Kansas City’s $100 million investment in the downtown streetcar line is a big, proper gamble to take in spurring economic development.
However, anything that gives people ammunition to criticize the streetcar damages its potential to serve as a needed catalyst for new housing and offices in the urban core and as a new public transit option.
Which brings me to a potentially big problem: where motorists are supposed to park.
In a few months, the streetcar will start carrying passengers (for free) largely along Main Street between Union Station and the River Market.
If people get this wrong — and they get tickets for improperly parking or, worse, are towed — that’s going to create a black eye for the streetcar system.
If enough people have trouble obeying the rules, and they decide not to come back downtown, that could hurt businesses that are supposed to be helped by being right along the line
And in the worst of circumstances, badly parked vehicles could force a streetcar loaded with dozens of passengers to a standstill, damaging its reputation for efficiency. Indeed, a delivery vehicle briefly was parked on the tracks Tuesday.
So why this Debbie Downer approach when I am a fairly strong streetcar backer?
Mostly because I took a walk late last week along Main Street between 13th to 20th streets.
Too many drivers had not parked inside the white line that’s painted from about seven to nine feet from the curb.
That ignores the very direct advice from the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, that “every portion of the vehicle, including the side mirrors, must be inside the painted white lines. This is to ensure that the streetcar has clearance to run along the tracks without any interference. Since a streetcar cannot swerve, it cannot move out of the way of parked vehicles.”
In a video I took, three vehicles in a row were parked outside the white line just north of 17th Street on Main.
Upon reviewing the video, Streetcar Authority spokeswoman Donna Mandelbaum wrote, “The streetcar would most probably be able to continue forward without hitting those particular cars. Though the last one in the video is cutting it close.”
And here’s the authority’s how-to video on driving and parking along the streetcar line.
Police issued 19 parking tickets along the line in both November and December, the authority reports. The ticket charge is $72.50, including a $50 fine and $22.50 non-moving violation court cost. January figures were not yet available.
“It’s gotten a lot better; people are getting used to it,” Mandelbaum said, although she said “it will be interesting” dealing with the congested parking along the line on a Saturday near the popular City Market.
Some of the social media feedback I received after posting the video indicated many people are concerned about what’s going to happen. One representative comment: “This is another reason I come to downtown less and less. KCMO spends its days developing ‘gotcha’ games.”
What happens if snow and ice obscure the white line? Officials say they are testing snow removal plans and procedures.
Streetcar supporters push back, reasonably so.
Get used to parking closer to the curb, and you shouldn’t have a problem.
Even better, don’t park along the route but look for one of more than 12,000 off-street parking spaces reportedly within a block of the route.
The city and businesses correctly wanted to keep as much on-street parking as possible along the line. But there could be a price to pay for that convenience.
Kansas Citians face a big learning curve with the streetcar. Where to park is just one of them, and my concerns today could evaporate by this time next year.
The best way to make that happen? Park inside the white lines, folks!