Kansas City Area Transportation Authority planners are well aware that downtown bus service can seem confusing and complicated, deterring people from riding.
“It’s not easily comprehensible unless you are a dedicated and hard-core rider,” acknowledged Chuck Ferguson, senior manager for regional planning and development. “It’s difficult to use for the occasional rider. It’s intimidating to new or potentially new riders, and it’s intimidating and maybe scary for visitors.”
So Ferguson and others are polishing a long-range vision to streamline and simplify the service. Some changes will come this year and some over the next five years. Ultimately, the big transit hub at 10th and Main streets will go away.
The goal is to make the system more intuitive, with clearer routes and connections, while complementing the new downtown streetcar along Main Street.
The focus is a few key transit corridors: north/south along Grand Boulevard from Third Street to Crown Center and east/west along 11th and 12th streets from Barney Allis Plaza to near Holmes Street.
These corridors “make the service more understandable but also operate more efficiently for us and probably more effectively in terms of drawing more passengers to the service,” said Dick Jarrold, vice president of regional planning and development.
The bus system is continuing to gather public comments at www.kcata.org, but initial reaction was positive at public meetings last week. Nearly 100 people, including bus riders, downtown residents and business representatives, attended the meetings.
“They all felt it was much more intuitive,” Ferguson said.
Key elements of the plan:
▪ Taking the 50 Kansas City and Johnson County routes that converge downtown, with 300-plus stops, and consolidating them more along Grand and 11th and 12th. Jarrold said that’s less of a radical change than it might seem, because Grand is already the busiest corridor, and 11th and 12th are major corridors as well.
▪ Fewer but nicer bus stops, similar to MAX stops. Stops might be every few blocks rather than every block, which can interrupt traffic and cause delays. Plans also call for enhanced bus and bike lanes, with fast and frequent service.
▪ New transit centers at Third and Grand and near 11th and Holmes and possibly near Union Station.
▪ Ultimately discontinuing use of the 10th and Main transit hub, which is more than 20 years old, is awkward to get to, and is too small. That site could eventually be sold or leased for other commercial use, to raise money for other amenities. This change may not take place for five years or more, after the other elements come together.
The cost of all these changes could be $17 million, although the organization has only identified about $4 million in available funds. Federal grants and other funding sources should become available over time, as planning proceeds.
Some changes will come much sooner. Grand Boulevard will be restriped and reduced to one traffic lane, with turn lanes, this year.
In addition, the ATA this year expects to alter Route 51 in response to demand from Crossroads riders and residents. That route could move from Main Street to Broadway between 12th and 20th streets, as many people have requested. Jarrold said the ATA will continue to gather comment on that before making a final decision.