KC unveils sleek, sexy streetcars coming to downtown

10/06/2013 7:01 PM

10/06/2013 7:01 PM

Kansas City officials have selected a first-rate, attractive, even somewhat sexy design for the vehicles that should be rolling up and down Main Street in about two years.

The official unveiling Friday evening of what the cars could look like — check out the two accompanying visuals released by Mayor Sly James’ office — was just the latest step forward for the $100 million project.

At a press conference unveiling the design, James said the city was engaging in “innovative and cutting edge” activities, especially in the world of transit.

Matt Staub, vice chair of the Kansas City Streetcar Transportation Development District, sent me this statement about the latest development: “I’m thrilled by our choice for our streetcar vehicle. This is the Rolls Royce of modern streetcars, and our peers in other streetcar cities have gushed over its design and quality. We will have one of the most modern systems in the world.”

Sure, critics will continue to call this whole project a “toy train.”

How shortsighted these opponents are.

In reality, just the promise of streetcars to come already is galvanizing plenty of downtown development near the two-mile line that will run from River Market to Union Station.

Most notably, more than 1,500 new or renovated apartment units are planned in buildings on or near Main Street. These units, if all come to fruition, could be completed by 2015, amounting to tens of millions of dollars worth of private investment.

That’s an encouraging vote of confidence in not just the streetcars but also in the continued revival of downtown.

Streetcar advocates in recent weeks have held a series of meetings as they plan where the system might next be extended. One huge unknown at this time is how to finance the extension, especially without much if any federal help.

Still, that’s an essential issue to be decided another day.

First things first: James and other city officials need to build the best possible starter line they can. They need to make sure it comes in on time, on budget. They also need to keep their word that it will be free to ride.

Eventually, the streetcar system will be seen as one of the more positive investments in Kansas City’s future in a long time.