Archive for the 'Jackson County' Category

Top transit stories of 2015

RideKC bus on 12th Street

Completion of the streetcar starter line and a new focus on regionalism were the hot topics in Kansas City’s transit discussion this year. Here are the top stories, ranked in order of impact.

1. Reardon takes the helm (then leaves)

Former Unified Government CEO Joe Reardon took the top executive spot at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in April and has been on a nonstop tour of the community ever since. The selection process was relatively quiet, but insiders knew Reardon was a top choice based on his history with regional cooperation — a necessity, if we’re to ever achieve a regional funding mechanism. Shortly after I finished drafting this list, Reardon announced he was leaving KCATA to head the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

2. Streetcar construction ends, vehicles arrive

KC Streetcar vehicles #801 and #802 arrived on Nov. 2 and Dec. 9, respectively, and immediately began test runs on Main Street. Just search #KCstreetcar on Twitter and Instagram to see how excited the community is to welcome rail back to the city. Service begins in Spring 2016 after two additional vehicles arrive.

3. More funding for transit

Johnson County passed a 2016 budget with a property tax increase for transit (as well as parks and libraries). KCMO sent $3 million more to the KCATA. The streetcar TDD exceeded revenue projections. The Missouri Legislature even extended the 1/2-cent transportation sales tax forever (it was due to expire Dec. 31). It was great year full of small-but-significant wins in the funding battle.

4. RideKC brand hits the streets (and the web)

New leadership made the new RideKC brand appear on buses much quicker than anyone predicted. “In the wild” appearances started in August, beating the brand new streetcar vehicles by several months (streetcars are also branded with the “RideKC” name). The entire fleet — including buses serving Johnson County, Wyandotte County, and Independence — will be repainted before the end of 2016. A new regional transit website debuted in October.

5. Transit carries 200,000 Royals fans

Whether the crowd was 800,000 or 500,000, KCATA provided an eye-popping 200,000 rides to and from the Royals’ World Series parade and rally downtown. Despite the crush of riders, the agency handled the demand as well as the local freeway network.

6. Kansas City commits local funding for Prospect MAX 

With little fanfare, the Kansas City Council passed a resolution in October that they would provide the local match for building the city’s next MAX bus line. Funding is expected to come from a future general obligation bond sale (if approved by voters).

7. Bridj announced

A totally new type of transit service called Bridj is coming to the region. KCATA will be the first public transit agency to partner with the startup, which is currently only providing service in Boston and DC.

8. Real regional passes — finally

A regional month and day pass was made official in April. It wasn’t technically difficult, but required four transit agencies (and their funding partners) to agree to make it work. The next stop is off-board fare collection, possibly on Prospect MAX, as well as smartphone payment.

9. Megabus leaves Kansas City

Declining ridership took a toll on private intercity carrier Megabus, which ceased twice-daily runs in September serving Kansas City and Columbia via it’s Chicago hub. During an eight year span in Kansas City, the low-cost curbside provider changed boarding locations from 10th & Main to 3rd & Grand and peaked a three KC departures. Most intercity bus passengers continue to use Greyhound and Jefferson Lines from the Greyhound station at 1101 Troost.

10. Stop consolidation

Up until 2015, no one bothered to make sure regular local bus routes were moving quickly. Stops would often appear twice in the same block, slowing service to a crawl. Now, we have the first attempt to eliminate redundant stops that are often too close together and make long bus rides unbearable.

A few updates from last year’s list:

  • Rock Island advances. Jackson County and KCATA announced in September that they had reached an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad for KCATA to acquire the Rock Island Railroad’s underutilized right of way that serves the Truman Sports Complex, Raytown and Lee’s Summit. The right of way will become a trail in the near future and will reserve space for future transit service. As of this writing, the deal had not been signed.
  • Bike share expansion #3. After expanding into Midtown last year, seven new B-cycle stations were added in greater downtown, Brookside, and Waldo. A total of 27 stations now cover the interior parts of KCMO.
  • WiFi expansion. By the end of 2016, the entire fleet of Kansas City buses and streetcars will have WiFi available onboard. Zero Kansas City buses had WiFi as recently as 2008.
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County’s transit plan becomes clearer

Last week saw a third set of open houses to narrow alternatives for two transit corridors being studied in Jackson County — East (I-70) and Southeast (Rock Island/MO-350). There isn’t a lot of good news for fans of the original Sanders plan, but there are still some very real opportunities.

First, the bad news: A 1% countywide sales tax only generates $80 million annually. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t much when you’ve got two $500 million rail lines you want to build and operate. Selecting alternatives close to the original Sanders plan leaves nothing for connecting buses (polling indicates this is necessary) or any significant operating budget (absolutely necessary). The tough decision ahead is to pick one corridor to build rail, or just go “all in” with buses.

Pick one corridor that scores best with the Feds and voters. That corridor is probably Rock Island.

Four alternatives remain for Rock Island (see corresponding line colors on above photo):

  • Bus Rapid Transit (similar to MAX) from Lee’s Summit, continuing along Linwood Boulevard and US-71 (purple line)
  • DMUs on existing tracks terminating in the River Market via land adjacent to Union Pacific Railroad’s Neff Yard (orange line)
  • Enhanced Streetcar on new tracks from downtown Raytown, running along Linwood to Main, then sharing tracks with downtown streetcar (blue line)
  • Express Buses running on MO-350 to I-435, then I-70 to 10th & Main (green line)

Of the four, the Enhanced Streetcar — defined as a modern streetcar vehicle that makes fewer stops once it leaves denser urban areas — would be a boon for the city and the county. Most Jackson County voters live in Kansas City; any plan that skips most of Kansas City might be at risk with urban voters. Linwood is denser than most suburban areas these lines would serve, which improves our chances for Federal funding. This alternative also has the strongest economic development potential and would help extend the streetcar line south to the Plaza/UMKC.

Voters also want rail and have been prepped for a plan that includes it, as well as service to Truman Sports Complex and Union Station (the revised DMU option for Rock Island would bypass Union Station). Focusing on Rock Island also preserves that corridor for an extension of the Katy Trail into downtown KC, an absolute necessity for any sales tax plan. While some well-heeled Lee’s Summit residents are opposed to anything resembling a train, none of them are opposed to a bike trail.

As for the I-70 corridor, choosing any rail option on the Southeast line pretty much excludes rail for I-70. Since the remaining I-70 rail option (DMU) now skips Truman Sports Complex, Union Station, and the Central Business District, it would likely not score well with the Feds or voters… leaving us with express buses to build ridership and serve more communities directly.

If you missed the open houses, please leave a comment online.


Jackson County transit plan still fluid

We thought Jackson County might have made a recommendation for mode and alignment this week, but we were wrong. A third round of public meetings was on the calendar for March, but have moved to April. Don’t expect a final answer until May or June.

The I-70 and Rock Island (MO-350) “Commuter Corridors” have been under analysis as long as the downtown streetcar, but with longer distances and a “common segment” dilemma there is still no indication which direction the final plan will take. One thing’s for sure: it will not be the exact plan that County Executive Mike Sanders proposed… and that’s okay.

At Wednesday’s stakeholder meeting, consultants eliminated the option of running diesel multiple units (DMUs) on Truman Road between Union Station and the Truman Sports Complex (the “common segment” of the original plan). The cost and impacts are too high for that route/mode combination (see above photo). The Terminal Railway trench that runs behind Union Station is also out. DMUs are still in play, but would terminate in the River Market via Kansas City Southern‘s existing tracks. The original Sanders plan [PDF] had DMUs running on Truman Road to connect to the tracks behind Union Station.

Other mode options are enhanced streetcar, bus rapid transit, express bus, or some combination of the four. Enhanced streetcar is defined as a modern streetcar that makes fewer stops and perhaps runs in dedicated right-of-way. An example in this case would be running streetcars down Main Street to Linwood Boulevard, then all the way east to the Sports Complex, where they could run (up to 55 mph) in the Rock Island corridor without mixing with traffic.

With the availability of hybrid streetcars like the demo at Union Station last summer, there is no longer a need to run catenary and poles along an entire route. The hybrids simply charge at station stops and can go as far as five miles before recharging. We always prefer electric over diesel. If both the Jackson County and downtown plans chose the same vehicle type, riders would have a single-seat ride into the region’s top employment and entertainment destination.

While the consultants and politicians figure out the final plan — which will include more than just two rail lines — an education campaign is due to begin. Jackson County cities have ponied up cash to fund that effort through the Regional Transit Alliance using talent who’ve actually done successful transit campaigns before (versus just hiring the same tired locals). Expect ads to look and sound something like this or this. Early polling indicates strong support for a comprehensive transit plan and a 1-cent sales tax.

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