Befittingly, the streetcars were packed Saturday on the way to this birthday party.
The outdoor bash at Union Station was for the Kansas City streetcar system that just wrapped up its first year, far exceeding expectations with 2 million riders, vitalizing businesses along the route and becoming one of the top systems in the country.
Planners had hoped to hit 1 million riders the first year.
Saturday’s party had perfect weather, food, games, music and lots of gushing — Mayor Sly James even quoted Eminem lyrics in touting the line’s inaugural success.
“I get to talk to other mayors,” James told the large gathering. “And I hear how this city is perceived. This city is on the map, it’s on the go and everybody in this country knows it.”
And while Saturday’s party was about the first year’s performance, officials used the event to talk expansion, which James said is absolutely vital to the line’s continued success. There is more work to do, he said, and “you will hear from us shortly.”
“This is something more than just transportation,” he said. “It is a physical manifestation that this city can do anything it wants when we work together.
“As Eminem said, ‘I go to TRL, look how many hugs I get.’ ”
Some out there wouldn’t get the reference to the line that refers to an old MTV show, Total Request Live, James conceded. Nobody seemed to care.
City Manager Troy Schulte focused on 2 million rides and $2 billion in economic development. Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, talked about the streetcar being a catalyst for grander notions.
“We are literally building our future,” Gerend said. “Businesses are growing. We are bringing vibrancy back to our city.”
Alexandra Drill of Overland Park attended the party because members of her family were riders from pretty much Day 1 and still climb aboard several times a week.
“We absolutely love the streetcar,” she said. “We’ve done the scavenger hunts, we use it to shop and it’s a great way to go places and see this city — without the stress of parking.”
Marlin Wiederholt, who lives on Quality Hill, was there, too. He rides the streetcar practically every day. For exercise, he said. He’s too far from a mall so he rides the streetcar to Union Station where he walks.
He also rides to downtown and River Market. He would like to go farther.
“The extension can’t get here fast enough for me,” he said.
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182