KC Streetcar

All about KC’s downtown streetcars

Kansas City’s downtown streetcar system affects everything from motorists and pedestrians to delivery vehicles and bicyclists. Everyone will need to become familiar with the new rules of the road, including staying within those white parking lines that now run parallel to the rails. Parking tickets won’t be cheap.

Years of planning to created the city’s $100 million, two-mile starter route with 21st-century cars that run from River Market to Union Station, primarily on Main Street. Downtown boosters are along for the ride, hoping the streetcar line will provide another shot of adrenaline for the heart of the city.

These are answers to many of the most frequently asked questions. More information is at kcstreetcar.org.

Q: How much will it cost?

A: It will be free to ride, and passengers can hop on and off throughout the two-mile route.

While there’s certainly a cost to running the system, the Streetcar Authority, which oversees the system, determined several years ago that eliminating the fare would maximize ridership and allow residents and visitors to use the system more easily. Starter routes in other cities also have been free. It is expected Kansas City’s streetcar service will remain free unless and until the route is extended.

“This is really about connecting our businesses, and we want to eliminate the barrier,” said Streetcar Authority Executive Director Tom Gerend. The property and sales taxes in the downtown streetcar taxing district are exceeding projections and will more than cover the $2.5 million year-one operating and maintenance contract.

Q: Will a free ride make the streetcar a magnet for homeless people to ride all day?

A: Gerend points out the ride from River Market terminates at Union Station, and everyone will be required to get off with all their belongings. They can get back on, but people won’t be able to ride all day without interruption. Also, each vehicle carries a maximum of about 150 people but has only about 34 seats, so it’s expected most people will stand and ride for a short time.

“It’s not going to be a place where you can set up camp,” said Kansas City Police Maj. Karl Oakman, who has been involved in extensive discussions about streetcar security. The police department has assigned a liaison to work on streetcar safety issues.

The authority also has approved a contract of up to $150,000 with the Downtown Community Improvement District to hire three full-time safety ambassadors. They will ride the streetcars, provide information and guidance to passengers and identify and address public safety issues.

Q: How long is the ride?

A: From Third and Grand in the River Market to Pershing and Main at Union Station, it takes about 13  1/2 minutes. That’s stopping at each stop for 15 seconds. The entire round trip takes nearly 30 minutes, including the break at Union Station. The streetcars travel with traffic and must obey traffic signals.

Q: How many stops, and does it stop at each point?

A: It has 16 stops, one every two to three blocks. The streetcar won’t automatically stop at each stop but will stop when letting people off or when people are waiting to board.

Q: How fast can the streetcar go?

A: A modern streetcar can go fast but will obey downtown traffic limits. It generally travels about 25 mph with traffic, although it can accelerate to the 35 mph speed limit from Fourth and Delaware to Seventh and Main and south of 20th on Main.

Q: Why is the route primarily on Main Street, rather than on Grand Boulevard, which is wider?

A: The route was determined after extensive study and interviews with stakeholders. Some businesses on Grand opposed being on the route, and Grand is sometimes closed to all traffic for major events around the Sprint Center and the Power & Light District. Also, Main Street was a more direct path, connected more amenities, and had more developable land. It is closer to Bartle Hall, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and other destinations.

Q: How does the streetcar interact with traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians?

A: It is big like a bus, although much quieter, and it can’t swerve out of the way, so motorists and others need to use caution. Each vehicle is 77 feet, 8 inches long, 12 feet tall and weighs 78,000 pounds, so it can take awhile to brake and speed up. As the streetcars accelerate, they ring a bell. And they can sound a horn.

Streetcar.org has safety videos addressing motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. Communications coordinator Donna Mandelbaum said she is working with BikeWalkKC on more instructional materials and training so cyclists’ wheels won’t get caught in the tracks. Pedestrian crosswalks along the route have been restriped, and jaywalking is discouraged.

The streetcars have level boarding with the street and space for bicycles. Some streetcar seats can also be folded up to make room for strollers and wheelchairs.

Q: What are the hours, once it starts carrying passengers?

A: 6 a.m.-midnight Monday through Thursday; 6 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday; 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. Weekdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. the vehicles are expected to run every 10 minutes. Early mornings, late evenings and on Saturdays they should run every 12 minutes. Sundays, every 18 minutes. Station stops will have real-time signs detailing when the next vehicle is coming.

The operating schedule will usually require three vehicles, with the fourth as a spare.

Q: Where can people park to catch the streetcar?

A: A bus park-and-ride has spaces at Third and Grand in River Market, and Union Station has parking. People also can park in public garages along the route and on the street, including some on-street parking on Main Street.

Q: Have there been parking challenges?

A: Yes. People have been ticketed for improper parking and, in rare instances, their cars were towed when they were blocking the rails. The charge for a parking ticket is $72.50, including a $50 fine and $22.50 nonmoving violation court cost.

A white line runs parallel to the rails, and people need to make sure their cars, including side mirrors, are within the white line. During testing, streetcar operators stopped and located some motorists whose vehicles blocked tracks before calling a tow. But once the system goes public, tow trucks will be summoned promptly to allow the vehicles to maintain their schedule.

Q: What about delivery vehicles?

A: Some delivery vehicles also have blocked the tracks, but they are gradually finding other places to park, including in the median of Main Street between the northbound and southbound tracks at some points along the route.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley