In 2001, the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance stated that light rail, not streetcars or bus rapid transit, was the preferred mode of transit to modernize Kansas City’s transportation system. Question 2 on the Aug. 8 ballot, which I placed via petition drive, proposes a rapid citywide rail system.
It is, in effect, a less costly junior light rail system that would operate the city’s existing streetcar system at far faster speeds, with far fewer stops and in dedicated right-of-ways — transit greenways — separated from traffic.
Integrated into those beautiful lower-cost rail greenways, which would utilize a few city streets, a couple of medians of city boulevards and a smidgen of the city’s vast parkland, would be a bike lane positioned on one side of the double tracks and a pedestrian lane on the other. The rapid rail system would directly serve the central Northland, downtown, Union Station, midtown, the Plaza-UMKC cultural district, the East Side, the Truman Sports Complex, the historic Northeast, the Kansas City Zoo and Swope Park.
Complementing the rapid rail system would be an auxiliary express electric bus system that would expand the service area of the rail lines to major outlying destinations, including Kansas City International Airport, Cerner at Bannister, Brookside, Waldo, south Kansas City and elsewhere. An electric shuttle bus system would transport riders to and from the rail stations from surrounding neighborhoods. This innovative, efficient and convenient transit system would not only attract a surge of new transit users and drive new economic development across the entire city. It would also provide the city a new green selling point to attract back residents, businesses and conventions.
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The city’s downtown streetcar line has been a success in terms of ridership and economic development. It has whetted the public’s appetite for rail. However, because of its limited scope and isolation it must be transformed and expanded into a more rapid, useful citywide rail system that can connect the entire city and help people get to jobs and major destinations.
Presently, the streetcar line is largely a novelty for tourists rather than an improved transit system that can directly benefit the people. As such, Question 2 is the next logical step forward. What’s more, Congress is slated to soon pass a massive infrastructure rebuilding bill that could likely provide a prodigious amount of funding for also improving the nation’s public transportation. No one can doubt that Kansas City would be first in line to secure big bucks from that federal funding mechanism if there were a community consensus and my proposed 25-year sales tax behind a voter-approved plan to improve public transit.
Question 2 is a petition proposal placed on a citywide ballot by voters themselves. Because the streetcar system is a city-owned public asset (like KCI, the stadium complex and other projects), any major measure involving it should be placed before voters citywide.
By comparison, there is a competing plan to extend the city’s slow-moving streetcar system, which operates inefficiently in traffic, to the Plaza. Proponents of that misguided plan are seeking to place it before a select few voters who live or have property along its proposed route. That is the wrong way to move ahead any plan involving a city-owned public asset.
Ballot Question 2 is the right plan at the right time, done the right way. It deserves voter support on Aug. 8 to move Kansas City, and its streetcar system, forward.
Clay Chastain is a transportation activist who lives in Bedford, Va.