Last Tuesday, Kansas Citians voted to effectively block future growth of the city's streetcar unless and until city leaders can make the case to the entire city that expansion is needed. Longtime readers will remember that, importantly, the streetcar itself was given life in 2012 thanks to 460 voters in a gerrymandered district who mailed in ballots to help establish the line. This time, over 30,000 voters had their voices heard, and the verdict was against expansion.
What's really fascinating, though, is that while the vote that created the district is rarely, if ever, criticized by streetcar supporters for the weakness of its mandate, many of those same supporters had already dismissed the larger and more recent vote just hours after the counts were completed. Local blogger Kevin Collison gave some voice to the frustrations of streetcar backers, tweeting that “#KC should do whatever it takes to challenge this anti-streetcar petition, pivotal moment for future of urban core.” He may be referring to the Council's option to override the public vote's results. Other supporters, like Jon Stephens of T-Bones handout fame, bemoaned turnout as a symptom of a broken petition system, even though the streetcar owes its existence to the calculatedly miniscule turnout in an election brought about . . . by a petition!
Streetcar supporters say they want Kansas City "left alone" by the state and others so that locals can control the city's fate. But if that’s the case, I have a few questions for them:
- Why were 460 votes enough to launch the streetcar project?
- Why weren’t 30,000 votes enough to circumscribe it?
- Why should the 13 votes of the Kansas City Council be enough to override those 30,000?
Streetcar supporters would do well for themselves to stop playing games with the public as they pursue this project.