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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.