Let's have an all-out streetcar fund drive
The Kansas City Star
In the 1950s and early 1960s my mother used to take my siblings and me for streetcar rides from our home to shop in downtown St. Louis.
It was always exciting to board the heavy metal car filled with strangers and ride the swaying, clickety-clacking contraption running on rails imbedded in the street and powered by a web of overhead electrical lines. Cars and people knew to get out of the way and yield to the streetcar.
I have since ridden light rail, streetcars and cable cars in cities from coast to coast. Kansas City is the exception — but not in a good way.
People here have been reminiscing and streetcar-dreaming for decades, since the rails were buried and the streetcars left town. Finally the city has a good shot at getting a starter streetcar line downtown.
This year looks like the best opportunity with the addition of a possible $25 million TIGER grant, or Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery. Having a streetcar for the 65,000 workers and 15,000 residents to hop on and ride between Crown Center and the River Market would further downtown’s rebirth. Imagine the traffic and fun such vehicles would generate on First Fridays when people fill the streets to venture into downtown and Crossroads art galleries, restaurants and bars.
Imagine people driving in from throughout the metro area, parking at Crown Center and riding streetcars to the Sprint Center and the Power & Light District for concerts and other entertainment. Imagine folks going to the new aquarium in Crown Center and then going to a movie at the AMC theater in the Power & Light District or enjoying a concert, ballet or other show at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and wanting to have dinner afterward in the Freight House District.
Or on Saturdays, a family could go to the River Market for fresh fruits and vegetables, and then enjoy exhibits at Union Station or the World War I Museum. In each of these cases, they’d be a streetcar ride away.
The possibilities for getting around conveniently with less pollution and more excitement are infinite for Kansas Citians, people metro-wide, tourists and conventioneers. But that’s also why it makes no sense to nail downtown businesses and residents with a special downtown taxing district in which property tax increases would help pay for the $100 million streetcar, which a load of other people would ride.
Sure, downtown businesses and residents would see some benefits in the attraction. But as a former downtown dweller, I know residents there also would have to endure the hassles that new crowds bring.
So instead of heaping more taxes on those folks, Mayor Sly James and the City Council should begin an all-out, metrowide streetcar fundraising drive. Fundraisers helped build other great bricks-and-mortar things for the city.
The Central Library downtown is a wonderful example. So is the addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
People contributed to the construction of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the World War I Museum. Corporations metrowide, foundations and individuals could do the same for streetcars.
The city could make it worth folks’ while by letting them buy a seat with their name on the cars. They could pay for bricks and benches where people would wait for rides.
The tracks could even have people’s names engraved in them. Schoolchildren could get in on the excitement to bring a starter streetcar line to Kansas City contributing nickels, dimes, quarters and pennies to the cause.
They could brag to their children and grandchildren for decades about what they helped this town to finally obtain. They could even take their offspring to see their names engraves on bricks, stone or stainless steel.
Getting more people to pay for the starter streetcar line also would encourage more folks to come ride what they helped the city to buy. That ownership piece is huge, and folks can have bragging rights in saying they finally helped the town go from an old, polluting bus system to getting on track with many other major metropolitan areas.
That would be very cool, and the funding mechanism would be unlike other great rail systems. It would show what Kansas Citians can do when they unite. It is past time to try.
To reach Lewis W. Diuguid call 816-234-4723 or send e-mail to Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.