TransitKC

Avoiding the obvious: Union Station = transit

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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.

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