Yael T. Abouhalkah

Transportation study shows room for improvement in Kansas City

Updated: 2013-06-19T23:39:48Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City area residents are getting fatter. They’re wasting more money traveling on congested roads. And our air too often is unhealthy to breathe.

But better news is also available.

Local trails are expanding. Traffic fatalities and injuries are falling. Bridge conditions in both states are improving.

These facts and many more are contained in “Transportation Outlook 2040,” released this week by the Mid-America Regional Council.

The report reveals meaningful trends for transportation and is especially valuable because it contains data going back years, sometimes decades.

A few notable findings:

• Transit ridership on both sides of the state line in 2011 reached its highest level since 1996. That’s encouraging, except ... annual ridership was almost as high in 1999, 2001 and 2007 before reaching its highest mark in 2008.

So even after Kansas City taxpayers have poured tens of millions of extra dollars into the dominant transit agency, the Area Transportation Authority, in recent years, regional ridership is still stagnant.

• The vast majority — 83 percent of people — drove to work alone in 2011, roughly the average for the last six years.

Also, the average number of vehicle occupants was 1.06 in 2011, which is pretty darn low, given the environmental benefits of more people traveling in fewer cars. Lesson learned: Local motorists still love driving alone, despite high gas prices and transit alternatives.

• MARC supports the MetroGreen trails program, which aims to build 1,144 miles of pathway in the area for walkers, runners and bicyclists. While progress is being made, only 242 miles of pathways have been completed over the last two decades.

At this pace, MetroGreen will be completed in, oh, around 2088. That’s not satisfactory, and the region needs to ramp up this key project.

• The costs of congestion — such as the value of lost time waiting in stalled traffic plus the expense of wasted fuel — rose to $584 per commuter in 2011. That’s still lower, though, than costs were through much of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and our rate is still below the average of other large urban areas.

• MARC is trying to encourage walking and bicycling as a way to reduce harmful pollutants from vehicles. The strategy isn’t working, broadly speaking.

Last year, the number of ozone pollution violations in the region hit 23, the most recorded in 20 years. And the three-year average of ground-level ozone readings also ticked up in the latest period.

• This region’s failure to embrace healthy modes of transportation also becomes a factor when it comes to obesity. In 2010, 29.5 percent of area adults were classified as obese, the highest since figures were first recorded in 2002.

• The number of fatalities and disabling injuries per 100,000 vehicle miles traveled fell in 2011 to its second lowest rate since 2000. That means reduced costs for time lost at work and for medical bills. Some primary helpful factors are better engineering for streets, stronger traffic enforcement measures and educational campaigns for drivers.

• Finally, the percentage of structurally deficient bridges on both sides of the state line dipped under 10 percent in 2011, the lowest figure in two decades.

The MARC report gives Kansas Citians a good look at whether their total transportation system is safe, good for the environment and cost-effective.

The latest study reveals there’s plenty of room for improvement.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. He blogs at voices.kansascity.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.

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