TransitKC

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Consultants finalize Phase 2 streetcar plan

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The Phase 2 streetcar consultant team published their draft final recommendations today. Key points to remember:

  • All at once. Streetcar on Main Street, Linwood Boulevard, and Independence Avenue — plus upgrading Prospect bus service to MAX — would be funded and constructed as a single project.
  • You get to vote. Council’s expected approval this week just puts the election on the calendar if courts approve. Voters within the revised Transportation Development District still get TWO chances to chime in at the voting booth — in August to form the district and in November to approve the sales tax and special assessments.
  • You don’t pay now. No sales tax or special assessment will be collected until a minimum 50% federal match is secured. This project could be the largest single federal grant — and the biggest investment east of Troost — in Kansas City history.
  • One TDD. The new TDD funds all of the above and replaces the downtown streetcar TDD. The new TDD map — after the elimination of Brookside and Waldo — is here.
  • Existing bus riders unaffected. If you ride a bus that runs in one of these corridors, you won’t be forced to transfer to streetcar. No reduction in bus funding and no drivers will lose their jobs due to streetcar expansion.
  • Bike enhancements still on the table. It’s up to advocates to make the case to those who live along the routes to support bike lanes and other amenities.

Meanwhile, Phase 1 official construction should start any day with a big rail shipment due to arrive in April. See kcstreetcar.org for the latest information.

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Top 13 transit stories of 2013

First Streetcar Track Installed

1. First streetcar weld, first track installed. Even jaded advocates beamed with pride during the November 14 press event showcasing Kansas City’s first new streetcar rails since 1947 (service ended in 1957). Prior to the event, the first weld and installation of track was completed ahead of schedule thanks to excess materials from a Dallas streetcar project.

2. Dismissed, dismissed, and denied. Two downtown property owners — whose combined annual assessments will be about $1,500 — sued the transportation development district set up to fund downtown streetcar construction and operations. A Circuit Court judge dismissed the suit in March, then the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in August, then the Missouri Supreme Court declined to hear the case on Christmas Eve.  A long-delayed bond sale can now proceed.

3. Phase 2 streetcar advances. Expansion was always in the cards for the initial 2-mile streetcar segment, and the City Council kept its promise by advancing three south-of-the-river corridors for additional study — Main Street Plus (south to Waldo and beyond), 31st/Linwood, and Independence Avenue. Wisely, all three are solid transit corridors today and streetcar corridors of the past. Expansion north of the river is still in planning stages.

4. Transit Emphasis Corridors. It hasn’t been widely reported, but refocusing all bus routes that terminate downtown on just two streets — 12th Street and Grand Boulevard — would result in the highest level of transit service in the entire region (1-2 minute peak headways). Changes could come on Grand as early next year (along with federally-funded bike lanes), while 12th Street will be implemented in tandem with Prospect MAX.

5. Wyandotte County’s 2014 Budget. In addition to seeing completion of TIGER-funded transit centers and improved State Avenue bus stops, Wyandotte County’s Board of Commissioners approved a 2014 budget that contained two hard-fought rewards: larger buses to relieve overcrowding and a brand new route serving Rosedale and Argentine. Props to the Rosedale Development Association and Transit Action Network for their advocacy work.

6. Prospect MAX advances. The next corridor to get MAX treatment is #71-Prospect, currently the second-highest ridership route in the metro. Genius trumped organizational boundaries as the project was grouped with the Phase 2 streetcar expansions to make the first attempted at package funding in FTA history. The project was originally studied as part of the Jackson County Commuter Corridors.

7. CNG buses. KCATA stepped up their transition from dirty diesel to cleaner Compressed Natural Gas buses. The new vehicles entered service in July.

8. Transit Coordinating Council. This newly-formed replacement for MARC’s Transit Committee hasn’t made a big splash with the public, but wonks are all abuzz about much-needed policy shifts that will finally put our region’s resources where our mouths have collectively pretended to be. On tap in 2014: regional fare structure, regional branding, and more focused regional projects.

9. Commuter rail hopes fade. Indifferent railroad executives, a competing ballot initiative from the state (see #13), and a distracting loss on the translational medicine sales tax added up to a sour year for Mike Sanders’ regional rail proposal. The words are still there, but Jackson County leadership is losing patience for action.

10. Missouri’s multimodal transportation plan. In the last legislative session a bill to put a 1-cent transportation tax in front of voters suffered a last-minute defeat at the hands of a few Tea Party extremists. It would have been the first plan to include “multimodal”, and it reflected new priorities of MoDOT’s “listening tour” that proved Missouri residents aren’t just focused on highways (Missouri is at the bottom of the state transit funding list). The proposal has resurfaced as a petition initiative. If it succeeds, it might compete directly with Jackson County and Kansas City transit plans on the same ballot.

11. Streetcar wins $20 million TIGER grant. After being initially rebuffed due to lack of a local funding source, the Department of Transportation finally came through with additional funding for the downtown streetcar. This grant is in addition to the two other federal grants the project won in 2012.

12. Dedication of streetcar maintenance facility. The new streetcar maintenance facility in Columbus Park was dedicated to longtime transit advocate Kite Singleton on November 7. In an appropriate follow-up, a Columbus Park development project Kite worked on for years found financing specifically due to its proximity to the streetcar line.

13. Daily airport service. People aren’t using it much, but the psychological barrier has been broken: You can now get to KCI seven days a week by a single-seat bus ride from downtown. Service runs from 10th & Main between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

For reference, here’s 2012′s top 12 transit stories.

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Top 12 transit stories of 2012

streetcarneighbors

Yours truly and Streetcar Neighbors co-founder Matt Staub were interviewed by KSHB at the final streetcar election party. Photo by Matt Kleinmann. Full video coverage by Transit Action Network.

 

2012 was absolutely a banner year for transit news in Kansas City. Here are the stories that captured the most attention:

1. Downtown streetcar fully funded. Two elections — one to form the special streetcar district, then a follow-up to actually fund the project — passed with strong majorities. Federal funding, initially expected in the form of a $25 million TIGER IV grant, instead came from two locally-programmed federal sources. Toss in a few cost-cutting measures and you have Kansas City’s first fully-funded rail transit project. Construction starts in 2013, with Phase 2 extensions already being discussed.

2. Bike share launch. Twelve stations, 90 bikes… modest, yes, but beating New York, LA, Chicago, and even Portland to the punch. One might question launching in the middle of a heat wave with little infrastructure to encourage cycling, but new non-profit Kansas City B-Cycle could not be deterred. One of the quickest and highest visibility projects to hit downtown in years, just in time for an Bronze designation as a Bike Friendly Community. Phase 2 expansion to Midtown and the Plaza starts in 2013.

3. Jackson County draft transit plans released. Self-propelled diesel vehicles running along I-70 to Oak Grove using existing tracks, with a second phase running along the Rock Island right-of-way to Lee’s Summit — the dream of County Executive Mike Sanders finally realized after years of talking to anyone who’d listen. Both corridors wrapped up most of their Alternatives Analysis work in 2012. A countywide sales tax vote on a comprehensive transit plan — that includes the two rail lines, more bus service, and a Katy Trail extension into the city — is expected in 2013.

4. KCATA service changes. Major changes to 54 bus routes, the first significant makeover of KCATA’s network in decades, were introduced in phases starting in 2012. Noteworthy changes include improved Main and Troost MAX frequency, service to Zona Rosa, and elimination/consolidation of underperforming routes. Improved service to KCI and a reconfiguring of bus travel through downtown are on tap for 2013.

5. Making the streetcar free to ride. The freshly-formed Kansas City Streetcar Authority voted in September to eliminate fares, at least initially, on the downtown streetcar. Initial ridership estimates assumed most riders would pay, so this change all but assures the line’s success. Turns out it costs money to collect money…

6. Transit education campaign. Commercials and billboards began educating Jackson County residents about the benefits of public transit over the summer. Funded collectively by the cities within Jackson County and administered by the Regional Transit Alliance, the goal is to help residents see how “transit works for us,” even if they don’t plan on using it.

7. Keeping Clay Chastain off the ballot. Chastain has again garnered enough signatures to get on the ballot with an even larger transit plan and the city has rightfully stood up and refused to put it on the ballot… so, of course, he sued, lost, and has appealed. That appellate court ruling is due in the coming weeks.

8. Transit ridership up across the metro. Boosted by a new student pass program (first UMKC, now Rockhurst) and an improving economy, ridership increased over 2011 on KCATA (5.50%) and The JO (8%) even as budgets were tightened and fewer services were offered.

9. The JO service cuts. Expiring/reduced federal funding, reduced state funding, and lack of political will all contributed to another year of service reductions and route eliminations for Johnson County Transit. While pro-transit County Commissioner Steve Klika did win in November, prospects aren’t good for The JO sticking around in its current form beyond 2014. Cuts takes effect in January.

10. October bus driver attacks. Two separate incidents, one of which went viral, were a reminder that bus drivers should be respected and not physically assaulted. Suspects in both crimes have been apprehended thanks to a quick public response.

11. TIGER I grant improvements. $10 million each for North Oak, Metcalf, and State Avenue, awarded in 2010. Service was improved on North Oak as part of KCATA’s recent changes, but challenges are ahead for Unified Government (State) and Johnson County (Metcalf) to uncover enough funding (and place-making) to make their services attractive to more than just the transit dependent. Ever stood around at 110th & Metcalf?

12. Independence breaks off from KCATA. While getting a lower price from vendor First Transit (who also operates The JO, which also split from KCATA in the 90s), the City of Independence has had a few startup issues with their local services. Hopefully 2013 will see improved interoperability with KCATA’s remaining Independence routes.

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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.

Streetcar

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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The Mission Effect

Tidy first-tier suburb Mission made big news this week by passing a Transportation Utility Fee that focuses local taxation on infrastructure impact instead of assessed value.

By assessing fees based on the amount of car trips generated by each parcel — and, hence, the wear and tear on local roads — Mission has fired the first, tangible warning shot that Kansas City’s sprawling days may be numbered. While other cities fiddle with form-based codes, climate protection plans, and a lot of greenwashing, Mission’s new taxation method is binding and very real.

Comparing a McDonald’s (2,700 trips per day) and a single-family home of equal lot size (9.5 trips per day), the one with drive thru service pays much more. Even churches and schools will pay the fee.

The most interesting beneficiary of this new approach will be the Metcalf/Shawnee Mission Parkway bus rapid transit route, currently in planning stages. Mission’s contribution will now be a stable $1.2 million per year, far more reliable than sales or property taxes (both of which are down everywhere, with “down” being “the new normal”).

Connecting Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, existing (Main) and new (Troost) BRT routes, Metcalf BRT will be another thread that stitches together a functional, regional transit system one line at a time.

SmartMoves is actually playing out slowly and without much drama, instead of the typical big splash (or public vote) of a major transit proposal. Overland Park has yet to decide how they will fund their portion of the BRT service.

This move is not the penultimate step towards an urban growth boundary — which is what naysayers of smart growth fear most, yet unlikely to ever occur — but a very practical solution for an aging population and a shrinking tax base in a land-locked city.

Mission officials and residents (whose property tax bills will be lower, as a result) should be commended for their innovation and leadership.

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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.

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Bar "trolley" an affront to KC public transit

City Hall has kicked public transportation in the nuts, yet again.

Instead of providing additional funding to KCATA to extend service hours on the weekend — as is done in many other cities nationwide — the City Council has given $195,000 to a private operator to run a tourist “trolley” that duplicates existing transit services.

Good intentions aside, it shows how disconnected our elected officials are from the state of transit in KC — easy to do when driving from the attached garage at home to the underground garage at City Hall. This effort continues to propagate the myth that city buses are for poor people and that tourists and suburbanites should be coddled in faux streetcars — that go door-to-door. Several bus lines (MAX, #51-Broadway, and #57-South Oak) already connect Kansas City’s various entertainment districts, serve a larger area, and easily connect with other routes and park-and-rides… all with taxpayer dollars.

Officially, KCATA doesn’t see this is as competition. That is 100% wrong. City funds are scarce and KCATA’s funding continues to drop in every budget year, even though demand is growing. There’s a reason other cities aren’t doing this.

By the way, the “trolley” will cost you $15 to ride. Save yourself some change and buy a day pass on the MAX for $3. It stops at Waldo, Brookside, Plaza, Westport, Crossroads, Power & Light, and the River Market. Out past midnight? Take one of the many cabs right to your front door and avoid the drunken foolishness.

UPDATE: Here’s the Star’s version of the route map, compared to MAX.

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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 http://twitter.com/kclightrail. 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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Basketball and the bus

The best way to avoid the crush of basketball fans downtown over the next month is to take the bus to the game. All of the upcoming Big 12, NCAA, and NAIA events this month are steps away from nearly every route in the metro.

First, use Google Transit to plan your trip, then read on while we demystify Kansas City’s transit scene.

MAX

If you live close to the MAX route, you’re in luck: KCATA is increasing service every day of the Big 12 Tournament (March 10-14). If coming from farther afield, park free in any of the free garages on the Plaza (the two closest to the Plaza MAX stop are across the street from each other, by Jack Stack Barbecue). There is also a free park-and-ride at 74th & Wornall, but the MAX doesn’t run as frequently south of the Plaza.

VENUES

  • Sprint Center is within a three-block walk of almost every bus route that serves downtown. The entrance on Oak Street is less congested. Grand Boulevard will be closed March 10-14, likely leading to large crowds at the main entrance. Riders should be aware that the “Arena” stop is temporarily west of Grand.
  • Municipal Auditorium is next to Bartle Hall, one block west of Broadway, and best served by MAX (13th & Wyandotte) or #25. Most other KCATA routes require a bit more walking, but none more than 6 blocks.

FARES & PASSES

We highly recommend buying a day pass when you get on board. It’s only $3, which covers your inbound and outbound ride, and can be bought on board. Bus drivers can’t make change, but they can give you a change card for any bills or coins you have, that can be used for future rides.

GOOGLE TRANSIT

The best thing about Google Transit isn’t that it gives you the fastest trip at your desired departure or arrival time – online trip planners have been doing that for years — it’s the combination of displaying bus stops (the tiny blue bus icon) with their corresponding routes (click on that icon) on a map, and Street View.

Let’s say the bus stop closest to you is only served by one route, but the one two blocks in the other direction is served by three routes (therefore offering more departures)… that’s a powerful tool for transit users. Use Street View to see exactly what the bus stop’s surroundings are like; is there a shelter, a bench, or even a sidewalk?

If you’re a smartphone user, download Google Maps for mobile right now. Transit directions are now available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, WebOS, Nokia, and Windows Mobile.

THE JO

Since many of the games will be during the weekday, using The JO to get downtown from Johnson County is also a great idea. Plan accordingly, as most routes don’t run after 6 p.m. We recommend using the park-and-ride at 6000 Lamar due the number of routes available and the shorter travel time.

All JO routes are also on Google Transit. The JO’s fare is $2 and they accept transfers from KCATA. However, they do not accept KCATA passes nor do they provide change cards.

Enjoy your hoops!

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TIGER: Winners/losers, streetcar (not) in play?

While some media outlets thought otherwise, it’s not entirely clear after today’s TIGER announcement that the downtown streetcar is completely unfunded. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of math to deduce where the entire $50 million award will go. The full request [PDF] was $88.761 million.

In practical terms, the entire amount will go to MARC to be distributed to various agencies who handle the Green Impact Zone of Missouri (GIZMO) and transportation services in the metro — the latter being handled exclusively by KCATA, The JO, and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County.

Of the $50 million awarded to KC today, however, GIZMO and bus corridor improvements cover only about $48 million. The Bike KC, Front Street interchange, and West Bottoms freight rail projects were not specifically mentioned, which leaves the remaining transit project — design and engineering for the downtown modern streetcar — up in the air. We have yet to hear from KCATA about their take on today’s event.

Streetcar awards were confirmed for Dallas, Tucson, New Orleans, and Portland. Streetcar requests that didn’t make the cut were Cincinnati, Boise, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, and Atlanta.

Another smaller round of streetcar-specific funding using unspent transit dollars — not stimulus — will be awarded later this year; Kansas City is unable to apply for that program because it has not delivered the local match required.

As for the other nationwide winners and losers in today’s announcement [PDF], Streetsblog, The Infrastructurist, and The Transport Politic have excellent posts that cover the big picture.

Hope you enjoyed our live tweets. We also finally figured out video (see above), and MARC has plenty of pictures.

UPDATE: KCATA confirmed Thursday morning that the streetcar element was not funded. Their site has been updated with details about the bus corridor improvements.

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