My colleague Joe Miller just wrote a piece asking if Kansas City really needs rail transit at all, as many claim. His conclusion: It does not. Not only have rail transit options fared poorly at the polls, but they also are expensive and not a guarantee of improved development or transit.
Recently in San Antonio, voters were outraged over their city’s efforts to fund a streetcar without a public vote. As a result, the council is adopting a proposal that
“would amend the city charter so that no money could be spent on streetcar or light rail, nor would the city grant permission to use city streets for those kinds of rail projects, unless a majority of voters agrees to it.”
Opponents in San Antonio echo arguments elsewhere, that transit needs can be met much more efficiently through existing or new technologies such as rapid transit like the MAX bus or through driverless cars. Technology of Tomorrow shows a video summarizing their viewpoint. The video contains a segment of a TED talk by (speaking of creative class) Sebastian Thrun, director of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Stanford University, in which he says [starts at 16:30],
“If you’re one of these people who argue the only way to solve the congestion problem is to move traffic off the road on to rail, think again. We have the space, we’re just not using it.”
The advent of driverless cars and their impact on urban transit is nothing new. We’ve written about their impending arrival in Kansas City, and we’ve lamented City Hall’s inability or unwillingness to prepare for it. It’s difficult to know exactly if or when driverless cars will be in every driveway and precisely what effect they will have on a traffic system. But if Kansas City wants to be the city of the future, it needs to prepare to quickly integrate all the opportunities the future presents, not protect the special interests of their cronies or rebuild the infrastructure of the past.
The problem in Kansas City is that government does not appear to respect the will of voters on this matter, unlike San Antonio. Despite tenuous claims of need, despite the cost, despite numerous ballot defeats, despite coming new technologies, City Hall can be expected to try again to come at voters with expensive rail proposals regardless of what better options new technology presents.