TransitKC

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How to vote for the streetcar

The City has chosen a mail-in election for the downtown streetcar. Since the Circuit Court is overseeing the formation of the Transportation Development district that will fund the streetcar, they are also handling the mail-in election.

Here’s how to participate:

  1. Print the ballot application from http://www.16thcircuit.org/streetcar/
  2. Print your voter registration status** from http://kceb.org (“Check Your Voter Status”)
  3. Send them back to the court (hand-deliver, mail, or fax) by 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 22. If mailing, allow enough time for delivery by May 22.

If you don’t request a ballot you cannot vote, just like absentee voting. You must live within the TDD boundary to apply for a ballot, since only those properties will pay the special assessments. The Downtown Neighborhood Association has a calculator for residents to determine their annual assessment.

Next steps:

  • June 1 - U.S. Department of Transportation will reveal if the streetcar has won all or part of $25 million TIGER grant request
  • June 19 – Circuit Court will mail ballots to those who requested them
  • July 31 – Completed ballots (vote YES for the streetcar) must be returned to the Court

This first vote is only to form the TDD and set maximum assessments. Final special assessments rates will be set at a second election later this year. The City is actively working to find additional funding sources to reduce the assessments, including the one that they will pay on all municipal property.

All 3,400 qualified voters (those registered who live within the TDD boundary) were mailed ballot applications by the streetcar campaign on May 8. The envelope contained a letter from Mayor Sly James explaining the project, a map of the TDD, and the official ballot application.

The entire TDD sits within Ward 1. That electoral ward voted over 60% in favor of the November 2008 light rail plan.

Another round of public meetings will be held May 15-17. Follow us on Twitter for more frequent updates, as well as the Streetcar Neighbors Facebook page.

** UPDATE! We’ve had reports that some registered voters aren’t showing up at http://kceb.org. If this happens to you, please call the Kansas City Election Board (816-842-4820) and have them email you that you are, in fact, registered. Print that email as proof and enclose it with your ballot application. Do NOT mail your application after Monday, May 21 since it must be RECEIVED by 5 p.m. on Tuesday. Please fax the application and your voter registration status to the number on the form or hand-deliver to the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City.

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Judge advances streetcar district

Judge Charles Atwell today issued his judgement [PDF] on the Transportation Development District the City sought to fund construction and operation of the 2-mile downtown streetcar.

The major question was whether the various assessments — on commercial, residential, and municipal property; a sales tax; and a additional assessment on commercial surface lots — presented an “undue burden” on any property owner. The judge ruled that while the levies would be a burden, no one is being singled out and the rates aren’t “disproportionate to that of other property owners.”

The judge heard testimony at a public hearing on April 17 (see photo above) and allowed the petitioners to make their legal case on April 18 (I was a supporting petitioner). Three commercial property owners showed up to oppose. Supporters outnumbered them, and even a few supporting commercial property owners were on hand to level things out. Deliberation was expected to take between one and two weeks.

Today’s ruling immediately starts a mail-in election (ballots may also be hand-delivered to the court):

  • Monday, April 30 (8 a.m.) - Ballot requests begin
  • Tuesday, May 22 (5 p.m.) - Ballot requests end
  • Monday, June 19 – Ballots mailed to voters
  • Tuesday, July 31 (5 p.m.) – Ballots due

You must be registered to vote at an address inside the TDD boundary at the time you request a ballot. Check your registration status here.

Of course, we will have our answer on the TIGER grant application by the time this is all over. Not receiving that grant doesn’t end the project, but just delays it beyond the current 2015 target.

UPDATE: The application to request a ballot has been posted at http://www.16thcircuit.org/streetcar/. The public notice explaining the process is available here.

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Downtown streetcar update

 

It was a big week for the Downtown Streetcar project. Here’s a brief recap:

- The City Council unanimously passed three rezoning ordinances that will make transit-oriented development easier, as well as improve the likelihood of receiving Federal funding. The biggest change involved elimination of suburban-style parking minimums in the Crossroads. To appease some property owners, the changes don’t take effect until May 1, 2013 — about the time the streetcar would start construction on the current timeline. Per Councilman Jim Glover, it’s one of the largest rezoning efforts the City has attempted.

- “Downtown Streetcar Supporter” window clings (see above) began appearing in downtown shops and restaurants.

- Two firms — Brightergy and RareWire – announced plans to relocate to buildings right on the route.

- The $25 million TIGER application is in process and will be submitted on Friday, March 16.

- A public hearing for the Transportation Development District has been set for Tuesday, April 17 at the Jackson County Courthouse.

- If the judge rules the TDD can proceed, an election to form the district will be held Tuesday, June 5. A second election will be held to set the levies.

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Your mayoral options: Burke, Funk, or Sly

You say you want improved transit in Kansas City? Well, your slate of mayoral candidates has finally let it slip where they stand. The bad news is that you don’t have very many options.

Steve Kraske reports on Prime Buzz that only Mike Burke, incumbent Mark Funkhouser, and Sly James have made any positive comments about transit — light rail, specifically — in recent interviews and candidate forums.

Unfortunately, one of the three (Funk) has a miserable record and nothing to show for having had transit on his list of priorities for his entire first term… including the failed 2008 vote for the starter line to replace Clay Chastain’s winning 2006 petition initiative (which was the catalyst for this blog). Coincidentally, Chastain announced this week that he’s “moving back to KC” to run a write-in campaign for mayor. We can safely predict this will go nowhere.

The remaining two pro-transit candidates are capable of occupying the city’s top elected position, but need to provide more detail about their plans for transit, including whether they support Mike Sanders’ regional rapid rail concept.

Other candidates offer the same tired excuses — variations on the “we can’t afford it” theme — but:

  • Reality #1 is that the city is still spending money on the exact same things it spent money on before the recession, just less on each item (including transit).
  • Reality #2 is that the big price tags for major transit improvements always come with matching federal dollars — otherwise, they just don’t happen. The feds tell you early on whether you’ll have a chance at getting any money, which was a major sticking point for some voters with the 2008 plan (the vote was held far too early in the federal planning process).
  • Reality #3 is that capital and operating expenses must come from a new, dedicated tax. That means it will not affect the city’s general fund or debt capacity (KCATA can issue its own debt, especially if it has the revenue from a new tax).

The mayoral and council primary is Feb. 22 and the election is March 22.

On a side note, you may have noticed that the site has been quiet lately and even has a new name: transitkc.com. We’re broadening the scope of the blog to include all modes of transportation in the region. The change will be accompanied by a complete redesign, the addition of a mobile presence, and more social media integration. Stay tuned for more details!

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Clay Chastain at Union Station

Clay Chastain
Photographer Eric Bowers captured Clay Chastain during his petition drive at Union Station on Saturday, which was also National Train Day. Chastain gathered about 1,000 signatures, but announced today he’d be scaling back the proposal.

Earlier in the week, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders made a competing pitch to the Kansas City City Council; the Council tentatively agreed to support the Sanders plan [PDF] and is considering a change in the petition process that would require a financial statement from the city auditor for each petition initiative submitted to voters.

Photo used with permission.

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Chastain returning with one-two punch

Chastain Map

Punch #1 – Another light/commuter rail plan. PrimeBuzz has the details.
Punch #2 – Strip the City Council’s ability to invalidate petition initiatives.

We’ve maintained that Chastain’s motivation actually seems quite pure and is valuable in keeping the city’s feet to the fire on transit improvements. Our system is undeniably underfunded and has yet to make the leap from poor-people mover to economic development engine.

BRT, commuter rail, and streetcars are all great proposals, but none of them will ever come to fruition if our operational funding isn’t significantly increased (and preferably on a truly regional basis).

Regarding Punch #2, the Council will never live down repealing the only successful vote on light rail, flawed as it was. Since that first repeal of a petition initiative didn’t go so well, expect voters to do some punishing.

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Chastain appeal rejected

The Missouri Court of Appeals put the final nail in the coffin of Clay Chastain’s only successful light rail petition initiative today by denying his appeal. Chastain argued that the city council’s repeal of the petition initiative was unconstitutional, but the robes disagreed.

The city’s charter was amended years ago to allow the council to undo any petition initiative. Opinions on the wisdom of applying that option in this situation vary. It was, at a minimum, short-sighted to reject Chastain’s plan entirely (which was approved with 53% in a low-turnout election) than to put all of our eggs in a similarly-problematic basket in a replacement ballot question (which was swept under the rug with only 44% approval in a tide of “change”).

Of course, it all seems obvious in retrospect. The council was simply not given adequate information on the options.

In the interim, KC transit riders endured a fare increase and an unsuccessful attempt to secure state funding to prevent service cuts. Brights spots actually exist, however: County leaders are poking around in the commuter rail attic, the city is getting somewhat serious about bike and pedestrian issues (vital to supporting transit), and SmartMoves is progressing with our Bush-era BRT-lite template (the Troost Avenue corridor is next in 2010).

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Light rail post-mortem: Other views

  • Urban Society’s Kevin Klinkenberg chimes in with a Think Smaller approach at The Kansas City Post.
  • The Star‘s Yael Abouhalkah and Kevin Collison also have it figured out. Also of note: the Star retracted its support for Mayor Funkhouser — who confirmed he will carry forward with a regional transit vote in 2009 — and buried it on Saturday’s editorial page.
  • Fox 4′s Monica Evans attempts to do the issue justice, barely raising the very low bar set by local broadcast news.
  • Prime Buzz points out that we’re definitely in the minority of transit-hostile cities last week.
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Hindsight: The Epic Fails of the Starter Line

We’re not going anywhere, in case you were wondering. There’s lots of potential in the aftermath of Tuesday’s vote. In order of importance, here are the major fuck-ups with the starter line campaign:

Epic Fail #1: RIDERSHIP

A complete and total unknown before the election. Original schedule was June.

Epic Fail #2: CITY COUNCIL

Bickering with each other and constantly pointing the finger at Mayor Funkhouser. Yeah, we all know they want to be the next mayor, but come on. Fall in line behind the regional plan next year and put your petty differences aside… all of you. Make sure the ATA has the money to finish the Alternatives Analysis, even if you have cut the stadiums subsidy to make it happen (they’re doing fine, financially… the city and transit are not).

Epic Fail #3: EXTENSIONS

The election results by ward suggest that none of the politically-motivated extensions (Water Works to I-29, Plaza to Prospect, Brush Creek to 63rd) garnered any additional real support at the ballot box.

Epic Fail #4: OAK

Who? What? When? Exactly. Right before the election the project team started dropping Oak Street as an option through downtown, unquestionably to keep Cordish out of the fray. This option was not vetted with the public and should not have been mentioned. Period.

Epic Fail #5: SEWERS

One phrase sums this up: RED HERRING. Submit the plan on time next year and get it out of the way before the next transit vote.

Epic Fail #6: BALLOT LANGUAGE

Don’t make people add fractions ever again. Assuming a voter wasn’t aware light rail was on the ballot, the question’s language was too wordy and confusing. It did, however, have the correct amount of route detail, regardless of what the opposition said. The failure to garner a majority vote had more to do with the economy and the regional discussion (and lack of a clawback if no federal funding came through). Kudos to The Star for doing the educational legwork the project team did not make time to do.

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Light rail question fails with 44%

It’s hard to say with any certainty, but last night’s upset against the 3/8-cent KCMO-only light rail sales tax could be a referendum on the local vs. regional discussion for transit in Kansas City. In a strange twist, the North Kansas City 1/2-cent question passed. We’ll be following up in the next few days with post-election analysis and next steps. Fortunately, the Alternatives Analysis is funded and will continue through the first of next year.

And in case you hadn’t heard, the most pro-transit duo ever won the race for the White House last night.

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