Archive for the 'SmartMoves' Category

Final streetcar report recap

A draft version of the final downtown streetcar report has been posted here. The project is now ready to move into engineering. Here are some of the report’s highlights:

  • Modern streetcar, electrified by overhead catenary wires and running primarily on Main Street, between River Market and Crown Center/Union Station (2.11 miles).
  • Other than Main Street, vehicles will travel on Grand between 3rd and 5th; on 5th between Grand and Delaware; on Delaware between 5th and 7th (where Delaware turns into Main), then on Pershing between Main and Grand.
  • Estimated operating hours are 6 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Three vehicles would provide peak headways of 11 minutes (with 22 minute headways on Sundays and after 9 p.m. on weekdays).
  • Vehicles will operate in median lanes from Pershing Road to 14th Street, then run in curb lanes between 14th and 9th streets (eliminating the dysfunctional on-street parking that co-exists with a bus lane).
  • Construction will take an estimated two years after design and engineering are complete; majority of disruption will occur within the right-of-way and not for the entire two year period along the entire route.
  • No property acquisition required for the route, but parcels may be acquired for a maintenance facility.
  • Communication utilities (AT&T/Verizon) would be most impacted by construction; Main Street has very few water, sanitary sewer, or gas lines.
  • Capital construction cost is $101 million. Annual operating cost is $3.2 million.
  • Funding will be a mix of fares, $2 million in City funds (mix of PIAC and TIF), up to $25 million in Federal grants, and $73 million generated by a new Transportation Development District over 25 years. No money will be diverted from existing KCATA operating funds.
  • Daily ridership forecast for opening year (2015) is 2,896. By 2035, daily ridership is estimated at 6,023. By comparison, Main Street MAX carries around 4,000 riders between River Market and Waldo.
  • Acres of parking within 1/4 mile of proposed stations: 105 (surface) and 53.2 (structured). Surface lots are strong candidates for redevelopment.
  • Noise and vibration are similar to existing city buses.
  • Connections to other transit services will be available at 3rd & Grand (city bus, Megabus), 10th & Main (city bus), and Union Station (Amtrak, regional rail).

Twelve stations are recommended for the following locations (about every 2 blocks):

  • 3rd & Grand (northern terminus and existing KCATA park & ride)
  • City Market (on 5th at Walnut)
  • River Market West (on Delaware at Independence Avenue)
  • North Loop (on Main at 8th)
  • Financial District (on Main at 10th, adjacent to the KCATA transit center)
  • Convention Center/Power & Light (on Main at 14th)
  • Kauffman Center (on Main at 16th)
  • Crossroads (on Main at 18th)
  • Freighthouse (on Main at 20th)
  • Union Station (on Main, opposite the station)
  • Crown Center (southern terminus, on Pershing at Grand in dedicated lanes)

The Transportation Development District will generate revenue from the following downtown sources:

  • Special Assessment on Real Property Assessed Value (including Chapter 353 abated properties)
  • 1% in-district Sales Tax (in addition to a TDD sales tax that covers the Power & Light District)
  • Special Assessments on Commercial Surface Parking
  • Fares ($1 per ride)
  • Advertising revenue

TDDs can issue bonds and are managed by an elected Board of registered voters within the district boundaries will be overseen by a four-person Board composed of City officials and mayoral appointees [Ed Note: Corrected on 1/10/12 at the request of the City of Kansas City; there are multiple ways to form a TDD Board, per statute.]. The proposed boundaries are the Missouri River on the north, 27th Street on the south, the centerline of Broadway on the west, and the centerline of Locust Street on the east. This would include most of the River Market, downtown loop, and Crossroads, but not Quality Hill or Columbus Park. Major retail hubs such as the City Market, Power & Light District, and Crown Center would all be included. An in-district election to form the TDD will occur early in 2012.

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The State of KC Transit

We haven’t posted in awhile, so we thought we’d take this lovely Saturday morning and dust off the old WordPress to provide an overview of current transit initiatives in the Kansas City metro.


Downtown Streetcar

After open houses in June, August, and September, the major questions about the streetcar route were answered: it will run on Main Street and will be a modern streetcar. The Regional Transit Alliance was even bold enough to drop a sample vehicle in front of Union Station (in the street, appropriately) and host an all-day “party” around it. That’s how much of a sure thing this project has been thus far.

As of today, the City is trying to convince downtown power players to go along with funding the line locally. The main proposal is to use a Transportation Development District, a state-enabled benefit district used in Missouri primarily to fund road improvements for strip malls. KCATA was successful in getting language added that specifically allows public transportation projects. Once property owners decide they can live with taxing themselves, all they need to do is convince a county judge and get a majority of registered voters within the district boundaries to approve and — BAM! — now you have enough funding for a downtown streetcar with no citywide vote required. A group of neighborhood leaders has also begun lobbying for the TDD.

Separately, the design and engineering phase will be paid for by citywide 2012 PIAC funds. Initial planning was paid for by a federal Alternatives Analysis grant. During design, federal grants may be available (as they have for other modern streetcar projects) for up to $25 million.

The price tag for the project is now $101 million for capital, and $2.8 million annually for operations between Crown Center and River Market.

Jackson County Commuter Rail

While some advocates bristle at Mike Sanders’ commuter rail proposal for Jackson County, we’re a fan. Why? A) Because it acknowledges what KC really is (one big suburb) and B) is the only transit proposal that addresses congestion. While I-70, MO-350, and US-71 congestion isn’t bad compared to other cities, the I-70 route is a curvy dinosaur that isn’t aging well and serious improvements are decades away. The other two corridors have rail assets that are underutilized and would add appeal to an I-70 line (and they are also served by limited commuter bus service today).

Some of the initial alternatives presented were actually express bus and light rail/streetcar options, proving that the project team is exhausting all options before going “all in” on commuter rail.

Word has it that Sanders has backed off an April 2012 election, and that’s a good thing since the study won’t be done until May. Since he isn’t running for statewide office, prospects look good for Sanders sticking around to spearhead a countywide sales tax election in 2013. A trusted political leader is critical for such a campaign.

So are there issues with the original plan? Of course. It was developed by a railroad engineer, not a transit planner. Now that the transit wonks are involved the project is forced with making practical decisions about rail vs. bus and what it might take to win an election in unproven territory (Jackson County has never fielded a countywide transit sales tax initiative).

The first open house was held in September, with a second one tentatively planned for early November.

Bus Rapid Transit (Rapid Ride)

A consultant from Portland recently (and accurately) pointed out that our MAX lines are not Bus Rapid Transit. That’s okay, because we still like the token BRT elements (real-time arrival, limited stops) that MAX added to two high-frequency transit corridors (Main Street in 2005, and Troost Avenue this January). What we do NOT like is the silly routing, lack of off-board ticketing, and limited service in South KC. Plans are afoot to address the Main Street MAX routing now that the streetcar will definitely run on Main instead of Grand.

State Avenue Connex

Meanwhile, three other future MAX corridors are getting love care of the Recovery Act. A TIGER grant is funding improvements to the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway, State Avenue, and North Oak corridors (transit centers, sidewalks, and signal priority). Since existing service isn’t even close to BRT, the State corridor will be branded “Connex”.

Regular Bus Service

KCATA is in the midst of a massive overhaul of their system, the first phase of which is planned for 2012. Public comments are still being accepted. The JO is moving forward with bus-on-shoulder operations for their commuter routes to downtown KCMO.

Intercity Passenger Rail

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon surprised everyone in March with a $1 billion application for high speed rail across the state, terminating in KC. Having subsidized Amtrak service since 1979, the state has had skin in the game for longer than most, but the proposal wasn’t the slam dunk the Obama administration was looking for. Instead, we netted $31 million to improve reliability (already at 90%) for two existing round-trips. The improvements could make way for a third round-trip and a much-needed reduction in the 5:40 travel time to St. Louis.

In addition to track improvements, Missouri also was part of a grant for new trains to be pooled with other Midwestern states (Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan). The current equipment is operable, obviously, but older than many of its passengers.

A state rail plan is being developed this year using input gathered from public meetings.

Meanwhile, an effort to bridge a service gap between Kansas City and Oklahoma is stalled due to a hostile governor, but a service plan that was funded before Brownback took office is due this month.

Intercity Bus Service

Not much news in this segment, but express carrier MegaBus continues to impress with a new-ish stop in Columbia and low advance fares. KC’s top carrier, Jefferson Lines, now offers express service from KC to Des Moines with WiFi and nicer coaches. Old man Greyhound has new vehicles, but has yet to extend its Bolt Bus service beyond the East Coast.

A proposal to move all bus services to Union Station is promising, but held up at City Hall.

Bike Sharing

Bike sharing systems are spreading like mad across the US and KC is not immune. A local off-shoot of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Foundation (BikeWalkKC) is spear-heading a privately funded bike sharing system. A fully-functional demo in June proved that there is interest, even without major bike lanes or trails in the urban core.

Separately, bike trails and bike sharing rated very highly on the City’s crowd-sourcing budgeting site, KCMOmentum. This could lead to serious levels of funding, now that morale has been boosted by a Bronze Level rating as a Bicycle Friendly City.

Car Sharing

UMKC caught everyone off guard this year when it snuck an ordinance through City Council that made car-sharing cheaper by allowing the “arena tax” to be calculated on an hourly basis. As soon as it passed, our urban university made their plans public. Expect a Zipcar or WeCar franchise at two campuses by years end, with a downtown location sure to follow.

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Modern streetcar update

The modern streetcar project is progressing rapidly. With a federal grant to complete a new study for a dramatically smaller corridor in place, the first public meeting will be held on June 21. Check the SmartMoves website for the exact time and location. UPDATE: The meeting has been confirmed!

Major issues for the 2-mile route are street selection and funding.

The 2008 light rail plan basically narrowed the choices through downtown to Main or Grand. With Grand mired in an aggressive Complete Streets effort that came out of nowhere, it appears that Main Street is emerging as a consensus choice (mostly to avoid interference from Cordish-induced street closures and the “parade” argument). While light rail would have taken travel lanes away, the modern streetcar will share them… just like a bus. Opposition shouldn’t be as strong, knowing that the construction timeline will be shorter than a full-scale light rail project.

Funding is a bit more of a gray area. City staff and elected officials have repeatedly opposed attempting another city-wide vote. Yet, downtown support at the ballot box has been consistently strong, and most of the big boys in the loop realize that some sort of major transit investment is inevitable. Since there is no federal or state support for operating costs and KCATA has no wiggle room to add more services, that leaves localized funding. One way to generate revenue within the corridor is through a Transportation Development District, which requires only a petition of registered voters or property owners within a define boundary and a judge’s approval to form.

There is also a sense that City may step up to take the financial lead. A relatively small construction price tag, with perhaps the city owning the vehicles, could make issuing municipal bonds an option. That, of course, will add complexity to the convention hotel discussion that still plagues City Hall. With a strong credit rating but big debt load, will residents revolt if the City attempts both?

The list of cities actively planning new or expanded modern streetcar routes includes Oklahoma City, Washington, Portland, Dallas, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Charlotte, and Atlanta. All have received federal grants in the last two years to expedite efforts.


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.


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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TIGER grant decisions due Feb. 17

According to media reports nationwide, the US Department of Transportation will announce TIGER grant awards by Feb. 17.

Kansas City submitted a regional application that includes $6 million in design and engineering work for a downtown streetcar that would run between River Market and Crown Center. No local match is required for the $1.5 billion TIGER program.

Total capital cost of the 2-mile streetcar is $68.3 million, while operational costs of $2.1 million would need to come from a new revenue source (likely a TDD for the service area).

Other elements of the Kansas City application are funding for the Green Impact Zone, implementation of the Bike KC plan, improved bus facilities along SmartMoves corridors, West Bottoms freight rail capacity improvements, and a new highway interchange at I-35 and Front Street.

TIGER is a competitive grant program introduced in the Recovery Act. Previously, most transportation funding was disbursed using formulas that were not merit-based.

Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for the initial announcement.

An second, $280 million grant program specifically for Urban Circulators (buses or streetcars that serve users in a confined area, versus longer-distance commuters) was announced last month, but KCATA does not have the 20% local match required to apply in this tough budget year. The deadline for that $25 million grant is Feb. 8, with awards announced in “early 2010″. Many of Kansas City’s peers will be applying, such as Charlotte, Tuscon, Omaha, San Antonio, and Fort Worth.


Streetcar proposal submitted to USDOT

The regional TIGER application has been submitted to the US Department of Transportation, and it includes a $6 million request for design and engineering of a downtown streetcar. There are lots of other elements (bike/ped, freight rail, Green Impact Zone) in the plan, but the streetcar and BRT portions have been posted on the KCATA website.

We’ll be poring over the application in the coming days to bring you an overview and our analysis.

As a reminder, the TIGER grant program is unique to the stimulus program and is competitive and discretionary. MARC’s proposal is going up against MoDOT (for I-70 truck lanes, natch), St. Louis (leave a comment if you know what they’re applying for), Columbia (ditto) and any other entity in the state that can receive federal transportation funds.


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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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.


MARC Transportation Committee recap

The following condensed transit updates are from the MARC Transportation Committee July meeting:

  • SmartMoves – Two phases underway: urban corridors (with a bi-state application for a TIGER stimulus grant) and commuter corridors; consultants have been selected for each. Phase 1 deadline of Sept. 12th and the second phase has no deadline at this time.
  • Transportation Outlook 2040 – Project solicitation for the long-range transportation plan is in progress. A high speed rail section will be added.
  • Unified Government Transit – UG Transit does not have funds to make it through the rest of the year (service cuts may occur in October); next year will also be difficult for funding.
  • KCATA – Service cuts implemented June 28; additional cuts may be needed.
  • Johnson County Transit – First phase of the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway BRT study (also a SmartMoves corridor) is near completion and phase 2 will start soon; action from the Kansas legislature is required in order to run the service in this corridor and the northern terminus has been determined to be the Plaza (instead of downtown, the terminus for most JO services today). Fifty-five new JO bus stop signs will be installed in downtown Kansas City (where none exist today) via an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the KCATA.

The next meeting will be held at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 5 at MARC offices, 600 Broadway, in downtown Kansas City.


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