A streetcar, set to run two miles down Main Street connecting River Market and the Power and Light District, will open in early 2016. The free-to-ride line hopes to bring more life to the downtown area as well as an interest from regions farther away, like Johnson County.
“I think [the streetcar] is a really cool thing that adds to our city,” senior Becca Pfeifauf said. “I think other people will use it, and it will increase tourism and make people more likely to check out downtown.”
Four bidirectional streetcars will connect the River Market area, Crown Center, Union Station, the Crossroads and the Power and Light District. There are 16 stops on the starter line, each one spaced two blocks apart.
“One of the biggest disappointments of our city is how disconnected we’ve always been,” said Evan Ashby, manager of Mildred’s, a coffee house planning to open a new location along the streetcar rail. “I grew up out south, I went to the Shawnee Mission School District, and so I know Johnson County feels very disconnected from downtown.”
Mildred’s is one of many shops that thinks that the streetcar will not only draw attention to downtown, but make the area more accessible for those who work and live in the area.
“In the lunch hour, if you’re in the lunch business, you’re only really dealing with people who are willing to drive to you,” Ashby said. “Or already work in that small area in walking distance of your business.”
Because parking is so limited downtown in the lunch hour, streetcar transportation appeals to office workers who struggle daily with finding a place to park. The streetcar will allow workers easy access to different restaurants along the line.
“Anybody who works in River Market or Crown Center or downtown or Crossroads can go to lunch or dinner or coffee,” Ashby said. “For our lunch business, we very much believe it’s going to make a big difference for us.”
Since the streetcar project was announced, Kansas City has put 1.3 billion dollars in investment downtown. The location of the route reflects where that money is.
“I think the choosing of Mainstreet had a lot to do with public input, the businesses that are along Main Street, and the support that they had on Main Street for this,” Kansas City Streetcar Authority communications manager Donna Mandelbaum said.
Mandelbaum explains that the biggest question the city has is “Will people ride it?” She feels confident that the free fare will dispel any reason not to ride the trolley. Since the streetcar will not be generating any income, funding for the construction and upkeep of the car must come from outside sources.
The City of Kansas City applied for a $20 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant, and received all of the funding. A TIGER grant is one given by the government to stimulate the growth of public transportation. Other money for the car comes from the city and the state as well as taxpayer and property assessment money.
In 2013, City of Kansas City partnered with the KC Streetcar Authority, a non-profit who manages the operations and maintenance of the street.
“There is a whole network of money that is funding this project,” Mandelbaum said. “But the streetcar authority is a separate entity from the City of Kansas City and the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority.”
On Aug. 27, the City of Kansas City also partnered with the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, the company who currently runs the bus system. KCATA will provide services such as transportation for the physically disabled and customer support.
“The streetcar is not replacing any bus routes, but it is giving residents and visitors another transit vehicle,” Mandelbaum said.
The car simply gives people another incentive for people to come downtown, and easier way to do it.
“I think it’s an interesting parallel to what I think is the greater issue of the Kansas City metropolitan area,” Ashby said. “And hopefully what the streetcar will do is get people under the same mindset that we should all be connected.”