Why Portland actually means something for KC

After years of struggling with a stubborn Bush administration that refused to consider streetcars a valid form of urban transit, Portland and the Federal Transportation Administration announced a reversal last week.

The flood gates are now open, and that flood includes Kansas City’s streetcar proposal. Finally, Portland actually means something for Kansas City.

Cities across the country have been actively planning modern streetcar lines, mostly with the intent of reviving their urban cores. Moving more transit riders is still critical, but secondary to the economic development motive. While the previous administration dithered, cities moved ahead and proved them wrong; Portland, the darling of new urbanism, was at the forefront.

The money for Portland comes from the FTA’s Small Starts program, which also is funding our Troost MAX BRT line. Federal funding requests must be less than $75 million; Kansas City’s downtown streetcar proposal clocks in at $60 million.

While the federal transportation funding situation is in flux — and will continue to be throughout next year — the viability of a federal match, and potential for an early kick-start via the regional TIGER application, enhance our prospects significantly.

In short, it’s Kansas City’s best shot for initiating light rail service. We discourage readers from signing Clay Chastain’s latest petition, or voting for it should he successfully garner enough signatures. Forcing the city to deal with yet another legal quagmire would distract from the effort to move a real plan forward. If anyone thinks the city would every actually try to implement one of Chastain’s plan, we have a gondola to sell you.


10 Comments so far

  1. nilsson1941 October 27th, 2009 9:58 am

    Yeah, but nobody is going to want to ride a streetcar that only goes 2 miles from river market to crown center! I live in midtown. How the hell would i get to the streetcar line. The 2 mile streetcar line is a joke and it will fail. This will be some sort of “proof” to anti-rail people that rail transit won’t work in K.C., when the reality will be that it simply will not be enough. Dave, you mentioned before that you live downtown. Can you give me an everyday situation in which you would use the 2 mile streetcar line?

  2. nilsson1941 October 27th, 2009 10:13 am

    I take back that I said it will fail. It might not fail, but I think there is a high probability that it will be underused because it simply will not get people where they need to be. It would make more sense to expand it to the plaza or westport. This would at least include a good majority of the midtown population. I understand that it would be expanded, but maybe they won’t expand it because the initial 2 miles won’t be successful. Dave, the 2 mile streetcar line just worries me…

  3. Dave October 27th, 2009 10:56 am

    KCATA is expecting average daily ridership of ~4,200, about the same as MAX. it’s a intended to be a circulator, not focused on commuters (like full light rail). KCATA freely admits they don’t serve this short, high-density corridor very well today. bus service is spread out across 4 or 5 arterials and routes are often circuitous to hit as many job centers as possible (again, for commuters).

    we need to start small based on past history. $60 million with a 50-80% federal match is incredibly doable, and it’s focused in a corridor that is practically without political opposition. a westport and plaza extension is obvious to all and would eventually be the next step.

    this also ties two major hotels to the convention center, which would probably negate the need for a new, subsidized (even more so than a streetcar) convention hotel.

    fixing this “last mile” segment also helps the commuter rail plan and passenger rail enhancements that missouri and kansas are planning.

  4. nilsson1941 October 27th, 2009 11:36 am

    Fair enough. As always, thanks for taking the time to respond. I guess I just don’t understand how they can expect 4,200 people to ride a day. The MAX carries this much, but the MAX also covers much more area, not just a 2 mile stretch on grand.

  5. nilsson1941 October 27th, 2009 11:37 am

    Fair enough. As always, thanks for taking the time to respond. I guess I just don’t understand how they can expect 4,200 people to ride a day. The MAX carries this much, but the MAX also covers much more area, not just a 2 mile stretch on grand.

    Don’t get me wrong, streetcar in KC is needed, I just hope they don’t give us this and don’t expand on it…

  6. David October 28th, 2009 10:00 pm

    By the way, Portland has a gondola. It goes to The Oregon Health and Science University (their ‘Hospital Hill’)

    It keeps most cars away from the hospital and provides quite a spectacular view.

    Anyway, I’m a former KC resident and live in New York now. I don’t know anything about Chastain’s plan, I just wanted to say that gondolas can be designed into an urban environment if done skillfully.

  7. Dave October 28th, 2009 10:31 pm

    we’ve ridden that particular gondola and it is indeed spectacular. chastain’s last plan would have strung an aerial gondola between union station and liberty memorial — not a bad idea considering that most families wouldn’t make take that hill on foot.

    perhaps we should have mocked the ferris wheel, which actually serves no transportation purpose, in his latest plan.

  8. Kevin October 29th, 2009 11:01 am

    There’s steps at the Liberty Memorial. It’s quite easy to go up, actually. The problem is crossing Pershing St. We don’t need a gondola, just another piece to the pedestrian link.

    Does anyone know why there’s never any suggestion to put any sort of crossing on the ASB Bridge?

  9. Dave October 29th, 2009 11:10 am

    of course we don’t *need* a gondola. it would be a nice addition. yes, an improved pedestrian experience is a must. liberty memorial must also keep those steps cleared of snow and ice (they do not, as they assume most people will arrive at the south entrance by car).

    the ASB bridge has been ruled out, at least by the city and KCATA. it’s too old and the retrofit would cost more than a new transit-only river crossing (which was pegged at $50 million).

  10. rxlexi November 1st, 2009 11:41 pm

    great news, not just for kc but for cities looking toward streetcar systems and, IMO, urbanism in general. I too think that an initial 2 mile line DT would be a wonderful start to very usable modern streetcar line to the plaza (which one would have to think would be inevitable after some time to get used to the 2 mile “start”).

    I’m still a huge fan of modern streetcar transit for our urban core, and dollar per dollar, don’t really see any down side to its use versus buses or LRT when you consider it’s potential impact on eco devo and the fact that any LRT will run in traffic in the city. I’m glad the feds are beginning to agree.