By Kevin Collison
The Streetcar Authority plans to run the proposed extension from downtown to UMKC on the outside lanes of Main Street, saying it would provide a more pedestrian-friendly access and greater economic development opportunities.
The decision to go outside rather than the alternative of an alignment down the middle of Main Street was one of the last bits of unfinished design business before the authority goes to Washington to seek federal funding this fall.
“We understand the operational challenges with an outside-running streetcar, but have learned a lot with our downtown orientation and are proud of our 93 percent plus on-time performance,” Tom Gerend, executive director of the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, said in a statement.
The outside orientation also had strong support from members of the public who attended a workshop as well as the director of MainCor, the community improvement district that operates along the proposed route from downtown to near the Country Club Plaza.
“We are pleased with the decision,” said Diane Burnette, MainCor executive director. “We need to see the same kind of economic development occurring in the midtown part of Kansas City as downtown.”
About three-quarters of those who either attended a workshop or responded online to the Streetcar Authority favored the outside alternative. The remainder supported the center-running alternative.
With the authority already deciding on the locations of stops along the proposed Main Street extension, the biggest design question remaining is how the route will operate between 45th Street and Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard.
“As the initial alignment concepts were developed, it became clear that the portion of the route south of 45th street will need a more conversation and refinement to arrive at the optimum design…” the alignment study found.
The report indicated a transit hub is being considered for the southeast corner of Main Street/Cleaver Boulevard and the streetcar’s “lateral position in the street” must be coordinated with the planned hub.
Other complicating factors in that section of Main are its narrower width, traffic congestion at the Brookside Boulevard/Main Street connection and access needs of several larger office buildings and hotels in the area.
Once the route crosses Cleaver Boulevard it will follow the former Country Club trolley right-of-way to its terminus near the new Whole Foods/Brookside 51 apartment development by UMKC.
In making its decision use the outside lanes of Main between Union Station and 45th Street, the Streetcar Authority listed the following factors:
–Pedestrian needs, an outside route allows for a more pedestrian-friendly environment and easier access to businesses along the route.
–Business access, an outside alignment preserves left-turn vehicle access to businesses and properties along Main. A center-running route requiring medians and center platforms would have potentially prohibited intersection left-turns at up to nine locations.
–An outside orientation provides an estimated 20 percent more on-street parking a loading capacity.
–Consistency with the current downtown station stops.
The KC Streetcar project team includes the Streetcar Authority, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, the city and a consultant team led by HDR, Inc.
“This is an important step to advancing the project,” Robbie Makinen, KCATA president and CEO, said in a statement. “Making the alignment selection enables us to begin the process of applying for federal funding.”
With an estimated $250 million price tag, the authority plans to seek $100 million from Washington to help construct the system.
Voters living within the Transportation Development District established for the extension already have approved a local funding mechanism.
The Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts Program won’t announce the winning projects until January. If funding is obtained, the streetcar extension probably will not be completed until 2023.
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