Chastain was in town from Virginia, where he lives, to muster support for the transit initiative officials say is big on ideas and short on money. The route stretches 27 miles, from Kansas City International Airport to Swope Park, and relies on a sales tax the bus system uses.
The van left Swope Park, with Clay at the wheel. My conversations with Chastain tend to devolve pretty quickly into arguments. In keeping with tradition, I immediately started badgering him about the wisdom of extending the line to such a big and empty park. But because my seat was in the back of the van and the air conditioning was going full-blast, I had a hard time taking accurate notes. I think I heard Chastain say that a light-rail line would increase park use. That's nice, but the federal government looks at potential riders when it decides which transit initiatives to fund, and this plan needs a lot of help from Washington.
Chastain took Meyer Boulevard out of Swope Park. The route surprised people who have studied the ballot language, which describes a path along 63rd Street. Chastain's sudden adaptability seemed strange, given his insistence that the will of the voters must be followed to the letter unless portions of the plan are deemed illegal or unworkable. The van spent a fleeting moment on 63rd Street before Chastain turned north on Troost.
I sat near a couple of engineers, including Dick Jarrold, who works for the transit authority. Engineers see things differently. As we turned left onto 50th Street, Jarrold talked about how vibrations from a train might affect the lab work conducted at the Stowers Institute.
As he drove, Chastain encouraged his passengers to note the visually pleasing nature of the route. "Look at the beautiful Kansas City Life Building," he said as we headed north on Broadway. At Penn Valley Park, the van stopped and we got out to take in the view. Standing on a crest, Chastain said riders "will get to see things on the light-rail system they didn't even know Kansas City had."
Clay is a fantasist, I realized. Parks figure so prominently into the route scheme, I think, because he yearns for the days when they were filled with well-dressed couples taking strolls and children in knickers playing tag. Everyone would like to live in a city where the parks are busy and safe. But moving people to jobs seems like a greater priority than carousels, gondola rides or even a distant airport at the end of two lush freeways.
Hot and cranky, I left the tour at Penn Valley Park. I used the bus system to get back to Starlight Theatre, where we had gathered. At Troost, the 63rd Street bus filled up with people whose clothes identified them as food-service and health-care workers. A park visit looked like the last thing on their tired minds and bodies. -- David Martin