Avoiding the obvious: Union Station = transit


Today’s coverage of Union Station‘s continued financial troubles avoids the most obvious solution: transit.

Ask any resident what they think the station’s primary function should be and you’ll get the same response: Trains. Obvious, right? While the facility is somewhat officially designated as a transit hub, the non-profit that runs it is still focused on the beleaguered Science City and traveling exhibits. Annual attendance at the science museum has stabilized at 140,000, far less than the Kansas City Zoo or the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Exhibits have had success, but don’t provide consistency.

Their solution: Boost the station’s bottom line with a tax increase while continuing to focus on being a tourism destination. It’s a recipe for continued failure.

Transportation built the station to suit that purpose and only transportation can save it.

This would still likely require a new revenue stream to heat and cool the monster-sized interior — the largest expense, at $2.5 million annually — but this obvious connection would be an easier sell to voters, perhaps as part of a regional transit plan already in the works.

The current focus on passenger rail expansion — including Kansas City’s designation as a high-speed terminus and the extension of an existing route from Oklahoma City through Kansas — hold great promise for increasing foot traffic.

Kansas City’s next attempt at urban rail — a streetcar circulator connecting the station to the downtown loop — will also help.

The main sticking point for creating commuter rail service in the metro has been the distance between Union Station (about a mile) and the region’s top job center (the loop). Improving passenger rail and adding a streetcar connection would enhance the prospect for the station as a commuter rail hub. Today’s BRT stop at the station barely registers.

Also, shifting intercity bus carriers (Greyhound, etc.) from their far-flung station at 11th and Troost is the next logical choice. Amtrak already has contracts with bus providers that extend the network; currently, they must make stops at both Union Station and the bus depot. We don’t have to look far to peer cities like Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Milwaukee, who have paved the way for this shift to intermodalism. All modes benefit as a result of the synergy.

Add all those transit options together on Union Station’s massive footprint and you get a base to build retail demand just like large stations in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Few cities can tout such a facility in such a beautiful setting.


10 Comments so far

  1. Capt. G. Spaulding September 14th, 2009 11:04 am

    Seems to me the Union Station would have to UNDO some parts of the 1990′s refurbishment to accomodate some of these things.

    Our city leaders today have NO imagination or foresight!


  2. Dave September 14th, 2009 11:15 am

    the biggest undo the city could make is give up trying to make union station AND crown center transit centers. they’re simply too close together and they end up just paying lip service to union station.

    as for the office buildings, i’m confident creative thinking could some or all of them. regardless, i don’t think anyone would miss them. tearing them down would make new opportunities to build things that better compliment a focus on transit (such as office towers that can sit above active rail lines).

  3. benkrakh September 14th, 2009 4:21 pm

    If we really want to save Union Station and this city we need to all get behind Clay Chastain’s transit plan for the 2010 election. Anything less than this is a sad compromise.

  4. Dave September 14th, 2009 4:29 pm

    pretty sure any question clay puts before voters would not be able to force the hand of the entity that runs union station. a change in ownership would probably need to be negotiated in the terms that were set when USAC was created. even still, you probably don’t want it under city control.

  5. benkrakh September 14th, 2009 4:35 pm

    I was just trying to make a more broader point. The failure of a place like Union Station, in my opinion, is symbolic of other failures within the urban part of Kansas City (i.e. the real Kansas City). A city without a light rail in this day and age is simply not going to stand. Cities in this country are changing and Kansas City doesn’t want to. This is why i’m leaving after I finish my time at KCAI.

    I suggest that people sign this…if anything as a message that at least part of the population of KC wants to see the city progress as oppose to keep on the same path…

  6. Eric September 15th, 2009 10:02 pm

    Is commuter rail really relevant? The only commuter line likely to happen anytime soon is the line to Eastern Jackson County – and it’s already been determined that it would probably have to terminate in the River Market, not Union Station.

    Commuter rail from South KC or Johnson County could use Union Station, but they have both been shelved for the time being.

  7. Joe Medley September 22nd, 2009 8:20 am

    Union Station can accommodate a few commuter lines without undoing anything that’s already been done. I think it can accommodate Grayhound service too. Yes, some of the “improvements” of recent decades will need to be undone–eventually. I don’t think they have to be undone in order to start.

  8. Joe Medley September 23rd, 2009 6:04 pm

    The bottom three levels of the building on the East side of Union Station is parking. I wonder if you could build tracks under it.

  9. Charlsee October 7th, 2009 2:16 pm

    So excited about the chance to have a light rail. Let’s get it done!

  10. KC Light Rail » Four lessons for Mike Sanders October 20th, 2009 11:11 am

    [...] major drawback to any commuter rail plan has been the distance between Union Station and the downtown loop. It’s only one mile and served by frequent (yet scattered) bus service, but [...]