March 29, 2011
A Rebuttal to the Steve Rose February Star Article, “If We Build It...”
By Kite Singleton
Steve, Steve, Steve, we’re worried about you. Maybe you’ve been reading too much Cashill.
Haven’t you been noticing that auto trips are getting longer, congestion is getting thicker and tempers are getting shorter? Haven’t you noticed the growing demand for smaller houses, smaller lots, closer proximity to services and an opening up of zoning and development codes to more dense clusters of activities? Maybe in your tax bracket these details are not so apparent. Not only is the unemployment situation causing this kind of efficiency concern; there is a new interest in a life style not so filled with driving long distances for everyday chores. The Great Recession has stopped housing sprawl and the retail sector is having trouble filling vacant strip centers that seem to sprout up every month, stretching into every far out corner in an attempt to get closer to the newest cohort.
Do you remember reading about Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1932 Broadacre City concept of freeways extending inexorably out into farmland to support 1-acre lots for all? Or can you remember the 1939 Worlds Fair General Motors “Futurama” exhibit that popularized Wright’s concept? What about General Eisenhower’s return from Europe to propose our Interstate Highway system, patterned on the Autobahn, and adopted by a Congress prepped by these earlier American notions? Steve, that is so 20th Century. And the mistake most of us made then was to destroy the old transit lines in the belief that auto dependency would serve our whole transportation need. By contrast Europe – and some American cities - did not, and now they are decades ahead of us in upgrading and modernizing their mass transit services. And you want us to abandon this quest?
Aren’t you aware that although nearly 1/3 of Americans do not drive, we invest less than 20 percent of our federal transportation dollars in mass transit? And that reality is growing in Johnson County – not to mention the rest of the region - as our population ages. You surely must be aware that Metcalf South has become a ghost center, and that the City of Overland Park has invested tons of money and time in the Vision Metcalf plan that recommends using mass transit to promote new investment along that corridor, reaching across Shawnee Mission Parkway to the Plaza and to Troost. The JO’s transit service from Overland Park to Lawrence is a great success, and the Johnson County Transportation Council is moving forward with their 75th Street service and others. You can’t have missed Mike Sanders’ plan to use existing rail rights-of-way for connecting suburbs with the Union Station that you and Jack Craft brought back to life with a successful bi-state proposal. MARC successfully competed for $1.8M to study parts of the Sanders proposal together with the downtown streetcar. Don’t you remember that transit use exploded some 40% during the 2008 uptick in gas prices to $4.00 per gallon…and here we go again.
Check out MARC’s Transportation Outlook 2040 to grasp the future of an auto-dominated region, and the kinds of saving we can realize, we must realize if we consider a tighter development pattern than the one we’ve been following for the past 60 years. This is not MARC’s planners gone wild; it’s a reflection of the new development regulations from jurisdictions across the region, responding to market pressures. Steve, we’ve begun a transition to the twenty-first century… you need to catch up.
Architect, regional transit advocate. (this is a personal opinion, not a position of the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance)