Kevin Klinkenberg, a principal in 180 Degree Architects, is a long-time proponent of improved transit in the Kansas City area, particularly a plan that would use relatively inexpensive modern versions of the streetcars that once served the area. Klinkenberg also has a keen interest in the problems and potential of Union Station.
What are some of the advantages you see in streetcars vs. light rail?
The biggest advantage obviously is cost. Streetcars are lighter, the tracks are shallower, the cars are smaller, and as a result the system is a whole lot cheaper to build. But still it has the benefits of a rail system, which is that it is a better ride, a more comfortable ride than a bus, itâ€™s more predictable in where itâ€™s going to go and for developers itâ€™s a more predictable investment that they can build development around. Thatâ€™s more of a generic thing, and I think specifically that Kansas City was built on streetcars.
We had a fabulous streetcar system until we stupidly ripped it up in the 1950s. I think what a lot people forget is that this is a city that was built on transit. That was how, when we were a wealthy, successful city, it was a city built around streetcars. And as we moved away from that we have spread ourselves out so thin that now itâ€™s become a challenge to do anything from a municipal perspective because our dollars are stretched so thin and everything else and so I think specific to Kansas City, rebuilding that original network of streetcars which operated in the city is really a key to our long term economic viability.
It wonâ€™t be cheap in the short-term but we have to make the right kind of investments to set us up for success in the future. So I think we ought to really look to how the city was built originally and find a way to adapt that in increments to find a way to get that going. I have always felt that some combination of streetcars and bus rapid transit would be a really good solution for the city. We are obviously not Chicago or New York, but we can afford certain things.
What is the distinction between a streetcar and light rail?
Light rail is heavier and longer and moves more quickly. The basic difference is that light rail is designed to move a larger number of people a longer distance. A streetcar is just a circulator within an urban area. The successful light rail operations that you see around the country are generally moving people from a longer distance, maybe from the suburbs into the city, and streetcar lines are moving people around within the city.
I happen to think that light rail is like the commuter rail of old and streetcars are really an updated version of the streetcar.