Downtown streetcar advocates help organize Midtown efforts

Matthew Staub and David Johnson led the push for downtown streetcars and are helping Midtown streetcar advocates start a push for expanded routes.

As phase two of the planning for streetcars begins, two Downtown grassroots activists are entering Midtown.

David Johnson and Matt Staub, founders of Streetcar Neighbors, on Thursday met with two new Midtown helpers.

The goal is to build consensus and political support for Midtown streetcar lines.

Johnson and Staub say they got all the Downtown neighborhoods to endorse streetcars, are now on the Kansas City Streetcar Authority board, and are moving on to phase two.

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

The city wants input on two possible Midtown routes: Main Street from Union Station to UMKC and 31st Street/Linwood Boulevard east of Main and possibly to the stadiums.

Mayor Sly James has called the Main Street option logical, particularly because it would link UMKC to its possible move of its music conservatory to Downtown.

“Who has influence on Main Street?” Johnson asked his two trainees Thursday. They sorted out what neighborhoods are on the route or nearby.

Safe to say that Union Hill, Old Hyde Park, Rockhill, Southmoreland, South Plaza and Crestwood will be will be getting much attention.

Johnson, 39, a quality assurance engineer for a company that makes apps, owns a condo in the crossroads.

Staub, 33, is a social media marketing manager with a condo in the river market area.

Both pay an extra one-cent sales taxes on goods and slightly higher property taxes because voters approved the Downtown streetcar district.

“We are delighted to pay,” Johnson said.

Both were raised in small towns, moved to the city and became fervent supporters of mass transit.

Staub said, “Dave and I had this populist idea if we get people together and we were motivated we could do it.”

They talked to each other about the newest twists in the Portland streetcar system and other arcane details, sometimes prompting listeners to pause for chips and dip.

Johnson said he has been in a dozen cities in the last two years that have streetcars, have proposed them or are starting them.

Sadly, Staub said, “I’ve only been to four.”

Part of their work will be teaching streetcars to their two new assistants, Midtown resident Eric Bunch of bikewalkkc, a bike advocacy group, and Matt Nugent, who lives in Squire Park.

Their job will be to explain technical details, the project itself and eventually the funding, although that has not been determined.

It will likely involve creating another transportation district spread over a larger area than Downtown, an area of up to one additional cent in sales tax and possibly slightly higher property taxes.

The main single benefit of each of the two lines must be defined, Johnson said. That will probably be new development along the Main Street route and needed transit along the other.

They will explain other advantages and details and sometimes they will wing it, Johnson said. “There is no formal training for transit planning, no book on transit planning.”

At the end, Johnson told his new helpers, “I want you to go off and fly.”