Community

Ready to Ride

KC Streetcar celebrates its grand opening Friday, May 6, and we’re sharing what you need to know before taking your first ride.

Photos by Travis Young

The wait is over: The KC Streetcar officially starts running after a public grand opening ceremony 10 a.m. Friday. Chances are you still have a few questions, so we took a ride with KC Streetcar Authority Communications Manager Donna Mandelbaum to bring you the details on what to expect.

The Basics

The KC Streetcar’s route spans two miles, running primarily along Main Street and connecting River Market to Crown Center and Union Station. There are 16 stops spaced every two blocks, and all stops offer level boarding, making them accessible with a wheelchair, bike or stroller.

The streetcar is free to ride and will run every 10 minutes during peak periods, such as the morning and evening rush hours and lunch time, and every 12-18 minutes during less busy times.

“It makes it really easy, whether you’re new to public transit, you’re a visitor here, you’re a kid—anybody can figure it out,” Mandelbaum says.

Digital signage at each stop will show how many minutes you have to wait until the next streetcar arrives, and most stops will have smart kiosks where you can find additional info about the route as well as local event and business information. Hours of operation are 6 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 6 a.m.-2 a.m. Friday; 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturday; and 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday.

Once the streetcar pulls up to your stop, you can push a button on the doors to board, or the operator can open them. Take a seat—there are 34—or grab hold of the overhead rail, which features hands straps, or a pole. Then enjoy the surprisingly smooth and speedy ride. (The cars move with the flow of traffic and stop at traffic lights, reaching a maximum speed of 35 mph.) To request a stop along the route, press one of the red buttons positioned throughout the car, which gives the operator an audio cue.

Who’s Driving This Thing and Where Do I Park?

“Some people did think, ‘Is this going to be just computer-driven?’ But no, we actually have people,” Mandelbaum explains.

Rather than drivers, the streetcars have operators calling the shots. There are two operator seats, one at each end of the streetcar, because the cars are bidirectional—rather than turning around at the end of the route, the operator moves from one seat to the other and keeps driving and all passengers have to disembark.

The streetcars are powered by overhead wires and are very quiet since they run on electricity—keep that in mind when you’re walking or running downtown with headphones in, as you might not hear a streetcar coming.

You’ll also want to pay attention to parking. Chances are if you’re a regular downtown visitor, you’ve already gotten acquainted with parking changes, but occasional downtown drivers should check out a map of parking available along the streetcar route. There are approximately 12,486 publicly accessible off-street parking spaces within one block of the streetcar route, so there’s no need to stress. If you’re parking on the route, your vehicle must be completely within the painted white lines. Cars that don’t comply will be ticketed, fined and possibly towed.  

The Celebration

Of course KC is fêting the occasion. The public celebration starts outside of Union Station Friday at 10 a.m., with a ceremony featuring Mayor Sly James, Federal Transit Administration members, Kansas City Streetcar Authority Chairman Mike Hagedorn and other local dignitaries and elected officials, who will take the first official ride.

The streetcars open to the public at 11 a.m. A stationary streetcar will be parked at Union Station for selfies, but the real fun will be had at street parties all along the line May 6-7. Highlights include:

  • Free carnival rides at Union Station 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday
  • Fireworks at 9 p.m. both nights over the lawn of the National WWI Museum and Memorial
  • A 9 p.m. showing of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in River Market Friday
  • A Kentucky Derby Party starting at 3 p.m. at the Live! Block Saturday

See the full list of events here, and learn more about the KC Streetcar at kcstreetcar.org.