KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The newest thing to show in the Show Me State is also one of Cincinnati’s most anticipated — and most controversial — upcoming additions: the streetcar.
Similar in scale and size to Cincinnati’s streetcar project, set to open in September, the KC Streetcar is a 2.2-mile up-down route with a small loop at one end (ours is a 3.6-mile loop) running through the heart of the city’s central business districts. It opened about a month ago.
Supporters of KC Streetcar mention the same goal supporters of Cincinnati’s counterpart mention: to bring development — businesses, residences and transportation alternatives — to the urban core.
“Ten years ago, Downtown was a very different place,” said KC Streetcar Spokesperson Donna Mandelbaum. “Since then, Kansas City has done a lot of development.
“When that started happening, we saw the potential for further economic growth.”
One difference: Theirs is free to ride (for now, at least).
Is It Worth It?
But the prevailing question usually terminates with cost: Is it worth the it?
KC Streetcar was a slightly smaller project financially, totaling roughly $102 million, about $46 million short of Cincinnati’s budget for the streetcar.
City estimates say KC Streetcar has already brought $1.7 billion in development and spending along the streetcar route since construction began. While determining long-term economic impact is not a feasible goal after only a month, city spokesperson Chris Hernandez told WCPO he is already noticing more and more people getting onboard with the idea.
“People were like, ‘I don’t know if I like this. I want to see it first.’ And now that people are seeing it, I think they are getting it,” he said.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James, a staunch advocate for the project from its beginning, said of riding on the streetcar for the first time, “This is the best time I’ve had in my adult life.”
WCPO spoke with a number of area residents, some who support the project, others who feel the money should have gone to other projects. WATCH their reactions in the viewer here:
Lessons Learned So Far
But they also say with any new system, there’s a learning curve. So what can Cincinnati learn as KC Streetcar stretches its legs?
Turns out, the challenges seen by KC Streetcar so far have not been a far cry from what any other street vehicle must face, leaders said.
First, there’s severe weather, something officials said hit the city just a few weeks into the system’s launch. The streetcar faces a unique challenge in this aspect — the possibility of derailment due to debris on the tracks. Officials said this occurred a few weeks into the system’s launch, resulting in one vehicle derailing slightly.
There are also other reckless operators: Officials said one streetcar was struck by a motorist who ran a red light.
“We had a car that crashed into the streetcar, and we knew it would happen at some point,” said Hernandez. “It finally did. It’s unfortunate, but that's why we have a spare.”
See footage of the derailment and the crash in the viewer below:
Mandelbaum also cautioned motorists against driving too close behind a streetcar (as they should with other automobiles, as well): “If you’re driving behind the streetcar, don’t tailgate,” she said. “It’s kind of like a bus. If a bus is turning, you don’t want to be right up next to it.”
And then there are the new traffic and parking rules, including new parking restrictions — this is already the case here in Cincinnati — and new traffic signal patterns at intersections along the route. Here in Cincinnati, the new signals are currently in testing, and only enter signal patterns when a streetcar is on a test run nearby.
Kansas City Police Sgt. Tony Sanders urges everyone to pay extra attention to new signage relevant to the streetcar.
“You have to pay attention to new signage,” he said. “You have to know exactly what you’re doing down around the streetcar route.
“It was one of those things where there was a lot of preparation that had to be done.”
Sanders said, ultimately, communication and education efforts with the community are proving effective.
“It’s all about education,” he said. “It’s a new toy for us.”
So How's Ridership?
Officials estimate roughly 6,400 riders board the streetcar in Kansas City every weekday, with a nearly 10,000 rider average on weekends.
Kansas City patrol officers provide ride-along security on the weekends.
The Cincinnati Streetcar is tentatively set to launch public service with a weekend of activities, starting Friday, Sept. 9.