Assessing what exactly a streetcar means for Kansas City.

Is the downtown streetcar a development engine or a luxury vehicle? 

Assessing what exactly a streetcar means for Kansas City.

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"The TDD could call for another election on the exact same questions," Johnson says, noting that Parkville voted on riverboat gambling four times before passing it. "If it doesn't pass, we'll look at the reasons it didn't, make corrective measures and move forward with it."

If it passes, you'll see streetcars in three years. And to its advocates, the Union Station–River Market connector is just a starter line, the beginning of a larger plan that would spread throughout the city. Initial meetings with other neighborhoods and community groups vying for expansion have already been held. Service connecting the Union Station stop with UMKC is the most popular proposal so far, though expansions to 18th Street and Vine, Southwest Boulevard and Independence Avenue have also been floated.

"I'm a big advocate of moving forward immediately and doing the homework necessary to figure out where to go next, and to make the business case to do it," Johnson says.

But how useful would a citywide streetcar system really be? Why take a streetcar from UMKC to the Crossroads when you can drive there in half the time, and when parking outside downtown isn't much of an issue? Douglas Stone, a lawyer at Polsinelli Shughart who has worked closely with Johnson on the budget and finances of the streetcar, says it's all part of changing Kansas Citians' perceptions about transportation.

"I've got a 16-year-old son," Stone says. "He would take a car from the bathroom to the bedroom if he could. That's how we've raised his generation. I grew up in New York, in the Bronx. I was taking a bus and train to school every day when I was 14 years old. That's how I was raised. And that's how this next generation is going to be raised. Once people touch, feel, see this streetcar, the desire for it — and the desire to expand it — is going to grow. It just is.

"If we had done this 15 years ago, KC would be a very different place right now," he continues. "There are always going to be people who are comfortable with the status quo. That's how you get left behind. People say, 'We're not Portland.' Well, that's not the way to think about it. Portland became Portland. Seattle became Seattle. Kansas City needs to become Kansas City."

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