The downtown streetcar project team is in the process of Advanced Conceptual Engineering (the next Federally-required step before construction begins) and has confirmed some technical details:
- Yes, there will be actual steel rails in the street (believe it or not, we get this question a lot). There will also be catenary lines to power the streetcar vehicles (and, thus, six transformer stations along the route).
- Stations will be at even-numbered streets along the curb, on the far side of each intersection, except at Union Station. That station will be center-island with a new, signalized mid-block crossing to connect with the existing Link skywalk. A far side installation will allow vehicles to make right turns unimpeded by a stopped streetcar.
- Main Street would be reconfigured with a two-way left turn lane (see above image). Streetcars would operate in the traffic lane, while on-street parking would be retained. Curbs may be extended with bump-outs at station stops (similar to some streets today in the Power & Light and Library districts). Currently, Main is a hodgepodge of shifting and peak-only bus lanes that seems to change every two blocks.
- Baltimore, Walnut, and Charlotte will be converted to two-way traffic, which will reduce demand on Main Street. Existing bus routes will move to Grand for the same purpose. Bike lanes are still on the drawing board for Grand, so that will also be their main thoroughfare (as well as Charlotte, which will connect to the Heart of America bike lane). Main will become “the streetcar street”, while Broadway, Grand, and Oak will be major through streets for vehicle traffic — all three have plenty of existing capacity.
- River Market service may consist of a counter-clockwise loop. From Delaware, streetcars would turn east on 5th, north on Grand, west on 3rd, then south again on Delaware back towards the Central Business District. There will be three stops in the River Market (5th & Delaware, 5th & Walnut, 3rd & Grand).
- Maintenance sites have been narrowed to three.
- Environmental assessment is about to begin; the City expects a Finding Of No Significant Impact (FONSI) by September.
- Vehicles have not been ordered. This item has the longest lead time, but funding needs to be in place first. If TIGER grant and TDD elections are successful, current schedule is to begin operations by April 30, 2015. Other cities have pooled equipment orders to speed delivery. Dozens of cities are planning modern streetcars, so pooling is a possibility.
Now that the $25 million Federal funding application has been submitted for the downtown streetcar, it’s time to recap how we’ll pay for the $76 million remainder — via a Transportation Development District.
Bear with us, because this can get pretty wonky.
First, some background. The TDD is an economic development tool defined by Missouri statute. The law’s original intent was to afford voters an opportunity to organize and fund transportation improvements themselves using a sales tax or special assessment. In practice, most TDD’s in Missouri are drawn around strip malls and highway interchanges, thus allowing only property owners to form and set levies. Regardless of who forms a TDD, the main milestone is for a county judge to rule a TDD petition lawful. Once that requirement has been met, two votes occur within the district — formation and levies. Kansas City’s day in Jackson County court is April 17*.
Second, localized funding has been used heavily in streetcar projects, mostly due to lack of Federal support. Portland and Seattle have projects up and running that were also financed by special districts; others under construction have taken the same approach. The thinking is that the investment in a given corridor benefits those in that corridor the most; why not give them the opportunity to make the investment the City cannot afford to make?
We should note that the City ponied up $2.5 million for engineering, and will be one of the single largest contributors to the TDD (only DST’s reported annual contribution is higher).
Finally, we have the current situation with our streetcar. Once a judge rules that Kansas City’s TDD petition (#1216-CV02419) is lawful, voters will decide — like they decide many taxes and levies that property owners don’t get to vote on — with a simple majority of ballots cast.
TDDs exist in Kansas City and all over the state. Even the St. Louis Loop Trolley is using a TDD, as does the Plaza to pay for your “free” parking garages (if you consider a 1% sales tax premium “free”, even for those who walk or take transit there). There is nothing unconstitutional about voters determining the level of taxation within any municipal boundary. Community Improvement Districts — an economic development tool that can also levy assessments on property – are widely used throughout Kansas City to provide better services than the City can provide (security, litter removal, mitigating panhandlers). The TDD is no different, other than being limited to transportation uses. Downtown residents want a streetcar and this is the quickest, most effective way to build it. Period.
* The April 17 TDD hearing is for public comment. The actual legal decision will occur the next day and is not open for public comment, although the public can attend. We’ll bring you live updates from both on Twitter @kclightrail. To join the effort, like this page: https://www.facebook.com/streetcarneighbors1 comment
We thought Jackson County might have made a recommendation for mode and alignment this week, but we were wrong. A third round of public meetings was on the calendar for March, but have moved to April. Don’t expect a final answer until May or June.
The I-70 and Rock Island (MO-350) “Commuter Corridors” have been under analysis as long as the downtown streetcar, but with longer distances and a “common segment” dilemma there is still no indication which direction the final plan will take. One thing’s for sure: it will not be the exact plan that County Executive Mike Sanders proposed… and that’s okay.
At Wednesday’s stakeholder meeting, consultants eliminated the option of running diesel multiple units (DMUs) on Truman Road between Union Station and the Truman Sports Complex (the “common segment” of the original plan). The cost and impacts are too high for that route/mode combination (see above photo). The Terminal Railway trench that runs behind Union Station is also out. DMUs are still in play, but would terminate in the River Market via Kansas City Southern‘s existing tracks. The original Sanders plan [PDF] had DMUs running on Truman Road to connect to the tracks behind Union Station.
Other mode options are enhanced streetcar, bus rapid transit, express bus, or some combination of the four. Enhanced streetcar is defined as a modern streetcar that makes fewer stops and perhaps runs in dedicated right-of-way. An example in this case would be running streetcars down Main Street to Linwood Boulevard, then all the way east to the Sports Complex, where they could run (up to 55 mph) in the Rock Island corridor without mixing with traffic.
With the availability of hybrid streetcars like the demo at Union Station last summer, there is no longer a need to run catenary and poles along an entire route. The hybrids simply charge at station stops and can go as far as five miles before recharging. We always prefer electric over diesel. If both the Jackson County and downtown plans chose the same vehicle type, riders would have a single-seat ride into the region’s top employment and entertainment destination.
While the consultants and politicians figure out the final plan — which will include more than just two rail lines — an education campaign is due to begin. Jackson County cities have ponied up cash to fund that effort through the Regional Transit Alliance using talent who’ve actually done successful transit campaigns before (versus just hiring the same tired locals). Expect ads to look and sound something like this or this. Early polling indicates strong support for a comprehensive transit plan and a 1-cent sales tax.1 comment
It was a big week for the Downtown Streetcar project. Here’s a brief recap:
- The City Council unanimously passed three rezoning ordinances that will make transit-oriented development easier, as well as improve the likelihood of receiving Federal funding. The biggest change involved elimination of suburban-style parking minimums in the Crossroads. To appease some property owners, the changes don’t take effect until May 1, 2013 — about the time the streetcar would start construction on the current timeline. Per Councilman Jim Glover, it’s one of the largest rezoning efforts the City has attempted.
- “Downtown Streetcar Supporter” window clings (see above) began appearing in downtown shops and restaurants.
- The $25 million TIGER application is in process and will be submitted on Friday, March 16.
- A public hearing for the Transportation Development District has been set for Tuesday, April 17 at the Jackson County Courthouse.
- If the judge rules the TDD can proceed, an election to form the district will be held Tuesday, June 5. A second election will be held to set the levies.
A draft version of the final downtown streetcar report has been posted here. The project is now ready to move into engineering. Here are some of the report’s highlights:
- Modern streetcar, electrified by overhead catenary wires and running primarily on Main Street, between River Market and Crown Center/Union Station (2.11 miles).
- Other than Main Street, vehicles will travel on Grand between 3rd and 5th; on 5th between Grand and Delaware; on Delaware between 5th and 7th (where Delaware turns into Main), then on Pershing between Main and Grand.
- Estimated operating hours are 6 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Three vehicles would provide peak headways of 11 minutes (with 22 minute headways on Sundays and after 9 p.m. on weekdays).
- Vehicles will operate in median lanes from Pershing Road to 14th Street, then run in curb lanes between 14th and 9th streets (eliminating the dysfunctional on-street parking that co-exists with a bus lane).
- Construction will take an estimated two years after design and engineering are complete; majority of disruption will occur within the right-of-way and not for the entire two year period along the entire route.
- No property acquisition required for the route, but parcels may be acquired for a maintenance facility.
- Communication utilities (AT&T/Verizon) would be most impacted by construction; Main Street has very few water, sanitary sewer, or gas lines.
- Capital construction cost is $101 million. Annual operating cost is $3.2 million.
- Funding will be a mix of fares, $2 million in City funds (mix of PIAC and TIF), up to $25 million in Federal grants, and $73 million generated by a new Transportation Development District over 25 years. No money will be diverted from existing KCATA operating funds.
- Daily ridership forecast for opening year (2015) is 2,896. By 2035, daily ridership is estimated at 6,023. By comparison, Main Street MAX carries around 4,000 riders between River Market and Waldo.
- Acres of parking within 1/4 mile of proposed stations: 105 (surface) and 53.2 (structured). Surface lots are strong candidates for redevelopment.
- Noise and vibration are similar to existing city buses.
- Connections to other transit services will be available at 3rd & Grand (city bus, Megabus), 10th & Main (city bus), and Union Station (Amtrak, regional rail).
Twelve stations are recommended for the following locations (about every 2 blocks):
- 3rd & Grand (northern terminus and existing KCATA park & ride)
- City Market (on 5th at Walnut)
- River Market West (on Delaware at Independence Avenue)
- North Loop (on Main at 8th)
- Financial District (on Main at 10th, adjacent to the KCATA transit center)
- Convention Center/Power & Light (on Main at 14th)
- Kauffman Center (on Main at 16th)
- Crossroads (on Main at 18th)
- Freighthouse (on Main at 20th)
- Union Station (on Main, opposite the station)
- Crown Center (southern terminus, on Pershing at Grand in dedicated lanes)
The Transportation Development District will generate revenue from the following downtown sources:
- Special Assessment on Real Property Assessed Value (including Chapter 353 abated properties)
- 1% in-district Sales Tax (in addition to a TDD sales tax that covers the Power & Light District)
- Special Assessments on Commercial Surface Parking
- Fares ($1 per ride)
- Advertising revenue
TDDs can issue bonds and are managed by an elected Board of registered voters within the district boundaries will be overseen by a four-person Board composed of City officials and mayoral appointees [Ed Note: Corrected on 1/10/12 at the request of the City of Kansas City; there are multiple ways to form a TDD Board, per statute.]. The proposed boundaries are the Missouri River on the north, 27th Street on the south, the centerline of Broadway on the west, and the centerline of Locust Street on the east. This would include most of the River Market, downtown loop, and Crossroads, but not Quality Hill or Columbus Park. Major retail hubs such as the City Market, Power & Light District, and Crown Center would all be included. An in-district election to form the TDD will occur early in 2012.1 comment
On this day in 2006, our first post appeared on this site. In the past five years, our popularity and productivity have been directly related to whatever transit initiative is making the news. A fluke ballot initiative win for Clay Chastain has turned into a daily obsession and a chance to reconnect with writing. Today, most of our content arrives via Twitter, as has been the case for a few years.
Also on this day, we’re happy to report the downtown streetcar project has progressed to the point where financing is being openly discussed. Regionally, Mike Sanders’ regional rail plan is still in the planning stages and smaller investments in bus routes and equipment are still occurring. The only dark spot is the question looming over Johnson County… will they even continue offering fixed route transit after federal and state money dries up?
Rest assured, we’ll continue to bring you the scoop!1 comment
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.
The modern streetcar project is progressing rapidly. With a federal grant to complete a new study for a dramatically smaller corridor in place, the first public meeting will be held on June 21. Check the SmartMoves website for the exact time and location. UPDATE: The meeting has been confirmed!
Major issues for the 2-mile route are street selection and funding.
The 2008 light rail plan basically narrowed the choices through downtown to Main or Grand. With Grand mired in an aggressive Complete Streets effort that came out of nowhere, it appears that Main Street is emerging as a consensus choice (mostly to avoid interference from Cordish-induced street closures and the “parade” argument). While light rail would have taken travel lanes away, the modern streetcar will share them… just like a bus. Opposition shouldn’t be as strong, knowing that the construction timeline will be shorter than a full-scale light rail project.
Funding is a bit more of a gray area. City staff and elected officials have repeatedly opposed attempting another city-wide vote. Yet, downtown support at the ballot box has been consistently strong, and most of the big boys in the loop realize that some sort of major transit investment is inevitable. Since there is no federal or state support for operating costs and KCATA has no wiggle room to add more services, that leaves localized funding. One way to generate revenue within the corridor is through a Transportation Development District, which requires only a petition of registered voters or property owners within a define boundary and a judge’s approval to form.
There is also a sense that City may step up to take the financial lead. A relatively small construction price tag, with perhaps the city owning the vehicles, could make issuing municipal bonds an option. That, of course, will add complexity to the convention hotel discussion that still plagues City Hall. With a strong credit rating but big debt load, will residents revolt if the City attempts both?
The list of cities actively planning new or expanded modern streetcar routes includes Oklahoma City, Washington, Portland, Dallas, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City, Tucson, Charlotte, and Atlanta. All have received federal grants in the last two years to expedite efforts.2 comments