More Streetcar Boosterism from the Kansas City Star
The Kansas City Star recently revealed an interactive report on $1.7 billion in existing and possible new developments in downtown Kansas City. Anyone who is interested in some new exciting projects is encouraged to take a look, but be prepared for some streetcar propaganda.
While the Star doesn’t go so far as to claim that the as-yet-unfinished streetcar directly caused all the development, the report heavily implies it. As the Star states,
It also happens to be the geography linked by the new 2.2-mile streetcar line expected to be completed next year. . . . Downtown’s rejuvenation is now rolling into a new era, with the start of the $100 million streetcar line on Main Street.
The interactive report prominently places an outline of the streetcar in the middle of their map, and the companion article finishes with a prompt for more information on the starter line.
In terms of development, the benefits of streetcars are unproven, with public subsidies and city planning preferences pushing investment toward one area of the city rather than generating real growth. Moreover, the anecdotal evidence of development in Kansas City has been problematic at best, as we have shown on multiple occasions.
While the new “report” seemingly shows public and private activity around the streetcar, on closer inspection many of these improvements are not new developments at all and have no connection to the 2.2-mile route. For example, many would question the addition of the as-yet-unfunded Broadway Bridge improvements as a development at all; the bridge is certainly unconnected to the streetcar. Another example is improvements to the Central Library, which while near the streetcar line were completed by the nonprofit Downtown Council in 2004. Also included in the interactive report is the Hilton President Kansas City, which was completed in 2006, well before streetcar planning gathered momentum. Projects completed as early as 2003, and planned projects almost a mile and a half from the streetcar line, are included in the map.
The Star might claim that it is just showing the overall investment in downtown Kansas City over the last 15 years, but then why make the streetcar line the clear axis (and most prominent feature) of the map? If it is being counted as an investment downtown, why is it not represented as a dot like the other investments? If it is just because the streetcar will “connect” new investments, why not prominently feature the Max, 49, and 51 bus? They will and already do connect areas downtown. The implication that the streetcar is a catalyst or a necessary component of development is obvious. It’s also not true.