

If you’ve actually used the services that the market provides KC today, you know connectivity is a major issue. St. Louis has resolved this with the new Gateway Multimodal Center (combining LD and local bus, light rail, taxi, and Amtrak). Ideally, all services should be combined at Union Station’s existing footprint, but that would probably require an ownership change (transit hubs aren’t big profit centers).

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MoDOT continues lobbying against Complete Streets

Read this update from the Missouri Bicycle Federation. Complete Streets is a concept that makes streets accessible to all users, not just cars. Similar measures are being debated and passed around the country (Hawaii is the most recent).

So does it make sense for a state DOT to spend taxpayer money to lobby against legislation that affects them? We’ll answer that for you: NO.

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General Assembly, City = FAIL

The Missouri General Assembly defeated a budget amendment for KCATA emergency aid yesterday. We’re back to being a city that’s allowing fare hikes, service cuts, and layoffs. Yes, this was a choice our city leadership made without exhibiting any public interest in a back-up plan, leaving KCATA to fend for itself.

As we continue to starve the system we have it’s clear there is simply no leadership on transit in this city whether it’s for a light rail campaign or for preventing service cuts (that were 100% preventable).

Please take the time to thank Sens. Yvonne Wilson and Jolie Justus for their valiant efforts.

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URGENT: Help prevent service cuts!

This just arrived in our inbox…

URGENT UPDATE

Kansas City’s bus system needs your help TODAY!

In an unexpected move last night, lawmakers passed a stimulus bill that provided $12 million for St. Louis’ transit system and ZERO dollars for Kansas City.

While we support the funding for St. Louis, Kansas City should not be left behind. Particularly, when our community has voted repeatedly to support public transit. Without this one-time funding, critical service cuts will go into effect in June.

There is still a chance to get money for Kansas City. The Senate Appropriations Committee meets at 1p.m. today.

We need your help to convince legislators to also provide funding for the Kansas City bus system.

Please use the contact information provided below to e-mail or call the key legislators considering this issue by 1p.m.. Please give them a simple, personal message based on the following important points:

* Tell them why public transit is important to you,
* Tell them it’s an outrage that Kansas City isn’t getting any money, and
* Ask them to include funding for the KCATA.

Thank you for your support.

Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA)

Legislator Contact Information

Please call and/or e-mail these three legislators TODAY!

President Pro Tem
Senator Charlie Shields
(573) 751-9476
charlie_shields@senate.mo.gov

Majority Floor Leader
Senator Kevin Engler
(573) 751-3455
Kevin.engler@senate.mo.gov

Majority Caucus Whip
Senator Tom Dempsey
(573) 751-1141
tom.dempsey@senate.mo.gov

Minority Caucus Secretary
Senator Yvonne Wilson
(573) 751-9758
Yvonne.Wilson@senate.mo.gov

Senator Gary Nodler, Chair
(573) 751-2306
Gary.Nodler@senate.mo.gov

Senator Rob Mayer, Vice-Chair
(573) 751-3859
Rob.Mayer@senate.mo.gov

If you have time, please also contact your own State Senator today! Click here to find your State Senator’s contact information.

Thank you!

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