For years, I have been an advocate of fixed-rail transit in Kansas City. I grew up in Denver, which has an amazing light rail system, and taught urban planning and design studios for years at both the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri – Kansas City that explored potential routes and their development impact. I was even a project manager for the rail consultant team on the failed 2001 vote in Kansas City, Missouri that would have taken a route from North Kansas City south to 85th Street.
So I know transit fairly well – I know different systems, I’ve studied different routes, and I understand its use as a development assistance tool, not simply as a people mover. I understand it requires and builds density in housing, employment and entertainment nodes.
But, I have never, until now, literally been at ground zero of a transit development – where I’m not studying theory or another city – but actually looking outside my window to see how it is affecting my own city. Our office, at 1814 Main Street, is almost the center of the planned first leg of the streetcar line, and is the geographic center of the Crossroads District. I can almost look north and south from my office’s front door and see the two ends of the first leg of the streetcar line.
And I’m already realizing that the first effect of the streetcar will be a nuisance. There are barricades all along Main Street where utility work is taking place. Usually every day I have to approach my office from a different route to avoid temporary street closures. And my short walk to lunch at either Anton’s or Extra Virgin is fraught with sidewalk closures and heavy construction noise.
But this is temporary. When the streetcar opens in 2015, not only will gracious and landscaped sidewalks improve the pedestrian experience in the area, but I’ll also be able to catch a streetcar to go downtown, alleviating my need to drive and – more painfully – find and pay for parking. The real impact, however, will be in the look and feel of the neighborhood, which I predict five years from now will be much more active and bustling than it is today. How do I know this? Because of theory or looking at other cities?
I know this because of actual development plans being put in place today specifically because of the route itself. Fixed rail cannot be moved like a bus route, and this gives entrepreneurs and real estate developers peace of mind that their investment will benefit from the people, density and excitement it will bring.
In fact, Centric Projects is directly involved with over a dozen projects within two blocks of the new rail line – most of which wouldn’t be on the drawing board if it weren’t for this important public infrastructure investment. This proves beyond theory that transit is a development catalyst. And when the rail is finished, and these projects are not just on the drawing board but have become functioning offices, stores, housing, restaurants and taverns, Kansas City will take one more step towards being the city it deserves to be.