Streetcar extension stalls over money, not Brookside NIMBYs

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Once word emerged Monday night that the streetcar probably wouldn’t extend south of the University of Missouri-Kansas City onto Brookside Boulevard, a klatch of transit supporters took to social media to flog Brookside as a backward conglomerate of stubborn conservative suburbanites who find progress repellent.

Here are a few examples:

Kansas City Star columnist Yael Abouhalkah got in on the mudslinging, characterizing Brooksiders as NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard), a pejorative usually reserved for Johnson County residents who want various services and amenities, just so long as they don’t have to look at them from their houses.

“Give it up to the NIMBY crowd,” Abouhalkah wrote. “The anti-streetcar Brooksiders won the first round.”

Of course, there’s no way to know that because the extension hasn’t actually come up for a vote.

But the opposition in Brookside to the streetcar, however large or small it may be, took a backseat to dollars and cents (or lack thereof) that stalled the transit project’s move south of UMKC.

“Basically there’s a financial issue,” says Kansas City Councilman Jim Glover, whose 4th District covers much of the streetcar route. “It would have been hard even in the Country Club Right of Way to justify costs at this time.”

Here’s why: An analysis of the streetcar as it goes south shows that the cost per rider goes up significantly the farther the line goes south of 51st Street.

In 2019 dollars, the Main Street extension to 51st Street would cost $230 million, or $7.60 per rider. Take it from Main to 63rd Street and Brookside Boulevard, and that cost per mile drops some, but the overall cost goes up to $292 million, or $10.56 per rider. And at that point, the outlook for federal funding drops. Federal funds are crucial for the streetcar; increased local taxes alone won’t cover the project’s nut. If the streetcar extends to 85th Street and Prospect, the overall cost is $426 million, or $14.43 per rider, and the outlook for federal funding is low.

But the vitriol for Brookside residents might be unnecessary. (
Full disclosure: I live in Brookside. Fuller disclosure: As a Denver native, I can get behind mass transit. Fullest disclosure: I haven’t made up my mind about the streetcar.)

And some of the name-calling and holier-than-thou attitude going on in social media doesn’t help the streetcar cause. Think back to the spectacularly failed medical-research sales tax from last year. One of the reasons people didn’t like the proposal was because they could detect the arrogance coming from some of the interests that promoted the idea. 

Just because the project is stalled in Brookside today doesn’t mean it’s stalled there forever. Getting the line to UMKC is already a huge endeavor for now. Proponents would do well to take more time communicating and building a coalition of support in Brookside rather than castigating residents there.

Glover, who has attended some of the neighborhood streetcar meetings, took a more measured approach in analyzing where people are coming from with respect to the project.

There were people who, for some reason, are opposed when they hear about it for various reasons, and you have to respect that,” Glover told The Pitch Tuesday morning. “There are people who are acquainted with streetcar, and you have to respect that. And there are people who want their questions answered. How much will it cost? How will it affect them? Will they need one car as opposed to two? That kind of thing. All kinds of honest, good, sensible questions.”

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