City kicks off study of streetcar line expansion routes

Participants at the kickoff for the second round of streetcar planning used a large model of the city to indicate where they would like to see future routes and how those routes could impact the city.

By Joe Lambe

Areas like Midtown were built and thrived on streetcar lines, and now city officials want streetcars to once again carry the city to more prosperity.

The second phase of streetcar planning started Thursday with speeches and an interactive exhibit at Union Station.

The exhibit, a scale model of buildings and streets along seven possible lines, including two in Midtown, will stay up a month so more citizens can use it provide input.

By next spring, the city wants to have plans for starting with two or three more streetcar lines. They would add to the Downtown line that is to run from the river market to Union Station.

One possible line would go down Main Street to UMKC and maybe beyond. Another possible line is the 31st Street/Linwood Boulevard corridor to near the sports stadiums.

Vincent Gauthier of consulting firm BNIM, said, “It’s kind of fuzzy, we don’t know exactly where they’re going to be going from and going to.”

The city wants citizen input to help determine that and which lines have the most support.

Whatever lines are picked for the next round, he said, it does not mean the others will not be built.

Mayor Sly James said he has no doubt the lines will bring development. Some companies have already approached him about projects along the Downtown streetcar route scheduled to start in 2015, he said.

Gauthier said of the streetcar lines, “It’s no different than a waterline – put it in and people will build.”

The city lost its way when it shut down its streetcars decades ago, James said, and as for replacing them, “We could have and should have done this 20 years ago.”

In 1957, the first streetcar era officially ended when the Country Club line made its last public run through Midtown. People had protested and signed petitions trying to save it, but it did not matter.

Monroe Dodd, in his book “A Splendid Ride,” said there was one more ceremonial last run the next year with City Manager L.P. Cookingham on board.

As the streetcars died, Cookingham said, “Ah, how I hate to see them disappear.”

On Thursday, Gauthier said Kansas City once had more miles of streetcar lines than any city except Los Angeles and “it’s about time the city started looking in every direction” to lay new ones.

Then they sent people to use the big models, to lay string were lines should roll, mark where stops or development should be, and place beaded red necklaces around activity centers.

On the proposed 31st Street and Linwood corridor, string ran about evenly for running down each of those two streets but one thing was sure.

At the end of them, off of the model, stop markers were piled  where the sports stadiums would be.

Experts say it would be hard to get the line over rail tracks and other problems all the way to the stadiums. But stop markers say do it.

(Disclosure: The Midtown KC Post’s Mary Jo Draper is part of the project team for this project)

Previous posts