Imagine a Kansas City streetcar network that connects the key sectors of the city — valuable to tourist and resident alike.
By LYNN HORSLEY
The Kansas City Star
Now start trimming that. A lot.
Kansas City is already starting to narrow its choices for the next possible streetcar extensions, with the inevitable winners and losers.
That became vividly apparent Monday, as planners and a citizens advisory panel recommended winnowing a list of eight possible routes down to four. The City Council will weigh that recommendation Thursday and is expected to make a decision later this month.
Preliminary data give the highest rankings to Main Street south of downtown to 51st Street, 31st Street or Linwood Boulevard east for several miles, and Independence Avenue east at least to Benton Boulevard. Those routes beat out five other corridors.
Lower scores were assigned to 12th Street to the West Side, 12th Street to the East Side, 18th Street, Southwest Boulevard, and the Country Club right-of-way, on criteria ranging from cost to ridership to economic development potential and neighborhood revitalization. But any analysis is bound to invite criticism over the data at their core and sure to prompt debate.
The preliminary recommendation was bitterly disappointing to people like Denise Gilmore, president of the Jazz District Redevelopment Corp. in the 18th and Vine area, and Lynda Callon, longtime West Side neighborhood leader. Both serve on a citizens advisory panel helping the city study where to take streetcars past the original two-mile route from River Market to Union Station.
“Where’s the innovation and bold criteria?” Gilmore asked, arguing that the streetcar could be more of a game-changer for 18th and Vine than for 31st or Linwood.
Callon agreed and said the streetcar could help deliver tourists to 18th and Vine and to Southwest Boulevard, bolstering the huge investment in downtown and perhaps even reducing the subsidy for the Power & Light District.
“I don’t really get 31st Street/Linwood,” Callon said. “There’s nothing to see or do.”
Transit planners explained that 31st already has high bus ridership, which 18th and Vine and Southwest Boulevard do not. And ridership could be crucial to getting federal funds, which city officials admit may be needed to pay about half the costs of any future streetcar expansions.
The advisory panel recommended that the city continue to study 18th Street to Prospect Avenue and Southwest Boulevard to Interstate 35, along with the three other corridors.
Planners face a real challenge to balance the neighborhoods that can make the best use of a streetcar in the near future versus where it might make the biggest difference in years to come.
“That is a tension,” acknowledged Tom Morefield, part of the BNIM Architecture firm’s planning team on the study.
Defenders of the 31st or Linwood route said that area has high residential and commercial density, plus good connections with bus routes, and could ultimately serve major midtown employment centers and as far east as the VA Medical Center. Further study will clarify whether 31st or Linwood is the better street for a streetcar.
Councilman Russ Johnson, the council’s point person on streetcars, said he knew some groups would be disappointed with the recommendations but said it had been a data-driven process.
“We did the homework,” he said.
Main Street south to 51st got high marks in part because of its population density, good ridership potential, anticipated federal funds, and strong support from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and its student government.
Independence Avenue ranked fairly well because of strong community support, population density, transit dependent population and development potential.
Johnson told the advisory committee that no matter which routes were chosen for the next extensions, they would need to be enhanced with better bus connections, and he said that planning was also underway.
Once the City Council narrows the list of potential corridors, planners will do even more in-depth analysis of costs, ridership and economic development potential on eight to 10 miles by spring 2014. They then plan to fund extensive environmental and engineering reviews to support applications for federal funds for those eight to 10 miles.
Johnson told The Star’s Editorial Board on Monday that downtown’s $100 million two-mile route was the only part of the city that could fund most of the construction through local commercial and residential dollars. He said future extensions would need about 50 percent federal funds or “other people’s money” such as state aid or some other source.
He said he thought Kansas City could afford extensions costing about $400 million in today’s dollars, assuming 50 percent of that from local dollars and 50 percent from “other people’s money.” Planners currently envision construction on the extensions beginning in 2019, by which time the cost could be about $470 million. The local funding mechanism for extensions is still under review.
To reach Lynn Horsley, call 816-226-2058 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.