TKC BREAKING AND EXCLUSIVE NEWS!!! EPIC CITIZEN JOURNALISM: EL BRYAN CRASHES THE INDEPENDENCE AVE. KANSAS CITY STREETCAR TOY TRAIN MEETING!!!
TKC Note: Don't want to get in the way of this EPIC bit of reporting from El Bryan Stalder on his adventures opposing the Kansas City Streetcar last night.
However, I will note . . .
THIS EPIC AND MUST READ KANSAS CITY CITIZEN JOURNALISM OFFERS A MUST READ PERSPECTIVE ON HOW THE TOY TRAIN STREETCAR IS BEING SOLD TO LOCAL NEIGHBORHOODS!!!
This really is one of the best up-close and personal insights into how this town is being railroaded one community meeting at a time. Check it:
Independence Avenue Streetcar Meeting
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 Time Share 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 $300M 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.