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Kansas City is Still Home to Me, New Mass Transit Plan Unveiled
Credit:  Michael McClure

By Clay Chastain

A bed of roses has never been my destiny in Kansas City. Rather, more a bed of thorns.

When you act independently and challenge the status quo in Kansas City with new ideas---higher ups generally don’t like it. When you challenge the status quo and don’t live here--- the higher ups like it even less.

I agree that living outside Kansas City the last 10 years and trying to still help the city and its people is an odd situation that doesn’t help my cause and gives my enemies, like the Star Editorial Board and the I hate Clay Chastain “therefore I am” people, more ammunition to hurl at me.

So to begin with I do not see how I can direct the actions and the support of a large number of people my way on this light rail issue, or even read this editorial, if I do not first address this concern.

Even though most of my family still lives in Kansas City including my Mother, my oldest daughter, my sister, and my best male friend---I no longer make Kansas City my primary residence because my wife refuses to live in Kansas City, Missouri---and she was born at St. Luke’s.

After three muggings---one at gunpoint---an attempted rape, a stalker, and a variety of other forgettable moments in Kansas City---she says she will never go back and would never think of raising our four year-old daughter in Kansas City or put her in the city’s public school system.

I love my wife and so that is that. The best I can do is make Kansas City my home away from home which I have done the past 10 years.

Furthermore, my father taught me to finish what I started and I intend to try and do so.

My wife’s philosophy is to, “make your point and then get off of it.” I have, and so I shall now move onto the real issue at hand.

I remain afire with ambition to help Kansas City because I feel sorry for the city and its people who have been the victims of three decades of poor leadership that now leaves the city---as recently ranked by Forbes Magazine--- as the 13th most “miserable” city in which to live when compared with hundreds of other cities in America large and small.

The lead up to this stark and dismal reality should have invoked a major response from our elected leaders to place a plan to deal with it on the November 2010 ballot. Yet, there is none. Even as the negatives keep piling up for Kansas City… No plan. No hope.

Enter new grassroots petition plan to move this city out of the cellar and into first place.

I know this city and I think I know how to fix it.

What is my new plan to try and get Kansas City back on track?

First of all here is what it is not: It is not a token $26 million “Tiger grant” recently thrown by the federal government to Kansas City’s poor eastside and its “green impact zone,” for a few new sidewalks, some new pavement to reinforce the asphalt jungle---and repair of a bridge over Brush Creek. Nary a penny was given to Kansas City to encourage urban redevelopment around a new modern, clean, and efficient light rail-based transit system. Meanwhile that same government was busy that same day handing out another $20 million for bus development across the state line to one of the richest counties in the country.

Kansas City needs a game changing, image changing, evolution changing, job producing urban plan that has meat on it to not only generate re-growth in the central city, but also spawn an economic revival in the down trodden eastside. This historically neglected part of town has tremendous economic potential if we can just provide it a substantial catalyst to rebuild itself around. Specifically, a new green transportation improvement infrastructure project---light rail, and not another meaningless federal bone that will just prolong the suffering in an area of the city that is close to becoming terminal.

What’s more, consider all the downtown investments we’ve made in Kansas City that have been severely compromised by not having a modern transit system in place to serve and enhance them.

By contrast, Denver has invested heavily in light rail and officials there have credited it with being an essential component in spawning their city’s magnificent re-growth over the last several years.

The three-year old 11 mile light rail line in Charlotte has already been credited with spawning $1.8 billion in urban redevelopment around its corridor and has changed that city’s image and given the people living there new hope and excitement.

The amount of urban redevelopment spurred by Portland‘s (Ore.) light rail and its downtown modern streetcar system have generated exceeds the display on your solar calculator.

Even Little Rock‘s (Ark) modest five-mile replica vintage trolley line is credited with generating nearly $1 billion of economic redevelopment for that small city’s Downtown in the past five years.

And go ask the people of Minneapolis (Minn.) what they think light rail has done for their city, its image, and the quality of life for its people. They will tell you---as is the case with almost every other light rail city--- there is a public clamor to keep expanding it.

So it is clear that light rail can be used not only to serve existing density, but also to create new healthy density where new density is desired, or where density---in the case of Kansas City---been lost.

And for you conservative cynics who think that modernizing public transit is a liberal welfare idea---while failing to acknowledge the huge government subsidies that go for providing roads and services for the automobile---I refer you to Salt Lake City, Utah. Voters in this ultra conservative city have already passed three sales tax increase initiatives to expand their extremely popular light rail-based transit system. They understand that light rail is a long-term investment in improving a city’s quality of life that will more and more save this nation energy, reduce pollution, and give people a convenient and less-expensive transportation option to the automobile.

Like myself, the people in these progressive cities are not against the automobile. They just want a more balanced and affordable transportation system that when widely used takes a significant number of cars off the road making driving more safe and pleasurable when we do drive. Then maybe America can get by with one less car per family.

Kansas City voters need a transit plan that proposes a complete transit system for the city framed around a light rail spine and including modern streetcars, replica vintage trolleys, electric shuttle buses, new safe bikeways, and a multimodal regional public transportation center at Union Station. I have designed the city such a plan in the form of a grassroots initiative that you can read attached to this editorial.

This is the only transit plan proposed for the November 2010 ballot. Kansas City needs this plan to get the entire city moving again and to take advantage of the unprecedented opportunity to secure for Kansas City, Missouri up to perhaps $1billion in federal job stimulus money and / or matching transit funds before other cities get it all.

If we want new jobs for our people, urban redevelopment, rising city tax revenues, increased energy efficiency, new convention dollars, and a stronger green economy--- we want this plan.

If we want convenient, less-expensive transportation options, less pollution, sprawl, and traffic congestion, a safe, family-friendly landmark central city park that will make the city more livable---we want this plan.

And if we want a more attractive city and image to entice new residents, businesses, tourists, and families back to Kansas City; and a revitalized and financially viable Union Station reused as the areas new regional multimodal public transportation center---then we want this plan.

I am not trying to show-up City Hall in Kansas City. I am trying to help City Hall. My talents abilities and passion for this issue have been wasted by the last three mayoral administrations including the present one. They can take advantage of the fact I have had the time to research and think about this issue far more than they have. And I am not as much a “pain in the ass to work with” as people might think.

I am also not trying to undermine or belittle the bus company (ATA) which does the best it can with what its got. Rather, I am trying to help the ATA by encouraging the community to invest in a sales tax increase to build a world class transit system that will not only generate new wealth for the city to fix our sewers, etc., but will also be seen as the most beautiful, most talked about, and most successful city transit system in the United States.

We must do something for this wayward city---and if not this plan than what?

Link to petition here

Cost vs Revenue Chart here

Lightrail Cost Chart here

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Added: February 26, 2010. 12:17 PM CDT
Far Too Rosey
"And go ask the people of Minneapolis (Minn.) what they think light rail has done for their city, its image, and the quality of life for its people. They will tell you---as is the case with almost every other light rail city--- there is a public clamor to keep expanding it."

From my experience here, while some folks will say this most do not want to see other programs cut nor their taxes raised to find the billions it will take to do this.

"By contrast, Denver has invested heavily in light rail and officials there have credited it with being an essential component in spawning their city’s magnificent re-growth over the last several years."

Having lived in Denver, I fail to see how one can make this claim with a straight face. 1/3 of office space in metro denver is in the tech center, nearly all of which was built before it was served by light rail starting two years ago. Downtown doesn't have any more jobs than it did 25 years ago. It's far from clear that much of any development has occured because of LRT that wouldn't have otherwise happened.

That issue aside, why not share with the people the gigantic mess that Fastrack's, Denver massive transit project, has become. Costs have shot up to nearly $7 billion from the $4.7 billion in 2004. That means nearly $13 billion in costs once the bonds are paid off. And that's assuming they can convince voters to double the original tax. RTD's original tax revenue projects were so far off that they couldn't even cover the original cost claim, let alone what it's rose to today.
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