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Fueling Kansas City's future: The integral role of public transportation in community development

As a metaphor, imagine that a well-functioning city is like a well-functioning watch. When you open the watchcase, and you peer inside, you see a bunch of gears and switches. Some gears are big, others are small, but they all depend on each other. For the watch to perform at its best, each gear needs to be in good working order. Yet, if one gear is broken or has missing teeth, it can set off a chain reaction where the timing of all the other gears is affected. Even worse, if multiple gears are broken, the ability for the watch to function properly is entirely lost.

If we extend this metaphor to a city, each gear represents a different function of the city. Public education is one gear, access to affordable housing is another, public safety is another, and so on. Hundreds of gears work together to create a healthy and vibrant city. Here in KC, some may see public transportation as simply another gear in the system. But at KCATA, we believe public transportation is the mechanic’s oil that enables the system to run at its best.

The role of public transportation

If the biggest gears are jobs, housing, education, and healthcare, we connect people to opportunities by making it easy to move throughout the system. That's why we're committed to operating and innovating our transportation network. Even more, we are committed to making it easier and more convenient for people to use public transportation by championing development along our transportation corridors. 

This effort was launched as an innovative pilot program several years ago as RideKC Development Corporation. This “beta” test achieved our goals: uncover demand, demonstrate effectiveness, refine it based on feedback. Based on the success of multiple projects, including several affordable housing projects, the Board of Commissioners voted to make Transit-oriented Community Development core to the function of KCATA and brought the functionality in-house.  

When people live near public transportation, they can shift their financial resources away from transportation and towards activities that foster prosperity – whether that’s education, healthcare, or personal growth.

The challenge of affordability

That shift is no small matter. In parts of Kansas City, households spend over a quarter of their after-tax income on transportation costs — as much as they spend on housing.

Building neighborhoods where it's convenient to use public transportation, walk, bike or roll to meet most of your needs is an affordability strategy. It connects people to opportunity, brings activity and investment to neglected neighborhoods, and makes for a safer and more engaged community.

Public transportation as critical public infrastructure

This is why we believe that public transportation is critical public infrastructure, not simply a public service. When the infrastructure is strong and sturdy, people can invest in their future with confidence and stability. When people and products can flow easily throughout a community, there are fewer dark corners where crime and stagnation can hide.

Does it solve everything? No. Does it always deliver prosperity? Not yet. But, is it an effective way to invigorate public energy and foster progress? Absolutely.

A call for partnership

In many ways, our region is gaining more and more momentum daily. Not only at the core but also at the edges. Multibillion-dollar developments are exciting and provide new jobs, but they are nothing without access to critical infrastructure such as energy and water. Similarly, these developments are only successful if they have access to the thousands of skilled workers throughout the KC region.

For our region to get the most from mega-developments, public transportation should have an early seat at the infrastructure table. As we publicly commit to being accountable for the role we play in the KC region, we want to be your partner.

Whether you’re a neighborhood leader, a multifamily developer, a major employer, or a city leader, KCATA wants to collaborate. And if you’re one of the 30,000 riders who depend on us daily, let’s make the most of every opportunity on this journey together.

Moving forward

With strong public infrastructure, like effective transportation systems, people can invest in their futures with confidence and stability. Together, let's ensure that Kansas City's gears continue to turn smoothly, and our city thrives.

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