TransitKC

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CLEAN-TEA: The next transportation bill

US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood has christened the next transportation authorization bill “CLEAN-TEA” (the last one was “SAFETEA-LU”). Judging from LaHood’s comments at this week’s National Bike Summit, we really are in for a completely new way of looking at — and funding — transportation at the federal level. Not only is this good for bikes as transportation, but it’s definitely going to be good for other alternative modes as well. Previous DOT Secretary Mary Peters was notoriously reported to have said that “bikes aren’t transportation.”

Trickle down may not work for wealth, but it sure does work for transportation policy. Nearly every decision a state DOT makes is based on whether or not they are subject to federal funding formulas or requirements.

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What the stimulus means for metro transit

Just new buses, really. But since tax revenues have imploded and transit money will be diverted to traffic signal replacement, don’t expect any new or expanded service with those buses. Did we mention fares are rising, too?

While the ATA did add a $400 million river-to-Plaza starter line to their stimulus wish list, all that really did was tell us that both the City and Chastain plans were doomed for federal funding using the current formulas. A new transportation bill this year holds promise for leveling the playing field between highways and transit. In some ways, it’s probably best that we waited on light rail while we get serious about land use. Still looking for that champion, however.

The biggest transit news in the stimulus — and this definitely affects KC — is the boost for intercity passenger rail (Amtrak). $9.3 billion will boost efforts across the country to improve and expand our Third World passenger rail network and create jobs that cannot be sent overseas. Kansas City is part of the federally-designated high-speed rail corridor called the Chicago Hub, and is in a state that has one of the oldest state-supported corridors in Amtrak’s system. Expect an announcement from MoDOT in the coming months.

As for Kansas? They’re working on it, although they won’t get any stimulus funding since the boost for state-sponsored matching grants was stripped from the final version.

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Other KC transit developments

With our singular focus on the starter line election, we’ve neglected several non-light-rail transit initiatives that have had some successes:

Bike/Ped:

Mass transit:

Inter-city:

Please consider transit alternatives if you must travel this Thanksgiving. Fatalities always spike over the holidays due to longer travel distances and increased congestion. Kansas City is served by Amtrak at Union Station, Megabus at 10th & Main, Greyhound and Jefferson Lines at 11th and Troost, and all major domestic airlines at KCI (all services offer last-minute online ticketing). Frequent MAX service is available for the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.

We’ll return on Dec. 1.

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Union Station: An intermodal dilemma

Like many issues, the debate about Union Station‘s role in a regional transit system is basically all sides talking past each other assuming they are in total opposition. In reality, there is common ground in the way an alignment along Grand can connect with future modes that might — or might not — terminate or pass directly through the station’s historic footprint. We examine all of today’s scattershot connectivity, but we ultimately leave it to you to decide if using the existing station will best serve the intermodal needs of Kansas City.

EXISTING MODES:

AirKCI is 20 miles from Union Station, a path sparsely populated by both jobs and people. No direct transit connection exists between the two today. One bus route (#129) connects the 10th & Main transit center on weekdays before 6 p.m. LA’s FlyAway service is a good model for KC, and now Denver’s far-flung DIA has a solid bus option as well. A recent article noted that KCI’s passenger base is spread out, presenting another hurdle for inclusion in a light rail line. A commuter rail connection from the station to the airport would require a lengthy new connection — cheaper per mile than light rail, but missing the loop — to the BNSF freight line running northwest from Parkville. About 11 million passengers passed through in 2007, but that number will surely decline in 2008.

Urban bus – Direct connections to Union Station are available. While most nearby KCATA routes favor transferring in the loop or at Crown Center, the MAX makes a stop at the station. The JO‘s suburban routes stop at the station — only during weekday rush hour — but after making stops in the loop. The top connecting point for all existing bus routes is the loop: western routes typically use 10th & Main, eastern routes typically use the area along Grand. A significant revision of routes is planned to coordinate with the starter line, but no consolidated transit center has been proposed. While light rail planners consider the strip from the river to the Plaza as the area with job density, the densest portion is the downtown loop.

Intercity busGreyhound and Jefferson Lines — both more popular than you think — serve passengers from a modern facility at 12th & Troost, with easy access to the interstates. Upstart Megabus stops only at the 10th & Main transit center. Another low-cost carrier, El Conejo (no website?), makes stops at a facility on Southwest Boulevard. Like all mass transit modes, ridership is rising after years of decline. No direct transit connection exists between the two; one transfer in the loop is required. The new Troost BRT project will skirt Greyhound by three blocks, while the current #25 stops right at the corner seven days a week. Is there adequate space on Union Station’s grounds to accommodate intercity bus bays along with everything else?

Intercity railAmtrak provides the only mode that serves Union Station exclusively. A single passenger platform and two tracks are north of the original concourse in the same trench that houses freight tracks. 117,155 people used the Kansas City station in 2007 (boardings and alightings), a number on the rise in 2008. Years of redevelopment have rendered the original east-west track configuration useless: any direct connection from a north-south light rail would have to come from the streets above.

Taxi – A taxi stand serves the area along the southern border of nearby Washington Square Park, and taxis generally wait to meet Amtrak passengers in front of the station (the same applies at the Greyhound station). Newer pedicabs rarely stray outside of the loop.

Bike – No connected bike lanes, dedicated trails, or lockers exist near Union Station today, although that could change if the KC Trails plan ever gets moving. City buses have two-position bike racks and Missouri-sponsored Amtrak trains allow unboxed bikes for a $10 fee, offering some options for connections at the station today (no such luck on intercity buses). Did we mention it’s uphill in three of four directions?

Pedestrian – Six lanes of fast-moving traffic make crossing Main Street at Pershing a daunting task, especially considering how family-friendly the area is intended to be (we won’t even talk about approaching the station from Broadway). The sweeping vistas we all know and love make for long walks to just about anywhere except via the freight house pedestrian bridge. Can the pedestrian experience around the station be fixed? Does that even matter if most connections were to bus or rail? Did we mention it’s uphill in three of four directions?

FUTURE MODES:

Commuter rail – Commuter rail has been more of a topic of late, but Mayor Mark Funkhouser’s original concept had service running on Kansas City Southern‘s tracks, which lack a direct connection to the station (a mixed message coming from such a staunch proponent of the station-as-hub idea). Kansas abandoned a commuter rail plan along the busy I-35 corridor last year — which would easily terminate at the station, but could also terminate in the River Market for a single-seat ride east and north. Does it make sense to send all commuter rail riders to Union Station when a majority of them will need to backtrack or transfer for a one-mile ride to work in the loop? Or can we handle two urban commuter rail terminii like New York, Chicago, and Boston, especially if they’re linked by light rail?

Light rail – Grand Boulevard is two blocks from the eastern edge of Union Station. The Link, an elevated and enclosed walkway, connects the station to Washington Square Park, Crown Center, and two large hotels. Streetcars once covered the area, but only a handful of routes stopped adjacent to the station on Main Street. The study area has no existing north-south freight rail tracks, so any direct connection to the station would have to run perpendicular from the streets above (although the original 2006 Chastain plan had light rail — and gondolas — running through a closed Penn Valley Park and connecting with the west end of the station).

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You wouldn't use light rail to the airport anyway

The Star presents a very detailed analysis today of why you probably wouldn’t ride light rail to the airport even if you had the opportunity… hardly anyone else does. Honestly, we thought some of the other city figures would be higher considering how easy the connection is — only 15% of passengers at DC’s Reagan airport arrive via Metro, arguably one of the fastest and easiest rail-to-airport connections in the US… and one of the worst cities for driving. Even super-green Portland sits at 6% of airport passengers, another convenient connection.

It’s good to see the data laid now out so Northland interests who see an airport link as critical for the starter line will realize the cost-benefit is very, very low. Perhaps by the time we’re ready to expand the system, we’ll know whether we’re getting a new terminal south of the existing runways that will save us about 8 miles of rail (and at $50 million a mile, that’s nothing to sneeze at). In the interim, we’re better off implementing express bus service that terminates at several key points throughout the metro and runs 7 days a week.

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10 Things You Can Like About $4 Gas

From TIME magazine. Enjoy your holiday locally!

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Take the car free challenge next week

The local bike activists at kcbike.info are encouraging you to take one week out of your car-centric life and see how liberating it can be. It’s Bike Week 2008 next week, so sign up if you want to give $3.60/gallon gas prices a break. The weather looks promising. What have you got to lose? You don’t even have to bike, just give up your car and carpool, walk, or use transit (or any combination that works for you). Did we mention a one-way trip on the bus is still only $1.25? Biking and walking are, of course, free. Need help? Leave a comment and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction, or check their handy route map.

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Round-up: This week in light rail

Local:
Ford: KCMO needs a “Plan B” (Kansas City Star)
Bus tax in light rail’s shadow (Kansas City Star)
April 8 ballot information (City of Kansas City)
New EPA ozone standard will challenge KC metro (Business Journal)

National:
Tampa gets regional with transit (Tampa Bay Online)
Cincinnati authorizes streetcar study (Business Courier)
Parking gets tight at Denver park-and-rides (Aurora Sentinel)
Light rail “best bet” for getting to Charlotte’s ACC tourney (WCNC)
Plans for new light-rail link in Pittsburgh revived (Philly.com)
Ford considers building “Transit Connect” taxi (Reuters)

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Enterprise brings car sharing to Missouri

The “We’ll pick you up!” people just launched their WeCar car sharing service at nine locations in downtown St. Louis. It’s a nice public-private partnership that serves transit users well. You can even get a Prius. Once these services start spreading further, private car ownership will seem even more silly and wasteful. Light rail isn’t even a prerequisite, as Albuquerque, Columbus, Gainesville, and Milwaukee have proven (check this nationwide list). National car-sharing competitors FlexCar and ZipCar merged last year.

Take heed, Downtown Council! Maybe WeCar parent Enterprise Rent-A-Car will forgive us for tarring and feathering them during the downtown arena vote — which boosted rental car taxes — and consider KC for it’s next WeCar location.

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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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