KC Streetcar moving farther and faster than anyone predicted!

By Rod Richardson, City Editor

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If you live downtown, riding the streetcar is probably as natural for you as grabbing that first cup of coffee to start your day. And even if you don’t occupy one of the trendy lofts along Main Street, boarding one of these hi-tech trolleys to traverse a 2.2-mile downtown route is just as likely to be a familiar part of your day.

The streetcar is a hit with downtown residents, as well as local patrons and tourists who routinely praise the clean, smooth rides and the free Wi-Fi. The original forecasts of 2,700 for average daily rides have been dwarfed by an actual average that nearly doubles that figure.

This amazing success story has caught even the most ardent supporters by surprise and is sweeping across the country with facts and figures that are unmatched and hard to ignore.

In May, KC Streetcar celebrated its first year of operation with a birthday bash fit for a king. Hundreds of people converged upon Union Station to sing, dance and embrace this rail line that soared past 2 million rides far faster than anyone predicted. And if that wasn’t enough, the economic development underway in the area has eclipsed $2 billion.

“We’ve said from the start that the streetcar was about more than just transit,’’ City Manager Troy Schulte said. “Fixed rail generates economic development, and combined with the city’s investment in smart city technology, we are building a tax base that will benefit residents citywide both now and in the future.”

Kansas City has more than two billion dollars in economic development underway within the boundaries of the KC Streetcar TDD, or Transportation Development District. This includes more than $2.1 billion in development projects completed, in progress or publicly announced since voters approved the streetcar in December 2012.

Planners predicted Kansas City’s system would reach 1 million rides by its first anniversary. However, that mark was reached in October 2016.

Among many noteworthy achievements are:

  • 97 percent of businesses surveyed along the route credit the streetcar with having a positive impact on their business
  • 3 million rides by fall of 2017
  • Winner of 2017 American Council of Engineering Companies Award

But awards, ascending ridership stats and cascading economic development only tell part of the streetcar story. As with any successful venture, questions of expansion are frequent. In the spring, the City Council approved buying two additional streetcars for the existing downtown route. The total purchase plan is $11.9 million, with streetcar costs at approximately $4.9 million apiece. It will take about 24 months to build the vehicles.

The KC Streetcar system is comprised of four streetcar vehicles, with a three-streetcar operation running daily. But with demand staying high and extending the line on the horizon, it only makes sense to add more vehicles.

“It is a good problem to have, our streetcars are running at or near capacity on a regular basis and we need additional capacity to ensure reliable operations and improved service in the years to come,” said Tom Gerend, executive director of the KC Streetcar Authority.

As for the future, the KC Streetcar Authority (KCSA), in coordination with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) , is promoting the Streetcar Southern Extension project. This phase of planning, estimated to cost about $1 million, is jointly funded by the KCSA and KCATA and should take about nine months.

The KC Streetcar Southern Extension planning will focus on:

  • Data collection (utilities, current conditions, etc.)
  • Refining alignment details (curb-running / center-running)
  • Station stop locations and terminus configuration
  • Plan for coordinated regional transit service integration and improvement
  • Updated cost estimates
  • Initiation of federal funding process

The KC Streetcar Southern Extension planning will build upon the downtown streetcar service and will support work required to further develop and advance the southern extension toward the University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC).

The primary area for this effort extends from downtown Kansas City and Union Station, south to UMKC in the vicinity of 51st and Brookside Boulevard. The area is generally bounded on the west by Broadway Boulevard and on the east Gillham Road.

More information about KC Streetcar can be found online at kcstreetcar.org.