A transit advocate’s manifesto

Hi, my name is David Johnson. I’m the author of this blog. This is my story.

First, I want to tell you that Kansas City will build a downtown streetcar, and it will kickstart a much-needed transit renaissance in the entire region. We’re closer than ever and the momentum is strong enough that I can confidently guarantee both. I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.

At a gathering of downtown residents last week, I encouraged people to speak at the April 17 streetcar public hearing and tell their story. It’s hard to argue with someone’s personal story and most people aren’t adept at defending public transportation spending, so making it personal is a good place to start. It later occurred to me that I should be telling my own story. Until now, I’ve hidden behind the keyboard.

I’m a small-town Kansas guy with a journalism degree. No experience relying on public transit until I moved downtown in 2004. Once I arrived here, it clicked. It really was like a light bulb. Transit exists here and it is useful? Indeed. And come to find out it’s more useful the more people and jobs there are nearby.

Fast forward to 2006. Clay Chastain succeeded in putting another transit petition initiative on the ballot. I voted for it, no big deal. But the day after it became a very big deal. 53% of Kansas City residents voted in desperation for something… anything to advance the state of transit. How could we seize this opportunity? Within a month, I began writing furiously. Since then, another plan was introduced and failed. Too big, not fully baked, tepid political support.

There had to be a better way. Sold the car and bought a bus pass. Traveled to nearly every mid-sized city in the US looking for clues why Kansas City was chronically underinvesting in transit. Read every news article Google could deliver. Attended a transit advocacy conference. Turns out, you need a political leader. No amount of advocacy can win these issues alone, I learned; but those leaders need you to have their backs.

Right now, we have that exact situation with downtown residents, Mayor Sly James, and Councilman Russ Johnson. The streetcar proposal is modest, yet still has the potential to spur that transit renaissance. Every downtown interest is being asked to chip in, avoiding the pitfalls of a citywide vote.

All the pieces are in place. Thank the Mayor and Council. See you in court tomorrow!

P.S. Follow me @kclightrail for live tweets from the courtroom, starting at 1:30 p.m. CST Tuesday.

Comments are off for this post

Comments are closed.