A Model for Building a Streetcar in the Transit Skeptical American City: Lessons Learned from Kansas City

Authors: Blake Acton*,
Topics: Transportation Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Urban Geography
Keywords: Streetcar,tram,transportation,planning,transit
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 0, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For half a century the streetcar has been largely absent from the American urban landscape. This began to change since their reintroduction in Portland in 2001, and the American streetcar has been making a comeback ever since. With new systems appearing throughout the county some cities have had considerably more success than others. However, due to the recent nature of this phenomenon research on modern streetcars is lacking. This paper fills a gap in modern streetcar research by investigating the process of streetcar implementation. More specifically, what are the factors and decisions that contribute to a system’s 'success' or 'failure'. These ideas are explored through an in depth look into the relatively new streetcar system in Kansas City. The KC Streetcar serves as an outlier among its peers as it has successfully navigated the obstacles transit typically faces in the American Heartland. Our analysis utilizes a wide variety of data sources to piece together the stories of each system and to discover what separates a successful system from a struggling one. The results illustrate how a successful roll-out hinges on creating a system that can immediately meet or exceed ridership targets, despite the fact that modern streetcar systems are more oriented to long-term downtown development with built-in limitations as transit systems. Cities can navigate this inherent tension by reducing barriers to ridership, creating a success narrative that wins public support and political capital for future transit projects.

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