TransitKC

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NKC: May we have BRT in the interim?


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North Kansas City, the tiny municipality that occupies much of the land needed to take light rail north of the Missouri River, might be ready for transit improvements sooner than KCMO can deliver. During NKC’s council meeting this week, council members wondered if an extension of the MAX BRT line north to NE 32nd (presumably along Burlington) might be an option worth funding while the light rail plan comes together.

Currently, MAX terminates south of the river at 3rd and Grand. The NKC area is served by limited bus service today (pretty much weekdays only), but is home to some large employers (Cerner, North Kansas City Hospital), a teeming downtown district, and truckloads of casino revenue. NKC is in the process of approving $257,871 worth of funding for the service they have today.

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Light rail and the new KCI terminal

Kansas City International Airport will have a new terminal in 20 years and there isn’t much you can do about it.

Okay, ready to move on? Good, because the new terminal design shown to locals at an open house on Thursday has a light rail station. While some may say “Duh!”, it’s a far cry from earlier comments from the Aviation Department, who basically intimated the existing revenue stream (parking) that keeps KCI self-funded would be at risk if we were offered an alternative way to get there. At least now we’ve moved beyond denial and have accepted the reality that the shoddy local bus (#129x) option isn’t cutting it for just about everyone.

All that said, if you live downtown or don’t mind transferring and happen to be departing and arriving between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday only from Terminal C, then this 45-minute bus ride is for you. $1.25 each way beats even one day of bargain parking.

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Housekeeping

No big news on KC light rail planning, but here are some other recent transit-related tidbits:

  • KCATA has updated their trip planner: it’s now MacOS friendly. Think you can’t take the bus to work? Better check again!
  • Last night, KCPT and By The People held a follow-up to the Oct. 20 transit forum. This event was not televised, but this time we were chosen to participate. We’ll post the final report here once we receive it. The original forum will be re-broadcast on Jan. 4.
  • MARC is also hosting a follow-up to their SmartMoves workshops that were held in various parts of the metro throughout the fall. This time there are only two sessions — Dec. 10 and 12 — and they’re both accessible via public transit. RSVPs are recommended.
  • Mayor Funkhouser will be on KCUR’s Up To Date Wednesday and light rail will be a topic. Air time is 11:00 a.m. CDT and the call-in number is 816-235-2888. Also available as a live stream and podcast.
  • MoDOT announced the winning design/build team for the new Paseo Bridge — soon to be “a landmark cable-stay Missouri River bridge expandable to eight lanes and capable of accommodating a future bicycle/pedestrian facility once connectivity is established” — on Nov. 14. While it won’t accommodate light rail and will open by 2011, be on the lookout for a new river crossing upstream that will be part of the revised light rail plan from KCATA and HNTB. The Heart of America and ASB bridges are out of the picture. We’re guessing that will make Grand Avenue the south shore landing point and Swift Avenue in North Kansas City the north shore landing point.
  • Bike racks have been installed along 12th Street as part of the downtown streetscape improvements in that corridor. If you’ve got more than a few blocks to walk to the bus stop near your home, remember that every city bus has a fold-down bike rack on the front. Instructions and pics are here. Word has it that bike racks are also coming soon to the Power & Light District as a last-minute addition. City bike parking rules are here.
  • Charlotte’s new light rail line is attracting solid numbers now that fares are being collected. The next light rail newbie, Phoenix, has started testing their new line — which is on-time and on-budget; it’s due to open in December 2008. New Haven is seriously talking streetcars, and there is chatter that Savannah will be launching a streetcar circulator next year. In the bad news column, St. Louis Metro lost its lawsuit against the contractors who built the “Cross County” light rail extension to Clayton.
  • Expanding Amtrak service to Oklahoma is the topic this Saturday as the Northern Flyer Alliance holds a public meeting at Union Station to build grassroots support for plugging a big hole in Amtrak’s national network. Only 200 rail miles separates Newton, Kansas, from Oklahoma City, and Wichita (the largest city in Kansas) is not currently served.
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Today's Light Rail Ordinance

The full City Council will hear a new light rail ordinance today that is chock full of interesting details. First and foremost, we find some relatively directive language — “consultants shall proceed immediately to Phase II of the Alternatives Analysis” — and some new twists on route and connectivity. It’s important to note also that the ordinance directs the City and KCATA to enter into discussions directly with the City of North Kansas City, which will host a small, yet critical, segment between the Missouri River and I-29. The ordinance also provides $200,000 in additional funding for light rail planning. Here’s the section that lists routing and connectivity considerations:

In its efforts to determine future alignments and connections to the entire city and region, the City and KCATA have taken into consideration the following alignments and connections:

(1) The alignment identified by Citizens Light Rail Task Force for the first phase light rail.
(2) An East-West connection along the alignment of Trumann Road.
(3) An East-West connection along the alignment of Linwood Blvd.
(4) Connectivity to the area in the general vicinity of Bannister Mall.
(5) Connectivity to the area in the general vicinity of Metro North Mall.
(6) Use of the existing Bruce R. Watkins highway corridor.
(7) Use of the existing Harry Wiggins Trolley Track corridor.
(8) Use of the existing US-169 highway corridor.
(9) Connectivity to the airport
(10) Connectivity to Clay County and Liberty

Watch the City Council live online or on Channel 2 (KCMO only) at 3 p.m. CDT today.

UPDATE: The Council unanimously passed the ordinance today. Per Councilman Ed Ford, answers to the route, technology, and funding questions in the ordinance will be taken up “after the first of the year.” Earlier in the day, the Council agreed to have a special business session on Dec. 13 to start diving into the details as a full group.

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Platte County jumps on board

Funkhouser and Platte City mayors.
The mayors of Riverside (pop: 2,979), Parkville (pop: 4,059), Platte City (pop: 3,866), Weatherby Lake (pop: 1,873), Platte Woods (pop: 474), and Lake Waukomis (pop: 917) pledged their support with KCMO Mayor Mark Funkhouser this morning for a regionally-funded transit system that includes light rail. Since the press conference was held just to share that single piece of information, there was little else revealed that would lead anyone to think real progress had just been made. The real news will come from this week’s council session where a decision must be made on how to proceed with the repeal of the Chastain Plan and the timing and content of any future vote on the matter. We’d also like to hear if the Platte County mayors are planning to get behind a sales tax increase in their cities to help fund a regional system.

UPDATE: The Star’s Prime Buzz has video.
UPDATE 2: Funkhouser’s blog has the actual letter from Platte County mayors.

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NKC: Real frustration or drama?

North Kansas City Mayor Gene Bruns says light rail has “worn” him out. Considering how long the process will take, it seems a bit early to be throwing in the towel. While Bruns does have a point about the number of groups — including this site… guilty as charged! — seeking to influence the planning process, it’s certainly no worse than any other billion dollar civic project the metro has undertaken (Bruce Watkins? Brush Creek?).

What’s more interesting, however, is the insistence that the revised route will likely use the Heart of America bridge. For those with short-term memory problems, this is the same bridge that the city and ATA leaders said would cost lots of extra dough to re-engineer to support light rail. Did MoDOT swoop in recently and sprinkle their magic bridge dust to make it better? We’d love to hear how the HoA plays into the 10- to 12-mile project cost that is being thrown around these days.

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Platte County suggests airport alignment

Platte County Economic Development Council’s Public Policy Committee has recommended that any future light rail connection to KCI run east of Interstate 29. The voter-approved alignment also runs east of I-29 in Platte County until aligning with Barry Road, where it then runs west of the interstate, turns north on Amity Avenue, and terminates at an airport park-and-ride. The EDC committee then provided three eastern alignment variations to the Northland Chamber of Commerce Light Rail Task Force.

In last week’s public forum, project consultants noted that the voter approved route was problematic through this stretch due to some of the roads being only two lanes and the existing traffic congestion on Barry Road.

Separately, a (subscriber-only) article in this week’s Kansas City Business Journal looks again at a river-to-the-plaza starter route concept, comparing it to the beginnings of Denver’s transit revolution. Says Scott Reed, a representative of Denver’s transit agency: “The most important thing we did was we started with a light-rail line to give people the ability to see it in operation and make up their own minds.” The emphasis is, of course, ours.

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KCDC gets us closer to Plan B

The Kansas City Design Center announced the winner this week of its urban design competition focusing on Transit-Oriented Development options for a revised light rail route through the city. BNIM Architects‘ winning proposal is available here [14.6Mb PDF]. The Kansas City Star’s take is here.

Before you dismiss this as another “me too!” announcement, rest assured the final revised route you will vote on in November 2008 will be very close to what you see here, based solely on the panel of judges: North Kansas City Mayor Gene Bruns, Kansas City’s 2nd District-at-large Councilman Ed Ford, KCATA Senior Engineer Dick Jarrold, MoDOT Assistant District Engineer Linda Clark, and Brad Scott of the U.S. General Services Administration.

First and foremost, we offer kudos for addressing the design abortion that is officially named Midtown Marketplace, though locals refer to it lovingly as The Glover Plan.

Winning aspects of the BNIM plan, from the KCDC website:

  • “Midtown Marketplace at Linwood and Main could convert its large parking areas to other uses, including local retail, offices and apartments, arranged along a re-established grid of streets.
  • Air rights development above a former railroad just north of Washington Square Park could support a new mixed-use development above a transit concourse connecting Grand Blvd. to Union Station.
  • A downtown transportation hub could be constructed over the I-670 freeway adjacent to the Sprint Arena as an intermodal station for buses, light rail and a downtown ‘circulator streetcar.’
  • The forgotten Harlem neighborhood could serve as the landing point for light rail on the north bank of the Missouri River, and be re-developed as a high-density, mid-rise and high-rise neighborhood, complete with a central ‘Great Street’ and a spectacular view across the river to the downtown skyline.”
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Letters, We've Got Letters…

Not us — we don’t believe in the USPS – but the Kansas City Star does get an occasional letter about light rail. Conveniently, you can click here to see all letters related to transit in one place, regardless of the submission date.

If you found the previous post interesting at all, there is another mayoral forum tonight. Light rail is sure to be a topic since the Northland helped carry the vote and about 18 of the 27-mile route is north of the river.

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Who Knew? Northlanders Kept Light Rail Vote Afloat

The Kansas City Star’s Mike Rice points out that the part of Kansas City that is north of the Missouri River and outside of Jackson County helped the light rail initiative pass (Cass County at 51%; Platte County at 55%). Chastain himself notes that the route “will facilitate their commutes by allowing them to avoid the bottlenecks over the Missouri River bridges” and that “it could help revitalize areas of North Oak Trafficway, create more healthy mixed-use developments and reverse urban sprawl.”

What’s more problematic, however, is that the proposed route passes through two municipalities in these counties that are not part of KCMO proper (Gladstone and North Kansas City). Both of those municipalities have remained quiet on what the vote means to their long-term plans for smart growth (both Gladstone and North Kansas City are landlocked by KCMO).

Rice also uncovers another group who could present a major roadblock to the plan up north: the Kansas City Aviation Department, which runs Kansas City International Airport — the northern terminus of the proposed route. KCI says in no uncertain terms that they perceive light rail as competition to the airport’s parking and car rental fees (the latter are going to support the construction of the Sprint Center).

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