Poorly Done EDC Survey Does Not Justify Massive Streetcar Expenditure
With the 2.2-mile, $100 million-plus Kansas City streetcar line now under construction, city planners and officials are busy attempting to justify this massive expenditure and a future expansion. There is no way to make the case for streetcars in terms of transportation. They are slower than walking in many traffic conditions and an order of magnitude more costly than ordinary buses.
But streetcar proponents rarely make the argument that streetcars improve mobility. Instead, they argue that streetcars, somehow, create “livable communities” and boost economic development. As what constitutes a “livable community” is unclear, streetcar proponents rest their arguments on streetcars enticing developers to Kansas City.
So the residents of Kansas City are subjected to report after report of just how much money the unfinished streetcar line is bringing the city. The only problem: Even the most rudimentary investigation of the “evidence” for streetcar development reveals serious flaws. In their zeal to prove the impact of the streetcar renaissance, city planners have included plans that predated the streetcar, businesses that are just relocating within the Transportation Development District (TDD), and even an unfunded Broadway Bridge rebuild. They’ve even dropped the ball on the basic arithmetic.
But for all the flaws in these reports, none has been as methodologically flawed as the most recent effort put forth by the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City (EDC), the lobbying arm of six statutory KCMO redevelopment agencies. Its report claims that the streetcar has generated more than $600 million in economic development and created more than 1,000 jobs.
The EDC came to this conclusion based on the results of a voluntary survey (with less-than-objective response recovery tactics, as KCBJ reports) sent to downtown developers. While that survey had six questions, only one actually asked about the streetcar’s impact on development. It is as follows:
2. To what degree was your location decision influenced by the planned streetcar line?
5 – Major positive influence – The planned streetcar line was a primary factor.
4 – Positive influence – The planned streetcar line was one of the major factors.
3 – Somewhat positive – The streetcar was thought of as a positive amenity but not a major influence on your decision.
2 – Neutral – The streetcar was taken into consideration, but played no major role.
1 – Negative – The planned streetcar was seen as a negative factor.
Notice that the language of “Major positive influence” allows for the streetcar to be just one of multiple primary factors, so that we do not know if the streetcar was actually the deciding factor. What is really relevant, but left unasked, is whether these developments would have located downtown, or better yet, anywhere in the Kansas City metropolitan area without the streetcar. If the answer to that question is “yes,” the streetcar has not created anything but higher taxes and a traffic impediment.