Streetcar Voices: Downtown Riders Tell It Like It Is

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(From left) Leighann Martin, Alexis Gonzales and Katherine Ross enjoy searching for fun things to do downtown on the streetcar. (Photo by Brian McTavish)

By Brian McTavish

The Kansas City Streetcar has provided free transportation to more than 5.5 million riders since opening in May 2016. But the reasons for hopping aboard can vary as much as the downtown travelers it brings together.

For devoted downtowners, the streetcar is a key factor in more conveniently living and working in the hub of the city.

For casual visitors, the 2.2-mile line is the easiest way to sightsee or further explore the city’s central corridor connecting Union Station, the Crossroads Arts District, the Power & Light District and Union Station.

CityScene KC recently approached random streetcar passengers to get their different takes on the experience. Ready for some streetcar straight talk? Hold on to your grab handle!

‘Tons of Options’

Twenty-something trio Leighann Martin and Alexis Gonzalez of Overland Park, and Katherine Ross of Omaha have their own approach to riding the streetcar.

“That’s how we find stuff to do,” said Martin, who is a nanny and full-time graduate student.

“We start at Union Station and just work our way down. We say, ‘Oh, we should stop here,’ and that’s why we get off at places. “

More than 5.5 million riders have used the streetcar since it opened in May 2016.

On this day, their streetcar-fueled tour included upscale food hall Parlor in the Crossroads, as well as Betty Rae’s Ice Cream and Quay Coffee in the River Market.

“There are tons of options,” said Gonzalez, who also takes advantage of the streetcar while working as a social media coordinator at a downtown ad agency.

“I work in the River Market and I can do lunch in the Crossroads using the streetcar. You don’t have to get in your car and find a place to park.

“I just wish it went down to Westport and the Plaza.”

Saturday nights can get “a little crazy” with large crowds on the streetcar, but “it’s usually fairly tame,” says Ross, who is a receptionist at a manufacturing plant back home.

“The best part is that it’s free. And it’s a cool tourist attraction, especially coming from Omaha,” she said. “You know you’re in Kansas City when you get to go on the streetcar.”

‘It’s Just Hassle-Free’

Young marrieds Colby and Katie Childress live in a River Market apartment on the streetcar line.

“We go pretty much anywhere the streetcar will take us,” said Colby, a soccer coach at Sporting KC Academy. “It’s just hassle free.”

Colby and Katie also use the KC Streetcar Tracker to cut down on their wait time.

“Since there’s a stop so close to us, it’s nice to see when the next streetcar will be there,” said Katie, who teaches second grade.

“If I’m making dinner and need a couple of things, I can take the streetcar to Cosentino’s. It’s easy just to jump on, run an errand and jump back.”

“We still ride it on First Fridays,” Colby said, “even though it can be, ‘gosh, it’s so crowded.’ I love the streetcar line.”

Matthew Ogutu and Jane Trembley took the streetcar to Our Daily Nada in the River Market. (Photo by Brian McTavish)

‘Fun and Entertaining’

Theresa Voiss, a 57-year-old interior designer from Lee’s Summit, remembered spending a wonderful morning downtown with her daughter thanks to the streetcar.

“It was very doable,” she said. “I wish they would expand it. It brings the city together.”

Student Jane Trembley, 21, of Lawrence, and photographer Matthew Ogutu, 24, of Grandview, took the streetcar to Our Daily Nada in the River Market.

The combo bookstore and bar is one of Ogutu’s favorite downtown spots, which he was using as a backdrop to snap pics of Trembley for her Instagram account.

“Finding parking is stressful, especially if you’re not from here, like me,” Trembley said.

“If I had to drive here, I would have been worried about parking. But, instead, we were able to park where it was a little more possible.”

“We actually parked in the Crossroads,” Ogutu said. “The streetcar is just so easy and convenient.”

And sometimes surprisingly musical.

“Some drunken people, after a Saturday night at P & L, started singing on the streetcar,” Ogutu recalled.

“It was fun and entertaining. It was just one of those things you don’t expect and then it happens. They weren’t bad.”

Kandice and Nate Thurman and their kids, Kimber and Kaptin were riding the rails to the Dinosaurs Revealed exhibit at Union Station. (Photo by Brian McTavish)

‘You’ve Got to Do It’

Before heading over to the “Dinosaurs Revealed” exhibit at Union Station, Kandice and Nate Thurman of Leawood were sharing a meal with their small children, Kimber and Kaptin.

“We were sitting at lunch at Minsky’s at the River Market,” said Nate, a 41-year-old banker. “And we said, ‘You know, we’ve never been on the streetcar. Let’s do it today.’ The mobile data online was super easy, so we hopped on.”

Kandice added, “I was afraid it was going to be really crowded with no place for us to sit and I was a little worried about a fast pace and people being rude. But there were plenty of spots for us and everyone was nice.”

Would the family ride the streetcar again?

“You’ve got to do it,” Nate said. “Put it on your bucket list. It’s just a great way to see two miles of a great big small town that we live in called Kansas City.”

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