Kansas City: A Draft Network Redesign

About a year ago, our firm started helping the Kansas City Area Transit Authority (also known as KCATA or RideKC) on a short-term bus network redesign for the City of Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO).  While the regional agency covers a larger area, this study is only for KCMO, which pays for transit service directly from city funds.

The Draft Plan for this redesigned network was released last Friday, and you can read up on it at RideKCNext.org. If you live in Kansas City, there’s also an online survey, which you should respond to before March 16th.

This plan was not easy. Kansas City is an extraordinarily challenging place to plan transit service, a perfect storm of all the issues that beset most large US cities:

  • Low-density built environment combining hollowed-out parts of the urban core and ever-increasing suburbanization.
  • profound residential segregation by income and race.
  • some awkward jurisdictional boundaries, especially north of the Missouri River.  These matter because local funding arrangements mean we had to think about the City of Kansas City separately, which in some places can be like thinking about only the black squares on a chessboard.

At nearly 500,000 people, Kansas City, MO, is only a third of the Kansas City region by population. But this includes nearly all the region’s relatively dense, transit-oriented areas. KCMO also provides about 80% of local transit funding, and 90% of all regional transit ridership originates in KCMO.

The Good News

First, the good news. As a result of the Draft Plan, nearly 20% more KCMO residents would live near frequent service, with a bus coming every 15 minutes or better.

Weekend service would also be greatly expanded, with service every 15 minutes on Saturday, and every 20 minutes on the eight most important routes in the network.This compares to the You can see the expansion of the frequent network, and improvements in weekend service in page 11 of the plan, shown below. (Click to enlarge and sharpen)


Put together, these changes would go some way to address the biggest problem of Kansas City’s bus network, which is that it just doesn’t provide enough access to opportunity. If the Draft Plan were implemented, the average KCMO resident could reach 7% more jobs on weekdays, and 22% more jobs on Saturdays in 60 minutes or less using transit (including any time spent walking, waiting, or transferring), all with no new investment in service.

As you can see above, the big expansion of access is the result of an expanded frequent grid with more frequent east-west elements.  This is especially urgent because of the geography of race and income.  Kansas City (south of the Missouri River) features a north-south strip on the west side where almost all of the prosperity is, and, further east, a north-south strip that is heavily low-income and minority residents.

Job and opportunity density is concentrated in a north-south strip on the west side of the city.

Low income (and minority) residents mostly live further east.

Most existing frequent transit in the city is north-south, converging on downtown at the north end.  But low income people need to get from their homes in the east to wherever they are going on the west side of the city, not just downtown.  A high frequency grid does this.  People can travel westward more easy to connect to whichever north-south route meets their needs.  For that reason, much of the plan’s benefits arises from improvements in east-west frequency on streets like 12th, 39thand 47th/Blue Parkway.

Difficult Tradeoffs

But this good news comes at the cost of some painful compromises.  The plan is designed for fast change, and KCATA is in the midst of a parallel effort to eliminate transit fares in KCMO. So the Draft Plan assumes no new revenue is available.

That means all proposed improvements would come at the price of service reductions somewhere else. In the urban core, the plan would remove several infrequent bus routes that operate ¼-mile or less from a more frequent route. In outlying areas, the plan would entirely remove bus routes from several neighborhoods where ridership is extremely low. Overall, about 1.5% of KCMO residents would no longer be within ½-mile of any kind of transit.

Perhaps the most obvious shortcoming of the plan is that it would continue to provide very limited service in the suburban Northland, where over a third of KCMO’s population live, but densities are much lower and average incomes tend to be a little higher.

Ultimately, it’s a lot harder to efficiently invest KCMO’s very limited transit resources in the Northland. This is because relatively few people live close enough to any street where you might run a bus, the street networks make it harder to walk, and destinations tend to be far apart. And much of the Northland’s most likely transit street (North Oak) is located in enclave cities who contribute much less for service, reducing KCMO’s incentive to invest.

See below for full maps of the existing and proposed network. Because KCMO covers such a large area, you’ll be able to see these a lot better by clicking and expanding them. You can also get a detailed view of how transit service would change in each part of Kansas City by clicking here.

Existing network.


Proposed network.

As consultants, we make no claim that this is the best of all possible transit networks from KCMO. It’s clear to us and to KCATA that Kansas City would benefit from investing significantly more money in transit service; the plan identifies several incremental improvements that KCATA should prioritize if revenues improve. But we think this is what can be achieved with the resources currently on the table.

(with Daniel Costantino)


6 Responses to Kansas City: A Draft Network Redesign

  1. Scott Albrecht February 19, 2020 at 6:47 pm #

    Jarret, you mention the awkward jurisdictional boundaries. Do you have a sense of how municipal governance and organization differs between the U.S. and other countries you have worked in? My sense is that the odd configurations of city boundaries, and weak planning laws, is part of what fuels more transit-hostile sprawl in the U.S.A. than even in Canada.

    • Lukas February 20, 2020 at 2:11 am #

      I can talk a bit about German transit authorities. Here, large cities have their own transit authority and Landkreise (similar to a county) operate the others, usually. (Large in this context means not part of a Landkreis).
      Most large cities have a Verkehrsverbund, an agency that coordinates service and fares between the transit companies of the region.
      As every ticket is basically sold by the VV, transit authorities get a share based on their ridership.

      In the context of Kansas City (but without knowing the geography), it would have a Kansas City Region Transit Assosiation, which would coordinate between the Transit company of Kansas city and the outlying counties and cities. Each local authority could run the service it wants to run independently and service between different companies (a bus from a suburb to downtown KCMO) would be operated based on agreements between the TAs.
      A light rail example from the area I am from are Cologne’s light rail lines 16 and 18. Every 20 minutes, one runs from Bonn’s city centre to Cologne. (Some also terminate between the two) Within Cologne’s city borders, the city’s TA increases the frequency of the line up to 5 mins. Rolling stock is provided by both Bonn and Cologne and all the drivers stay on for the whole trip. The “long range” trips are operating in the same operating pattern as the locol trams within Cologne, make every stop and can ne used with the same ticket (and for the same trip, the same price) as a local tram.
      The problem these lines currently face is that the out of town frequency is too low, as all the trains that are going beyond the city borders are a lot more crowded than the ones who keep within the city. The rail infrastructure outside the city needs more investment, which is currently worked out by the towns that would see much of the improvement as Cologne has other priorities with transit, expanding Line 1 and getting the much needed but very unlucky North-South-Bypass completed.

    • El_slapper February 26, 2020 at 3:06 am #

      In France, we have 3 levels : the town, the “communauté de communes”, and the department. Most(but not all, the parisian area is a notable – and important – exception) transit systems are at the intermediate level(smaller than a county).

      Here in Montpellier, we have a comprehensive tram+bus system within the “communauté de communes”(called Montpellier métropole), but as soon as you want to go further, it’s a nightmare. The airport and the beaches are outside, and therefore very bad linked, despite being nearby.

      When my wife goes to the beach with the kid(she does not drive), she takes the tram for 10 minutes, switches of public operator, buys another ticket, and takes a slow bus for 20-30 minutes. Which is a nightmare for tourists in summer. She knows the drill, they don’t, and they lose insane amounts of time getting the right bus.

      For the airport, there are merely 2 direct, unfrequent buses operated by the department, from 2 tram stations. The airport could be 20 minutes of walking from the tram station I use for work – but it would need a walkable path. It’s deadly for a pedestrian – and I suspect the political war between Montpellier & Mauguio(the town where the airport is) to be fully responsible of the situation.

      All this in a transit-favorable political atmosphere. The years of delay on the line 5 of the tramway are a big argument against the current mayoral team in the upcoming town elections. Most candidates promise to reduce the transit costs, or to improve public transit one way or another. New areas are build without enough car parking spots on purpose to promote public transit. Still, it’s far from what it should be mainly for jurisdictional boundaries reasons.

  2. Nathan Thompson February 21, 2020 at 8:03 am #

    With free fares and a network redesign, it’s absolutely critical that the city starts to invest in safer streets. I was shocked at how terrible of a city it is to walk around, even though most of the city itself was built during the streetcar era. The city desperately needs 4-to-3 conversions everywhere, lower speed limits, and to remove those appalling “trafficways.” It has so much potential and has done so many things right with transit investments but without a walkable city, it’ll never add up to much more than what it is now.

  3. asdf2 February 22, 2020 at 10:23 pm #

    I can’t help but noticing that Kansas City’s two largest sports stadiums (used by the Royals and the Chiefs) are located in a suburban transit desert. What limited bus service exists there runs only during the weekday daytime, making it utterly useless for getting to or from a game.

    Is there some kind of special event service I don’t know about, or is it simply impossible to watch a baseball or football game without either driving and parking or paying for Uber/Lyft?

    Anytime you have tens of thousands of people all going to/from a single place at the same time, not having any transit options feels broken.

    • KCMOResident February 28, 2020 at 12:22 pm #

      Re: Sports teams – I am a Kansas City resident. There is no special event service. You drive/carpool, or you Uber/Lyft/Taxi/whatever other riding service there is if you’re not hosting your own tailgate. For the Chiefs, tailgating is a HUGE part of the culture of being a fan. On gameday, the smoke from barbecue wafts around everywhere. The smells are fantastic. People arrive early in the mornings to tailgate, and they bring their chairs, their tents, their grills, etc. Public transit does not serve tailgating culture very well, and tailgating is the DNA of Chiefs fans. There is a massive parking lot to accommodate the tens of thousands of people and their tailgating.

      As far as the Royals go, there is some element of tailgating but it’s not nearly as large. The Royals have a new owner. There are rumblings about a downtown stadium, which would be served better by public transit and is technically more feasible because of lesser tailgating. The Royals originally played in a downtown location, though the current area that’s being discussed as a new downtown location is different. Having said those things, the current stadium (Kauffman Stadium) is consistently rated as one of the most beautiful stadiums in baseball and underwent significant renovations somewhat recently. Residents would have difficulty letting go of some of the imagery of Kauffman Stadium.

      If the Chiefs tried to move downtown, the fans would absolutely *riot*. Tailgating is incredibly important to the culture. I can’t stress that enough.

      The highway access around the stadiums makes it relatively easy for people to go the direction they want, but if you get caught in post-game Chiefs traffic then it is completely miserable. We usually leave in the 4th quarter when the game outcome is more or less decided so we can avoid traffic.

      Kansas City is a heavy car culture for the reasons described in the article. The location of the stadiums is not a very densely populated area. I personally would not mind a downtown Royals stadium which I could reach by bus or the streetcar, but it’s just not going to work for the Chiefs. If the Royals moved, I’m not sure KCMO would mobilize its buses to have special routes for the 8 or so Chiefs games per year.