In Kansas City, a Streetcar Serves as a ‘Laboratory’ for Smart City Thinking

The KC Streetcar, a ‘smart’ public transit project, lays the groundwork for the Missouri city's 10-year Smart City Initiative.

As Kansas City, Mo., moves forward with its Smart City Initiative, the city also plans to expand its KC Streetcar, a 2-year-old transit system that threads its way through the sectors of downtown Kansas City. The KC Streetcar has served as “a laboratory” of sorts for implementing technology that supports smart city innovations, said Kansas City CIO Bob Bennett.

Read StateTech’s article on the Kansas City Smart City Initiative and its relationship to the KC Streetcar project.

The Kansas City Area Development Council provided StateTech with some images that tell the story of the KC Streetcar today in photos. As the KC Streetcar celebrates its second birthday in May, city officials can point to technological enhancements that have made life easier for everybody who rides it.

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KC Streetcar Extends Opportunity Along the Missouri River

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The KC Streetcar launched in May 2016, boasting total ridership of 3.7 million in less than two years, and average daily ridership of 5,300. As Kansas City looks to the future, it plans to extend the streetcar line three-quarters of a mile to the north to connect development along the Missouri River in a project that could be complete by 2020.

The Kansas City Streetcar Authority also would like to extend the line several miles south to connect the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City within the next five years. This southern extension also would connect the two economic hubs of Kansas City — the downtown and the neighborhood of Country Club.

Cameras, Sensors and Wi-Fi Make Kansas City Smart

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Kansas City’s Smart City corridor is a $15.7 million public-private partnership offering free public Wi-Fi, smart streetlights and sensors along the KC Streetcar’s 2-mile-long route. The city embedded technology supporting these capabilities along the streetcar route, often mounting cameras, sensors and Wi-Fi hubs on lampposts and elsewhere.

Data Boosts Efficiency for City Services

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Along the KC Streetcar route, smart city sensors collect data used to deliver basic city services more efficiently. Various agencies such as the KC Streetcar Authority, Kansas City Power and Light, the Kansas City mayor’s office and others work together to maintain these sensors. Some sensors can detect traffic flow and adjust lighting to facilitate travel.

Interactive Digital Kiosks Help Travelers Get from A to B

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There are 17 interactive digital kiosks along the KC Streetcar route with access to information on city services, transportation, local businesses, current events, public digital art, local history and entertainment. Kansas City residents and visitors alike can turn to the kiosks to explore the city, plan trips and make plans. Travelers can find a kiosk at each of the stops along the KC Streetcar route.

Popularity Boosts Streetcar Frequency

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Demand for the KC Streetcar has resulted in an increase in operating frequency and shorter wait times during the weekday mornings and evenings, and throughout the day on Sunday. Tom Gerend, the executive director of the KC Streetcar Authority, said the biggest problem facing the streetcar at the moment is a lack of cars to meet demand, which is “a good problem.”

KC Streetcar Connects Four Corners of the Downtown

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The KC Streetcar is free to ride and offers 16 stops along the 2-mile route. The route connects Kansas City’s Union Station to City Market, tying together four sections of downtown Kansas City in a unified whole. As businesses along the streetcar’s path continue to prosper, Gerend sees the streetcar as the key to a 24-hour downtown, something Kansas City hasn’t experienced in several decades.

The Fast Track to Center City

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Passengers can ride the entire KC Streetcar loop in 30 minutes, or they can hop on and off as they explore downtown Kansas City. In the center of downtown, streetcar passengers can find easy access to popular destinations such as the Sprint Center (entertainment and sports arena), the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Kansas City Convention Center and the Power & Light District entertainment sector, among other places.

Free Wi-Fi Facilitates Digital Inclusion

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In partnership with Sprint, a public Wi-Fi network provides free internet access to visitors and residents, helping Kansas City meet its goal of becoming a more digitally inclusive city. Construction of the KC Streetcar also provided Kansas City with the opportunity to drop powerful fiber in a dedicated conduit under its tracks, thus bringing the capability for high-speed internet to businesses and residents downtown.

Kiosks Help Travelers See All of Kansas City

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Digital kiosks offer location-specific content that dynamically changes based on the needs of the user, including linking transactions to a smartphone application to purchase tickets and other services. Free Wi-Fi access provided by the city ensures that travelers are always connected and ready to take advantage of all of the opportunities and capabilities offered by the kiosks.

Lead image: Lorraine Boogich/Getty Images. Secondary images courtesy of the Kansas City Area Development Council.
Apr 03 2018