October 26, 2007
Wayne Flaherty, a Johnson County transit activist, has a vision for Metcalf Ave. inspired in part by the Strang Line that served Overland Park in the city’s early days.
Flaherty, who serves on the Johnson County Transit Advisory Committee and the Metcalf Corridor Steering Committee, thinks that Johnson County and Overland Park need a modern-day equivalent of the interurban line built by William B. Strang in the early 1900s.
Strang, who is memorialized by a bronze statue in downtown Overland Park, saw opportunity in the high ground in Overland Park after the devastating 1903 Missouri River flood. In 1910, Strang built a streetcar line from downtown Kansas City, MO through what became Overland Park to Olathe.
“Strang recognized that transit was an essential element of development — an idea that is as true today as it was in his day,” said Flaherty. “He realized that development would occur along his interurban (streetcar) line and, in fact, today’s Overland Park is proof that streetcars do serve as a catalyst for development.”
Flaherty, a retired IBM engineer, admits that he is no transit expert. So he has asked Mayor Carl Gerlach to investigate the feasibility of streetcars on Metcalf.
Overland Park, a city of some 170,000 residents, is currently looking at transportation elements along Metcalf as part of “Vision Metcalf,” a project intended to revitalize Metcalf Ave., a north-south thoroughfare, which runs through the heart of the city.
Earlier this year, the city retained Tony Nelessen of A. Nelessen Associates, a New Jersey-based planning consultant, to collect citizen opinions and recommend a revitalization strategy for the Metcalf corridor.
“Streetcars are one possibility,” Mayor Gerlach told eKC online. “The consultant has been considering various forms of transit on Metcalf. We will be looking into these as the study progresses. It’s too early to know at this point which form of transit is most effective and economically feasible.”
The mayor said that Nelessen, who is being paid $1 million for his work, would deliver a progress report to city officials and the public on Dec. 13. For more information, visit the Overland Park website, http://www.opkansas.org/_gov/vision_metcalf/index.cfm.
Flaherty’s own vision for Metcalf is to see it become a street where residents and visitors can walk along the street and in and out of the shops.
“The involvement of the people is what makes a street a place people want to go,” Flaherty said. “At the present time, there is nothing on Metcalf that makes you want to stop your car, get out and walk around. Transit-oriented development will change that for the better.”
Flaherty suggests a seven-mile streetcar line as a starter. It would extend from the north entrance of the Overland Park Convention Center on College Blvd. and continue north on Metcalf to 75th Street. Flaherty believes a logical extension would be to 61st St. and Metcalf, where passengers could board a Mission Express bus to Kansas City International Airport.
“It’s 23 minutes from 61st and Metcalf to the KCI entrance,” Flaherty said. “Frequency of the service would depend on demand.”
Flaherty said the economic development potential of the streetcar/bus connection to KCI could hardly be overstated.
“The attractiveness of a direct line to KCI would appeal to businesses looking to relocate in this region,” Flaherty continued. “Given a choice between going through a congested area and a 23-minute direct connection to the airport, most businesses will opt for the express line.”
Flaherty said streetcars on Metcalf would help achieve the kind of development associated with the pedestrian traffic that makes a street appealing to local shoppers as well as visitors to local attractions.
“I would say that Overland Park has recognized the need to revitalize the Metcalf corridor and is taking steps to achieve the best plan possible and affordable,” Flaherty said. He added that the estimated cost of the Metcalf streetcar line would be about $100 million, a fraction of the cost of light rail plans being discussed on the Missouri side.
For more information on streetcars, past and present, and cost comparisons, click here.
Tom Bogdon can be contacted at email@example.com.
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