Archive for the ‘Kansas City Streetcar’ Category

The following is written by my good friend, Bryan Stalder. Bryan lives down in historic Northeast Kansas City where we grew up together and is on a one man mission to try and stop the proposed Kansas City Streetcar that will eventually run through his neighborhood. His testimony of what he saw in the meeting would be hilarious if it wasn’t so sadly indicative of many Americans and their complete lack of critical thought. It also demonstrates the continual problems of corruption and cronyism we see at every level of politics in America. What Bryan doesn’t realize is that him, and other residents of Northeast were submitted to what is called the “Delphi Technique.” This is a method developed by none-other than the radical community organizer, Saul Alinsky. The purpose of the technique is to achieve oneness of opinion of a group. Good for Bryan and his willingness to ask tough questions. I especially love his conclusion, but with one caveat, I don’t believe many of these people that support this nonsense are “otherwise intelligent.” Intelligence is the ability to apply knowledge and skills to a situation, true intelligence is demonstrated in all areas of a person’s life, not just part of it. 

I attended the Next Rail KC meeting at Samuel U. Rodgers Health Center this evening, and from the looks of the parking lot, I’m confident that no one in that room took public transit to get to the meeting even though the 24 runs within two blocks of the health center. There were at least seventy-five people in attendance from just about every neighborhood in Northeast, and I was probably the only opponent of streetcar in the room. There is plenty of opposition to the streetcar, but most of those people have school aged children or are seniors, so they have a hard time attending these types of events on weeknights. By the way, these are the same people that streetcar supporters drive to the polls when Democrats are relying on Medicaid and public education to get them re-elected.

Anyway, the meeting started out with a brief presentation from Vincent, an employee of HNTB who stands to make MILLIONS from this government funded project. He told us all of the great things that streetcar could and would do for Northeast, and even buttered us up by asking us to congratulate ourselves for having “one of the largest turnouts,” so far. Y’know, all of the stuff you’d expect from a “Two free meal tickets if you listen to our timehare spiel,” meeting.
A few things in that introduction that I found interesting.

-He spent a lot of time telling us the great things about streetcar, and just a few seconds breezing past a few obstacles facing streetcar. His presentation included just three obstacles, but promised that they could work around all of them.

-He promised us that Independence Avenue was one of the strongest corridors, because many of the other ones being considered had “dead zones” but Independence Avenue is already a strong corridor for businesses.

-He pointed out that the 24 and the 30 had some of the highest ridership of all the buses in the city.
-He mentioned that while other parts of the city are struggling to keep residents, Northeast regenerates our population.
So I had to ask myself, if streetcar is supposed to increase economic development, transit ridership, and residents, but we’re already doing that WITHOUT streetcar, then we don’t really need to spend over $300 million for the thing, do we?
After the presentation, we separated into groups to discuss our “dreams” for streetcar. Seriously. I allowed the discussion to go on without my input for 15-20 minutes, because I knew that once I started asking questions, the rest of the time would be spent debating, which wouldn’t be entirely fair to the people who I was sitting with.

When I joined in the discussion, my first question was “How will this be funded?” and I was told that there isn’t enough money in Northeast or along The Avenue to build this project, so most of the money would come from federal grants or donations. I pressed further and the representative from HNTB assured me that if any city monies were spent, that a city wide vote would have to occur. I know better, but I was just getting started, so I chose instead to make him re-establish that no city funds would be spent without a city-wide vote, and he did. What does he have to lose? He doesn’t work for city hall, so he can’t be held accountable for that (and probably has no idea, anyway.)

I continued by asking which services that the bus currently offered would be enhanced by the streetcar, and the general consensus at the table was that streetcars have a larger capacity, so I pointed out that we could make buses bigger, or run them more frequently. They claimed that the streetcar routes are simpler, so I asked why we couldn’t make the bus routes the same as the simpler streetcar routes. We could even include the simple maps and paint a stripe in the street to trick all of the people who can’t figure out a bus schedule into thinking they’re actually on a streetcar. They told me that a streetcar has better lighting, and I assured them that a few more streetlights or LEDs inside the bus could solve that problem. They said a streetcar shows a commitment to a corridor, so I reminded them that I’ve lived in Northeast since 1982, and my dad used to take the 24 to work when I was still in diapers, (forgot to point out that KC has already established their willingness to RIP OUT rails.) Their final point was that they get people to jobs, which I laughed at, because currently, I’d wager that 90% of the people on the Northeast buses are going to work and I’ll bet there’s not a single one who tells themselves, “If they don’t build a streetcar on Independence Avenue, I’m going to quit riding the bus to work,”

Everyone at the table also admitted that they either don’t ride the bus, or rarely ride the bus, and suggested that it was because of the people that are on the bus. I pointed out that those same people will also be on the streetcar and resented the suggestion that certain people are too good for the bus. Before I could ask if they were “too white for the bus,” there was a general consensus that women aren’t comfortable on the bus, and I left it at that, because I wasn’t really looking to start debating race or calling my friends and neighbors racists.

One resident in our group suggested that all of the other corridors being strongly considered served “rich, white people,” and that they NEED to put one in Northeast so they can brag about how they’re also helping the poor minorities. I thanked her for pointing out that streetcar is for “rich, white people,” who want to ride public transit for fun.

After I out-debated about ten of my neighbors and a couple of HNTB reps, the tables were supposed to present their ideas to everyone. This was perhaps my favorite part of the evening. One presenter was adamant that the streetcar needed to go all the way to the old ARMCO building, because that was the only viable location for a COSTCO and she didn’t want to see any of the existing businesses on Independence Avenue get demolished. I literally giggled out loud because Councilman Jim “I brought Costco to Mid-Town,” Glover was standing in the room at the time. This is also funny because the stated goal of streetcar is economic development, and this neighbor wanted streetcar to run THE MAXIMUM distance (read: $$$$), but then she wanted to dictate what structures could and couldn’t be removed. And finally, and this is the most obvious question: WHO THE FUCK is going to go to Costco on the streetcar?

Another presenter suggested that big box stores like Target would consider transportation in a particular area when they start expanding into urban settings. This is hilarious to me because again, not only are people NOT going to ride streetcar to Target, but Target is the type of retailer that the “celebrate diversity. eat organic. go green. buy local. ride streetcar.” crowd DOES NOT want in Northeast. I could screenshot you pages and pages of neighborhood Facebook group debates to evidence this.

The presenter from our table said, “If we were getting a $10B blank check from the federal government, I think we’d all agree that streetcar is the last thing we’d spend it on, but the fact is that if we don’t use the money for transit, we don’t get it,” and I consider that a win that I got a supporter to actually admit in so many words, “We all agree streetcar is at the bottom on Northeast’s priorities,”

At the end of the evening, Vincent from HNTB, said he enjoyed listening to the discussion at our table, and a few other people who know my position on the streetcar admitted that the groups they were in were basically just a big circle jerk.
Bottom line, HNTB recognized that I’d done my homework, but realized that I don’t stand much of a threat on my own, and their money was safe. The overwhelming consensus in the room at the end of the night was that residents were all concerned that it was inevitable that the money was going to be spent, and so they wanted it to be spent in our neighborhood. Coincidentally, in the wake of a federal government shut down, furloughed non-essential employees, and a debt ceiling, we’re in a meeting making plans based largely on receiving federal money, to make public transit more comfortable for white people… er, women.
In 2008, people elected Barack Obama on a concept. They were frustrated, and whatever they wanted him to be, that’s what he was. No one really knew or cared what he would do, they just assumed that whatever they wanted, that’s what he stood for. That’s how it felt in this room tonight. Everyone has ideas for Northeast and Independence Avenue, and many of those ideas are conflicting. They assume that whatever they want, streetcar will make it possible. It’s disappointing that people who I believe are otherwise intelligent are so naive. They preach corporation hate and corrupt government out of one corner of their mouth, and then they endorse it when it comes rolling into their neighborhood.

Bankrupting the coal industry, restricting domestic oil production, and investing in green technology is the goal of our president, and building electric public transportation in cities across this nation is his New Deal.

So even though you were never consulted, Kansas City is moving forward with their plans to build a streetcar in downtown Kansas City, and despite what City Hall and rail activists are telling you, you’re going to pay for it.

FACT: It took just 351 votes to approve the funding of a $102 million building project.
When light rail was defeated by Kansas City voters six times, agenda driven politicians and activists realized that they had to change their strategy. By taking Clay Chastain’s name off the project, renaming the light rail to “streetcar,” and disenfranchising voters by forming a TDD (Transportation Development District) they were able to reduce the eligible voters to less than 700 citizens. Mostly loft dwelling renters without families or taxable property.

FACT: Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich conducts an annual audit of the state’s TDDs, and frequently finds that these projects are plagued by problems with competitive bidding, overspending, and misreporting finances to the state. Something needs to be done to reform TDDs in Jefferson City to protect citizens from having their tax revenue drained by questionable transportation projects that they were never allowed to vote on.

FACT: As many as 9 out of 10 public works projects go over in cost. There hasn’t been a single streetcar project in this country that has come in under budget.  In order to form and pass the TDD, the advocates had to keep their projected cost as low as possible. Historically, cost over runs for streetcar projects have averaged at around 44%.  When this project inevitably breaks the budget, where will the extra money come from? It will come from the city’s general fund, and it will come from the transportation budget, both of which are funded by the average disenfranchised Kansas City taxpayer.

FACT: The contract to build streetcar was not awarded to the lowest bidder. Consistent with Schweich’s audits, City Hall chose not to go with the “lowest and best bid” and bypassed two locally based companies to select an out-of-town company that politicians and activists most likely had in mind before the TDD was ever even formed. The only thing missing from this picture is Tom Pendergast concrete.

FACT: Kansas City’s streetcar was just awarded a $20 million grant from the federal government. On it’s face, that may seem like good news, but most of that money comes from the 2009 Stimulus. This was part of the fifth round of transportation grants, which get continuously smaller with each new round, and ours was the largest one awarded. It doesn’t even cover 1/5 the cost to build our two miles starter line, and there is no promise of maintaining services after it’s built.

FACT: The KCATA’s annual operating cost from their website is $87 Million. That means the entire city is served by buses for a whole year for $15 million less than what it costs just to build 2 miles of track in Downtown Kansas City.

FACT: Despite all of the economic development projects that Kansas City has spent hundreds of millions on in the past decade, there are 20% less jobs in Downtown Kansas City now than in 2000. Not only have Union Station, the Power & Light District, the Sprint Arena, and numerous other projects failed to yield the successes that they promised, but they have all created new obstacles and burdens for tax payers to overcome.

•Union Station merged with the Kansas City Museum, causing it to lose its accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums.  The museum closed its doors in 2007 for renovations, but most of the funding it needed to make those renovations was instead used to keep Union Station afloat.

•We were promised that if we built the Sprint Arena, that a professional sports franchise would follow, and while the venue regularly brings large acts to Kansas City, we have yet to fill the arena with an anchor tenant.

•And the Power & Light District is barely operating at 30%. Each year, Kansas City tax payers are forced to pay $12-$14 million out of the general fund to pay back the bonds that were issued to build it.

In addition to these problems manufactured by dreamers in City Hall, Kansas City has neglected our aging infrastructure, our public schools continue to struggle, and violent crime continues to be a problem.

FACT: Federal Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx rose to his position after building a streetcar in Charlotte, NC, while he was mayor. No doubt our own ambitious mayor has similar dreams, which would explain his frustration with any opposition to this project, and his willingness to build it at any cost. Does he really have the best interest of Kansas City in mind, or is he more focused on future career goals?

Without even discussing the pros and cons of rail transit, you can see that this project was misguided before it even left the station, and there’s little, if anything you can do to stop it, because our current mayor and city council have promised to get this project completed even if it means bypassing the democratic process. If you’re as angry as I am, contact your state representative and ask them to seek solutions for reforming TDDs.