Hearne: Star Lays Down Bogus Tucson Streetcar Comparo

800px-Tucson_Old_Pueblo_Trolley_Jan_2006Apples and oranges, anyone?

If there’s one thing my pal Kansas City Star business writer Kevin Collison could easily be convicted of it’s downtown boosterism. Think irrational exuberance with an exclamation point.

Never mind, for example, that experts have painstakenly documented how downtown ballparks are tourism killers, open only a scant portion of the year for minimal hours, while at the same time lining block after block with mind numbing expanses of pedestrian traffic killing walls of steel and concrete.

Kevin’s also a bit of a light rail / streetcar advocate, long as Clay Chastain‘s fingerprints are not on the plans.

However, Collison was out of his element earlier this week when he attempted to pyramid a random in-law visit to my old stomping grounds in Tucson into a believable argument that that city’s streetcar plan somehow validates Kansas City’s.

Two entirely different situations.

Unlike Kevin, I actually know Tucson pretty well.

Not inside and out anymore, but well enough to recognize that the streetcar plan there is an entirely different animal than the one here. Instead of running from Crown Center to the River Market downtown – a highly questionable route – Tucson’s streetcar line is a grand slam home run from start to finish.

To begin with, Collison missed out on the fact that Tucson’s 3.9 mile streetcar route isn’t entirely brand new like Kansas City’s – it’s basically a retread.

Streetcar2-1

Coming soon!

For two decades, until two years ago, streetcars ran from just outside the main gate of the University of Arizona west to Fourth Avenue – Tucson’s ultra hip entertainment and shopping district – and on to a revitalized downtown.

Tucson’s new streetcars will run that same basic route – albeit expanded –  while featuring state of the art “modern streetcars” that waft thru a newly redone downtown that already has attracted 40 new bars and restaurants with 60 more expected in the next year, according to streetcar spokesman Josh Weaver.

Tucson’s new Sun Link system will now venture into the heart of the U of A campus – instead of just outside its front gate like before – and that’s huge. It will pass by a well established, hip shopping and dining area just outside the campus entrance before making a very short hop to the even more established shops, restaurants, salons and boutiques that line Fourth Avenue.

And let me tell you, KC has nothing like Fourth Avenue.

It’s basically a mashup of the best of Westport and 39th Street, only better.

4thAveTucson1

The Old Streetcar Going Down 4th Avenue

Meanwhile, a far more inviting downtown Tucson – which is much smaller and more compact than downtown KC – rounds out the run. A downtown that also includes a pair of new student housing developments that will be home to 1,500 students and a new University of Arizona downtown campus annex.

Get the picture?

Tucson already had a classic streetcar line – with 33,000 riders annually – and now it’s retracing much of the old route and improving it by starting out in the heart of the campus and passing through the three hippest, and most popular parts of the city. It’s a no brainer, which is why voters green lighted it.

By comparison, Crown Center is a glorified ghost town and going from there to the River Market is hardly a dream come true for most visitors and Kansas Citians. Who knows? In time, maybe that will change. So it’s better than nothing and KC needs to start somewhere apparently, but…

Long as I’m picking on Kevin, let me clear up another point.

Main_gateU2

University of Arizona Main Gate

That’s his characterization of Tucson as a “desert community better known for retirees.”

Maybe if you grew up in Omaha and your knowledge of the area is mostly based on visiting aging in-laws.

However in real life, Tucson is a vibrant Sun Belt city – a college town – with more than its fair share of people of all ages. Trust me there won’t be long lines of retirees riding those new streetcars from campus to 4th Avenue when the line opens next year.

A check of Tucson’s 2010 age demographics pegs the 65 and older population at approximately 11 percent. Compared to 54 percent for age 34 and younger.

Which leaves – what? – 35 percent for middle agers.

“So how did Tucson succeed in building a streetcar almost twice as long and sooner than the one here?” Collison asks rhetorically, before providing his far oversimplified and incorrect answer, “persistence.”

Nope.

They did it by starting out with a streetcar route already in place and up and running, tapping into a student population 40,000 strong and running it a very short distance to three of the most popular tourist and student shopping and party places in the city.

Crown Center to River Market?

Not even close.

http://www.mb-kc.com/
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7 Responses to Hearne: Star Lays Down Bogus Tucson Streetcar Comparo

  1. chuck says:

    Here is what the Cato Institute has to say about the viability of Streetcars.

    http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/great-streetcar-conspiracy

    This is really worth a read in my opinion.

    • Orphan of the Road says:

      We can’t run the public transportation we currently have in place. So let us build something which will not benefit those who need to get from their homes to work.

      Sucking at the government teat is the only growth industry in America today.

      I bet ol’ Kevin would exclaim Pat’s or Geno’s as the best cheesesteak in the world too.

  2. harley says:

    another kc boondoggle…but hearne…its not your money…if the people
    want to be suckers again…let them be.
    just like steve rose telling others to pay up for the research tax…
    the con men in kc are adding this ridiculous project because the
    voters were scammed.
    besides….u of a is a very progressive university and when I was
    down there I noticed that their street cars were a part of the
    campus to city system….very neat the way it was done because
    it does have 40,000 students who ride it. When in a college town
    that’s compact like that…and you design it around a popular
    route….it will be successful. but again …with 40,000 students
    using it…and the city being laid out as it is….its a slam dunk
    to be successful.
    maybe kc should look at this…maybe trying something from
    joco to downtown….ah….that might be smart to see what you
    can do there.
    But as always…we have this state line destroying any possible
    real advancements for this town. Move the state line out
    to independence and kc would boom!!!!!!!!

  3. admin says:

    Kevin is an Omaha boy and he has a very positive (and healthy) outlook on just about anything that appears to represent progress. His Achilles heel is that he’s not given to skepticism (not even healthy skepticism), so he tends to come across as a bit of a booster.

    Combined with his job of reporting new businesses and construction, that makes him very popular with developers and the like. Unfortunately, he’s also in step with Star editors who don’t like ruffling feathers on stories such as these. Even though they often deserve it.

    Like Tucson, Omaha is far smaller and less spread out in some ways than KC and was able to get critical mass quite easily and redo its downtown nicely. They even stuck the new arena off to the immediate side so people can easily walk to it from the entertainment and retail area downtown. And it’s not like the sterile P&L being across the street from Sprint. It’s more like downtown Lawrence with the arena tucked just out of the way.

    During the new arena and Cordish campaigns Kevin was quite outspoken both in his columns and his reporting in favor of these developments, suggesting at times that KC could be falling behind Omaha.

    Fat chance!

    That was never about to be the case, however I think he really believed that up to a point.

    But not everything that works in smaller towns like Omaha that are able to make sweeping changes and get critical mass because of their size works in larger cities Kansas City.

    Thus not all such comparisons are valid.

  4. harley says:

    plus Omaha doesn’t have a state line running thru the middle of it.
    Because of two states and two different governing philosophies Kansas
    city has been held back dramatically. Joco people don’t want to
    give anything to kc…and that’s what has caused kc to miss out
    on many opportunities that could have made it an incredible
    vibrant city!!!!!!!
    look at how borwnback and Nixon went to war in kc over companies
    relocating across state lines…that was a total disaster between the
    2 states…..

    • admin says:

      Check this out…

      I was doing a bit of research for my chamber story just posted and discovered that the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce goes both ways. They represent both Missouri and Kansas.

      What an imaginative concept.

      Although, I suppose “greater kansas city” includes kansas, too (where Heeter resides)

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