Streetcars have been running along the new downtown Kansas City route for several months now, but Friday is the day that the public will finally get a chance to try them out.
As many as 50,000 people are expected downtown Friday and Saturday for a whole host of festivities and activities associated with the streetcar grand opening and along the 2.2-mile route from River Market to Union Station.
“The streetcar is so much more than a mode of transportation. It’s a signal of our city’s willingness to be bold and to reinvent itself,” Mayor Sly James said in a statement. “This moment has been a long time coming. Dowtown business owners and residents were patient during the construction and now they’ll have a chance to celebrate and enjoy this incredible asset.”
The official ceremony to launch the new streetcar system begins at 10 a.m. at Union Station with speeches and an inaugural first ride for city and federal dignitaries.
Then public ridership begins at 11 a.m. and continues until 2 a.m. Saturday.
The streetcar is free of charge for riders on opening weekend and thereafter.
A carnival also runs Friday and Saturday at Union Station, and there will be fireworks at around 9 p.m. over the Liberty Memorial lawn.
Streetcar service resumes at 7 a.m. Saturday through 2 a.m. Sunday.
Three streetcars will run up and down the full route. People are urged not to just ride the entire route continuously but to take time to exit at stops to explore neighborhood activities, businesses and shops. The fourth streetcar in the fleet will be at Union Station for people to check out the interior without riding it.
Information on the “Smart City” initiative along the route, including interactive kiosks and free public WiFi, will be available at a Smart City Village site, 1200 Main St.
Lots of businesses and restaurants are planning specials to appeal to the crowds, which are also expected for First Fridays, Middle of the Map and other downtown events on what is expected to be a pleasant May weekend.
A full schedule of activities is at www.timetoridekc.org.
But people should realize that there will be traffic and parking restrictions downtown.
Main Street will be closed to traffic between 20th Street and Pershing Road, although parking at Union Station and Crown Center will still be accessible.
Main Street north of 20th Street will remain open to traffic, but no street parking will be allowed on Main Street or on the south side of 5th Street between Main and Walnut on Friday or Saturday.
As an alternative to driving, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority is offering free bus service on all local, express and shuttle service connecting to downtown on Friday.
As if the weekend weren’t busy enough, another spectacle is expected to take place early Sunday morning.
A helicopter will remove the largest Sky Station sculpture from atop Bartle Hall. The sculpture was damaged by lightning and must be removed and repaired, weather permitting.
Residents are invited to view the removal and transport to a nearby metal fabricator between 6:30 and 10 a.m. Sunday. The helicopter removal is expected to occur at about 6:30 a.m. and will not take very long. But some downtown highways, streets and ramps will be closed at 4 a.m. and may remain closed until 8 p.m., although if the removal occurs smoothly, they may be reopened earlier.
More information on street closures and viewing tips is available at www.kcmo.gov/skystations.