Kansas City’s streetcars could glide a little more quickly up and down Main Street if a few tweaks are made in the coming months.
The city’s system has been a big success since it began carrying passengers in early May. More people than expected are riding along the 2.2-mile line from Union Station to the River Market.
Take a peek at social media and you’ll see plenty of photos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook taken by smiling tourists, suburban residents, downtown office workers and others.
But you’ll see something else, too: complaints about how packed streetcars have to roll to a stop for red traffic signals at downtown intersections just to let a few vehicles or pedestrians cross. That can mean inconveniencing 100 or more public transit passengers.
One obvious solution is for the streetcar to be able to “hold” a green light longer as it approaches an intersection so it can scoot through to its next stop.
The eventual goal should be to clip valuable seconds off the normal 13-minute or so one-way trip (which can take longer now because of larger crowds boarding at certain times of the day).
It’s was encouraging that Tom Gerend, executive director of the KC Streetcar Authority, agreed in a recent interview that his agency is “looking at opportunities to speed it up.”
One leading option is, indeed, to use the city’s traffic signal software to give the streetcar more of an advantage at stoplights. The streetcars are equipped with equipment that communicates with traffic signals to show where the vehicles are on the 2.2-mile line.
However, Gerend also rightly points out that streetcars are moving in mixed-used traffic. They are running ahead of and behind cars and trucks; on a downtown grid that still needs to smoothly move vehicular traffic east and west of Main Street; and past crosswalks used by pedestrians who want to safely get where they’re going, too.
Making it possible for the streetcar to barrel up and down Main isn’t the best way to make sure other modes of transportation are working at peak efficiency.
Still, the KC Streetcar Authority is on the right track if it can make changes that will help the popular vehicles move passengers a tad faster along the route.