Riding the Valley Metro light rail in the Phoenix-Mesa area for a couple days last week gave me plenty of time to look at the city, visit with family and fellow passengers, save time and money – and consider what could be for our own metro area.
Every visit to a major city for me underlines again how far behind Kansas City is in speedy and abundantly available public transit. This is no small thing in attracting the so-called young creative entrepreneurs we need for a vibrant economy.
For that matter, it’s a quality-of-life issue for those of us who are simply tired of wasted hours driving.
This comes in light of a few moves here in Kansas City. The Mid-America Regional Council a couple weeks ago gave its blessing to an extension of Kansas City’s streetcar line, which runs from the River Market south to Union Station. It would run a little farther north, to the riverfront, opening up park-and-ride options. It would run significantly farther south, another three and a half miles to UMKC. Both extensions are a few years off but would change the nature of the streetcar somewhat.
At the moment, it’s a handy means to getting to games, concerts and nightlife, not to mention day-to-day getting around for the thousands of people who live downtown. Extending it changes it to more of a means of getting people to and from work, said Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority.
That’s a key point: This is really less about moving tourists and fans than it is about connecting people with jobs.
Gerend pointed out that streetcar ridership is at nearly 4 million in the two years it’s been in operation “and it’s faring better than we hoped it would.” That’s a common experience across the country: Once streetcar, light rail or commuter rail lines are up and running, ridership significantly exceeds initial projections, and those lines concentrate private investment along their corridors, as Kansas City has seen.
The streetcar is “designed to move people directly and efficiently,” Gerend said.
But there’s a caution. The streetcar is “designed to move people directly and efficiently,” Gerend says, in a dense and active part of of the city. Moving beyond that – north of the river or perhaps, dare we hope, out toward Eastern Jackson County – is a different discussion and would require a different funding formula.
The MARC board also approved moving ahead on a metrowide pedestrian plan. Among other things, that means encouraging cities to add sidewalks where they can – another conversation that can’t come soon enough.
MARC board chair, Gladstone City Council Member Carol Suter, put it this way: “What we’re learning is everybody wants to walk more.”
Back to the Phoenix thing for a minute: I always end up being the one who drives when we go to a ballgame at the K. So no beer for me. That’s not a big deal, but still.
Last week, we drove to a park-and-ride lot in Mesa, paid $4 apiece to ride light rail to see the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers. We saved 45 minutes of rush-hour traffic in a strange city -- not to mention the hassle and cost of parking -- and then saved another 45 minutes of driving after the game.
And, just because I could, I had a beer. Call it my form of protest.
The annual Independence Regional Business Expo is here. It’s from noon to 6 Thursday at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center, though guest speakers start at 11:15 a.m. and run through the day. There’s a young professionals happy hour at 5. Go to www.ichamber.biz/expo for more information, including how to get tickets. … “Offline marketing: Outside the Digital Box” is the theme of next Tuesday’s Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce Power Hour. It’s at 8:30 a.m. at the chamber office at 1000 W. Main St. in downtown Blue Springs. It’s an hour long, and it’s free. Go to bluespringschamber.com/ for more information.
– Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. He can be reached at 816-350-6313 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter @FoxEJC.