An Authentic, Sustainable Blog Post That Creates A Strong Physical Connection Between Streetcars And Facts
To coincide with the groundbreaking of the Downtown Streetcar, Kansas City released a “Downtown Streetcar Development and Investment Guide” to tout what residents can expect for $50 million a mile. But much like the streetcar plan itself, the “Guide” makes unsupported claims based on unscientific and unproven concepts.
One such claim is on page three, where the “Guide” suggests that the streetcar will:
Develop a transit spine around which existing transit can be more effectively organized.
What’s a transit spine? The term usually refers to bus rapid transit or rail corridors from which bus routes radiate. In a sense, the model works like highways and local streets. A driver takes a local road to the highway, which allows him/her to move quickly across the city, and then transfers to another local road to get to his/her destination. In transit, a resident would take a local bus to a light rail or BRT line, which moves him/her across the city quickly, then he/she would transfer to a local route for his/her destination. Of course, this concept only works if the transit spine: 1) spans a significant area of the city and 2) is significantly faster than local routes. The Downtown Streetcar is neither of those things. Using the streetcar as a transit spine would be like routing local roads to a highway that only went a couple miles and had a 30 mph speed limit and traffic lights.
There are many other examples of questionable claims in the “Guide,” but what perhaps goes unnoticed is the consistent use of unscientific, usually values-laden, urban planning concepts. These include:
- Livable communities. What, one might ask, is an unlivable community? Of course, planners have a definition that fits what they think a community should look like, but it is a subjective concept.
- Strong physical connection. A streetcar is supposed to create this between communities. It is a very soft concept that streetcars are simply defined as achieving. I know of no way this is testable.
- Expanding the cultural environment. Again, a strange concept that is only subject to highly dubious measurement.
- Authentic experience and authentic place. I find it hard to think of what an inauthentic experience or place is. Perhaps the Tokyo Dining Restaurant at Epcot Center? Or maybe the little Potemkin Villages that urban planners call transit-oriented development?
The “Guide” has little to be taken seriously, full of propaganda and values-charged language as it is. Unfortunately, this white noise is the basis of plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on streetcars and urban development subsidies.