Move ahead with transit-oriented development plan in Kansas City

Public transit plans are more crucial than ever to efficiently moving people and spurring redevelopment in Kansas City.
Public transit plans are more crucial than ever to efficiently moving people and spurring redevelopment in Kansas City. rsugg@kcstar.com

Calm down, folks. The Kansas City Council is not working on a plan to force people to stop driving cars downtown. Or require them to take the streetcar. Or ride bikes to work.

But in this age of social media, wild reports are circulating about what’s in the transit-oriented development policy that council members are scheduled to discuss Thursday.

The main concern seems to be that car-centric development and the status quo — vast parking lots, wide-open streets and limited bike lanes — are under attack.

Put another way, the “World As Kansas City Knows It” is in danger.

Guess what? The fact that Kansas Citians are discussing transit-oriented guidelines for development is very positive.

The policy includes worthwhile goals. The city needs to help spur redevelopment that brings more density near transit stations or in transit corridors, for example. That could mean replacing parking lots with tall buildings for offices or housing. How are the people who use those structures going to get to and from there? Transit needs to be an option, rather than plopping more huge parking structures inside the heart of the city.

The proposed city policy also is required to be in place if Kansas City wants to get future federal transit dollars, according to council member Jolie Justus. Good point. City Hall needs to show that it would capably use U.S. taxpayer funds to expand the streetcar line. Or to create new bus rapid transit lines on Prospect Avenue or elsewhere.

Downtown neighborhood groups, business leaders, city planners, the bicycling community and other organizations have been involved in putting together the proposed transit-oriented development policy. It’s based, in part, on plans the city has approved in the past; this one isn’t coming out of left field as a sneak attack.

Critics have a right to question the policy at Thursday’s council meeting. Business owners who think their interests could be harmed might show up — as might those who could benefit if the city reduces onerous requirements on them to provide so much customer parking. A multipage policy hammered out over months of discussions won’t please everyone.

Kansas City spends tens of millions of dollars a year to help car traffic move smoothly through downtown and other parts of the area.

But the city also must make smart decisions to promote appropriate development in transit corridors.