Kansas City Streetcar Has First Crash
It was only a matter of time. During a test run, the Kansas City Streetcar collided with its first parked vehicle on March 1. Kansas City officials blamed the vehicle owner for parking beyond the white line denoting where it is safe to park along the streetcar’s route.
The city is correct to put the blame on the car owner for this accident. However, that doesn’t make it a good idea for a city to build a transportation system that relies on everyone studiously observing parking regulations. We put “all stops” in traffic signals, install high railings on bridges, and force McDonalds to serve cooler coffee, all because we correctly expect that some small percentage of people are just going to screw up.
Kansas City is not the only city dealing with these issues. Other metros, like Washington D.C., have had continuous problems with collisions on their recently opened streetcar line. Anecdotes aside, the federal government collects public transportation safety data, and from 2011 (when they started reporting streetcar data) to 2015, streetcars and their close cousins, cable cars, were by far the most collision-prone forms of public transportation. Streetcar revenue miles per collision were almost an order of magnitude lower than those for buses or other types of rail:
Vehicle Revenue Miles (VRM)
Miles Per Collision
Bus Rapid Transit
Cities should expect collisions because of the streetcar’s very design. They share the road with other vehicles and, due to fixed rails, cannot maneuver around obstacles like buses can (or avoid obstacles completely, as separated rail lines do). An object in the path of the rails means either a collision or a delayed streetcar. This safety problem is one of the factors that pushed cities away from streetcars in the first place, and is something policymakers should consider as they plan to bring a small part of that system back.