Streetcars Still Don’t Create Economic Development
Yesterday, we detailed the ever-shifting claims of streetcar proponents about the economic benefit of streetcars. Numbers have ranged from $750 million to $1.2 billion.
Streetcar supporters cannot agree on the impact because, most likely, the streetcar had no impact on the economic development of downtown Kansas City. The evidence presented in support of the streetcar’s impact is often merely anecdotal and fails to account for the diverted development. In February 2014, we provided a list of studies demonstrating that economic development is not a result of fixed rail. We encouraged streetcar supporters to provide contrary evidence that stands up to scrutiny.
It has been more than a year since we solicited that information, and no streetcar supporters have met the challenge. One attempt was particularly sloppy. Even the Kansas City Business Journal was dismissive of the study, titling their piece, “Streetcar Study: Take It With a Grain of Salt.”
Proponents still make the argument. The developer of the 1914 Main Street development recently added his own take on Twitter, writing, “Have said it before, will say it again: Would not be doing our 1914 Main development if not for streetcar.” But that neglects to mention the fact that the 1914 Main project also received taxpayer subsidies in the form of a property tax abatement.
So we are back to where we started: The streetcar alone cannot be said to have created any economic impact. Quite the contrary, when you look into the claims put forth by streetcar supporters—whether it is regarding the GSA, Centric, or 1914 Main Street—you find that there are always other more compelling explanations for development.
If this development is occurring because the city is handing out tens of millions in subsidies, why are we also spending tens of millions on a streetcar?