KC Streetcar Authority touts successes, plans for route expansion

A floor-to-ceiling graphic at the Kansas City Streetcar Authority celebrates the starter route’s role on the city’s economic development scene.
A floor-to-ceiling graphic at the Kansas City Streetcar Authority celebrates the starter route’s role on the city’s economic development scene. dstafford@kcstar.com

We didn’t build a starter line to stop.

With that declaration, Kansas City Streetcar Authority board chairman Mike Hagedorn said Thursday that the authority intends to take a leadership position and “strike while the iron is hot” to propel route expansion south from downtown.

Authority directors heard that the 2.2-mile streetcar line, which opened in May, has far exceeded projections for ridership, tax receipts that pay for the system, national public relations and community involvement.

Ridership to date totaled 656,882, with an average daily ridership of about 6,800. By far the busiest day is Saturday, but several board members said they weren’t worried that “novelty” rides would abate. Rather, they said, the streetcar line is fostering a lifestyle change for people who live and work downtown.

“The economic development angle is undeniable,” Hagedorn said of an estimated $1.7 billion in development that’s at least partly related to the line. But he also acknowledged that board members need to be ready to respond to members of the public who question the line’s value and long-term viability.

“We can expect questions,” Hagedorn said of the proposed $200 million expansion — on Main Street south to the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus — especially from “social justice” advocates who question the expense and the route. But the streetcar is “not taking dollars away from something else,” he said, adding that regional expansion will come later.

Phase II of the streetcar project needs months of planning; applications for federal funding; and cooperation with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, City Hall, Mid-America Regional Council, business owners and neighbors along the route before it’s a sure thing, board members noted.

At this point, a proposed Transportation Development District would extend to the UMKC campus, creating local funding mechanisms similar to what was established for the riverfront-to-Union Station section.

A proposed Special Assessment Zone, roughly extending for a third of a mile on either side of the proposed track, would affect property owners.

The proposed Transportation Development District would impose a special sales tax within a larger boundary between the state line on the west, Campbell Avenue on the east, the Missouri River on the north and the UMKC campus on the south.

Meanwhile, board members received quick looks at six new Art on the Line installations tied to the streetcar line. The artwork, part of the larger Art in the Loop project, was selected in a competitive process earlier this year. Winning installations were completed as recently as the August First Friday.

The new works:

“I See You” by Rachelle Gardner-Roe, two figurative portraits on the Power & Light District northbound stop.

“Alternating Currents” by Andrew Lattner, artwork that interacts with a passing streetcar at the Metro Center northbound stop.

“Rail<Bike>Rail” by m.o.i. aka The Minister of Information, a stationary cycle that can be pedaled to charge a mobile device or view a video at the Library southbound stop.

“Intersections” by Rickey Moss with Imagine That, colorful geometric designs on the Kauffman Center southbound stop.

“Life Turning” by Lauren Thompson, a zoetrope of figures on the Main Street Bridge between the Central Business District and the River Market.

“Soundshapes” by White Art Studio, an interactive light sculpture that reacts to touch on the Power & Light District southbound stop.

Streetcar Authority spokeswoman Donna Mandelbaum also noted that six live performances have been scheduled to tie in with the streetcar route. Two already occurred, and the remaining are planned for Friday, Aug. 19, Sept. 2 and Sept. 9. One of them, on Aug. 19, is planned to be a live theater performance en route on a streetcar.

Board members also discussed the continued need for public education about streetcar etiquette and made suggestions about improving signs or on-board recordings.

Board member Susan Ford-Robertson noted that some riders wrongly assume that pressing the “stop” button will allow them to get off wherever they choose.

She also noted that people with wheelchairs or strollers need to know that the “zero-entry” point is at the middle of the streetcars, not at the two ends. Off-duty police officers who serve as streetcar security will be alerted to help assist riders in the access matter.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford