Wendell Cox recently published a paper for the Show-Me Institute on Kansas City’s competitive advantages. One of the things that sets Kansas City apart from many of its peer cities is its amazing transportation system. Cox writes:
The metropolitan area is served by a comprehensive freeway network and a good arterial street and boulevard network. Only two of the 50 largest U.S. urban areas have lower traffic volumes per freeway lane mile than Kansas City. This provides Kansas City with a considerable advantage in both personal and freight mobility.
Cox writes that according to Tom Toms Traffic Congestion Index, “Kansas City ranks as the least congested metropolitan area, overall, in the world among the 146 it ranks.” This is not because there are fewer people on the roads in Kansas City or because a larger percentage of people use transit. “Driving alone is by far the most important means of travel to work. In 2014, 82.6 percent of Kansas City commuters reached work driving alone,” writes Cox. Driving to work alone is not the sole dominion of wealthy workers, however:
Automobile usage is so pervasive that it is little different among low-income employees than among the overall work force. In Kansas City, only 3.0 percent of low income employees commute to work by transit. This is more than the share of the overall workers using transit, but still very small. Cars are much more important to low-income workers. This small difference is less than might be expected in light of the perception that low-income residents depend substantially on transit for their mobility. In 2013, 76 percent of low-income Kansas City workers drove alone to work, nearly as high as the approximately 83 percent of all workers who drove to work.
The next time you hear someone wax rhapsodically about the need for an expanded streetcar system in Kansas City so we can be like Denver and Portland—or because they think it will help poor people better get to work—direct them to Cox’s paper. Kansas City is not like those places—certainly not when it comes to density or traffic congestion.