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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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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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KCATA's stimulus streetcar proposal

KCATA presented a modern streetcar proposal at yesterday’s Transportation and Infrastructure committee meeting. T&I is reviewing applications for $1.5 billion in competitive TIGER grants that are part of the federal stimulus package (yes, that’s $1.5 billion for the entire US). It’s conceivable that the entire capital cost could be covered by TIGER funds. The criteria for requests are fuzzy, and there is no formula distribution as with other transportation dollars.

What’s a modern streetcar? Think modern light rail vehicle running in mixed traffic. Why is it better than the MAX? Take a walk along the MAX corridor and see how it’s improved since 2005. Rail lines spur economic development, period.

See the Star’s coverage here and the PowerPoint presentation here.

On a side note: Seattle’s first light rail line opens this weekend. Track progress at Seattle Transit Blog.

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Round-up: Buy American edition

To celebrate our country’s birth, we present a handful of patriotic transit developments:

Enjoy the holiday and stay safe!

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New Portland MAX station features green design

A new station that’s part of a Portland MAX light rail extension will feature wind turbines, solar panels, salvaged materials, and bio-filtration of storm water run-off.

The wind turbines — designed and manufactured in Oregon and perched atop the catenary poles near the station — will generate 275 watts. The solar array will generate 50 kilowatts, enough to run all lighting on site. The bio-filtration allows the station to be untethered from the city’s storm water system.

The new station is part of the publicly-funded MAX light rail system, not the public-private Portland Streetcar system — an urban circulator — that serves the central city.

A common complaint about light rail is that the construction impact trumps any reduction in pollution or congestion realized by increased transit ridership. Projects like this address that complaint. However, opponents who trumpet the construction impact of light rail rarely include the manufacture of cars or the production and supply chain impacts of oil and gasoline in their estimates.

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Google Maps adds transit to Windows Mobile

If you’re unfortunate enough to use Windows Mobile (snap!), yet wise enough to use public transit (double-snap!), today is your lucky day: Google Maps has added public transit directions to an updated WinMo client (as well as support for the Eurocentric S60). Just don’t try to ask it how to cross the river on a Sunday. Can support for cheapo Java devices be far behind?

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Why waste money on fancy buses?

Just make the existing buses easier to use! Chicago has implemented a bus tracker that does for many bus routes what a BRT upgrade does for just one. The biggest complaint about bus service is timeliness, and this system addresses at least part of that problem by providing a real-time status.

Too expensive for our regional plan? How about SMS updates when a bus will arrive (text stop and route number to a short code and receive an automated response) or an IVR that provides the scheduled bus arrivals for each stop. Portland uses the latter approach by assigning a short code on each stop; dial one central number, enter the code, and the system tells you the next arrival time.

You don’t have to buy new buses or expensive LED displays to provide what centralized technologies can do for a much lower cost.

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More plan details…

Prime Buzz has a good recap of the operational and cost details from this week’s light rail presentations to the City Council. We’ve added a few more details that were mentioned that didn’t make their post:

– The new 3/8-cent tax would be exempt from TIF.
– Operation would not require any general fund support.
– Construction would not require the city to issue or back any of the project’s debt.
– Cost estimates represent the 5-10% design level.
– Project costs include construction of a BRT line on Prospect (so by the time construction is complete the line will be fed by at least three BRT lines — State, Troost, and Prospect avenues).
– Locations for a 15-acre maintenance facility have been scouted, but no final decisions made.
– Platforms will be limited to hosting 2-car trains, so any increase in capacity would require shorter headways (not longer trains).
– North Kansas City has indicated they may synchronize their sales tax vote with KCMO.
– Ridership estimates will be available prior to the November vote.
– The Downtown Council was present to confirm their support for the project.

No indication of when any of this information will be formally released to the public or even when it will appear on the KCATA light rail website (which hasn’t been updated since April?).

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Google Transit coming to KC

Google Transit Event

We’re not claiming any responsibility for this, but we did post in October asking KCATA and The JO to jump on board Google Transit, since it’s free, requires very little technical work to join, and far exceeds the usability of most online trip planners (besides, who doesn’t use Google Maps these days?). Kudos! Now where is The JO?

UPDATE: The Google Transit trip planner is Mac friendly, unlike the ATA’s existing planner. However, not all mobile devices handle the pages well. We tested on a BlackBerry and didn’t get very far, but Windows Mobile and PalmOS worked okay (it’s useable).

UPDATE 2: According to this article, The JO is “still working on it.” We’ve also confirmed that Google Transit works on iPhones, but only displays text instructions.

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Task Force makes route, technology recommendations

The Star has the full story on the 12-mile recommendation. Here are the basics:

  • Northern terminus: Vivion Road and North Oak Trafficway (I-29)
  • Southern terminus: 51st Street and Brookside Boulevard
  • Eastern branch: 18th Street, Linwood Boulevard, or along Brush Creek to Prospect Avenue
  • Technology: Modern streetcar with overhead catenary in dedicated, transit-only lanes
  • Funding: 3/8-cent new sales tax with federal matching funds
  • Stops and precise street alignment will be determined at a later date

Now the Council must make a decision this week on how to proceed with the repeal of the voter-approved plan. It has been sufficiently tarred and feathered, but now that a real replacement exists a simple repeal by the Council should produce little fallout (other than snarky comments from the same five trolls on Prime Buzz). The Council has had plenty of time to think about the options and they’ve been floating in the media — and out their districts — for just as long. It’s time to act.

UPDATE: The ATA has posted the Task Force’s recommendations: Citizen Task Force Recommendations on an Alternative Light Rail Plan

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