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Kansas City streetcar’s public grand opening is set for May 6

Ride the entire route of the Kansas City streetcar

Ride the Kansas City Streetcar route northbound from Union Station to River Market.
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Ride the Kansas City Streetcar route northbound from Union Station to River Market.

Get ready for a giant downtown street party May 6 and 7 to celebrate the first Kansas City streetcars carrying passengers in nearly 60 years.

“Enjoy the streetcar. Enjoy the neighborhood. Enjoy the party,” city spokesman Chris Hernandez said Thursday as the grand opening festivities were announced.

The first passengers will board the first Friday in May, and Kansas City plans a series of street parties along the route through the following day. People can sample the streetcar ride but also enjoy the restaurants, food trucks, shops, businesses and other attractions while experiencing downtown’s vitality.

As new drivers were being trained, the Kansas City Streetcar Authority invited the Kansas City Star along for a ride. Check out the view — from inside one of the new streetcars.

Indeed, if many thousands of people materialize, as the city expects, not everyone may be able to actually get on board for a ride.

City officials are already trying to manage expectations and make sure people realize the streetcars may be packed to capacity. But there will be other activities to make a trip downtown worthwhile.

As part of the streetcar planning process, the Streetcar Authority on Thursday learned more details about one of the technological advancements that will make Kansas City’s 2.2-mile route unique and groundbreaking nationwide.

Even before the May 6 public opening, the route and nearby streets will start to get “Smart City” interactive digital kiosks. The kiosks will show where the closest streetcar vehicle is and be full of information and advertising about local cultural and sporting events, food, entertainment, businesses and city services.

“It’s completely unique to transit systems around the country,” said Tom Touchet, president of Smart City Media, which is bringing the kiosks and companion mobile apps here.

“Kansas City is leading the way on this,” he said.

These kiosks have been likened in appearance to 7-foot-tall iPhones, with 55-inch screens that are easy to read and use. They can provide information in multiple different languages, will have a 911 button for people to report emergencies and will allow people to report potholes, broken traffic signals or other city service problems to the 311 Action Center.

In all, downtown will have 25 kiosks, including 13 near streetcar stops and the rest at other downtown locations. They should all be in place by the streetcars’ opening day. Other parts of the city are now asking for them as well.

Mike Mainthow, Smart City Media’s chief marketing officer, told the authority that the first two kiosks will be in place in time for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament March 9-12 at the Sprint Center.

They will be near the College Basketball Experience and near McFadden’s Sports Saloon on Grand Boulevard.

Also Thursday, the Streetcar Authority confirmed that the streetcars will not automatically stop at every stop but will only do so when a person is at a station or pushes the stop button to get off. This should make the system more efficient and speed up the schedule.

Concerning the May grand opening party, it will be designed to complement but not compete with numerous other activities like First Fridays and the City Market farmers market that weekend, according to Keli O’Neill Wenzel, president of O’Neill Event Management. The company is coordinating events with the city and the Streetcar Authority.

The streetcar route connects the River Market, Central Business District, Crossroads Arts District, and Union Station and Crown Center areas. The southern terminus is Union Station, where Hernandez said the party will be especially lively with family-friendly activities.

The streetcar is free to ride and the party will be free to attend as well. The city and the Kansas City Streetcar Authority will help pay for the two-day event, along with corporate sponsors. The total cost is not yet known.

Hernandez said organizers are expecting “tens of thousands of people” over the two days. When the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opened in 2011, about 50,000 people lined up to tour that facility over a weekend.

Obviously there will have to be a way to manage crowds trying to ride the streetcar, and those details will be announced later, along with times and more about the event. As details are worked out, information will be available at www.kcstreetcar.org and at kcmo.gov.

City officials at one time had hoped the $100 million streetcar system could be carrying passengers in time for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament, but delays in the streetcar manufacturing in Elmira N.Y. altered that schedule.

Kansas City’s previous streetcar system shut down in 1957. The new system will have four modern streetcar vehicles, and three of those have already arrived and are undergoing testing. The fourth car is slated to arrive in late March, so an early May public opening will allow time for all the safety checks and training to occur, Hernandez said.

“This is the first step of what I believe will be a truly historic transformation of the entire city,” Mayor Sly James said in a release. “Building owners and developers have completed, started or announced more than $1.6 billion in construction in the KC Streetcar district since the route was announced three years ago.”

The streetcar will operate from 6 a.m. to midnight Mondays through Thursdays, 6 a.m. Fridays to 2 a.m. Saturdays, 7 a.m. Saturdays to 2 a.m. Sundays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.

The streetcars will run every 10 minutes during peak weekday periods and every 12 to 18 minutes during the remainder of the week.

Robert A. Cronkleton: 816-234-4261, @cronkb

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

A view online

Take a virtual ride on the Kansas City streetcar by visiting The Star’s Facebook page to view exclusive 360-degree videos from inside the streetcar. Tour the entire route or see what happens when motorists park along the route and slow the streetcar’s progress.

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