Transit Action Network (TAN)

Advocates for Improved and Expanded Transit in the Kansas City Region.

Archive for July, 2011

How Our Region Should Respond to the Brookings Report

Posted by Transit Action Network on July 22, 2011


The recent Brookings Institute report on transit access to jobs, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” was released more than two months ago.  It ranked our region 90th out of the top 100 urban regions in our ability to get people to jobs by transit.  That got the attention of many of the region’s leaders — at least for a couple of weeks.

Some might quibble with the study methodology (and Brookings would probably admit to some flaws), but we can all agree that the current transit network doesn’t do a very good job of getting people to jobs here in the Kansas City region.

The question is: What do we do about it?

It’s obvious that the region needs to invest more in transit.  We already knew that.  Missouri invested only $119,000 in the KCATA last year, compared with the $10’s of millions that many other states with large urban areas invest in their transit systems. Even Kansas invests more in its urban transit systems than does Missouri.

But we don’t just have just a transit problem, we have a job sprawl problem.  New employment keeps getting scattered out on the edges of our region in places that are beyond the current transit network and would be costly to serve by transit.

Our region’s economic development people apparently give little or no consideration to transit availability when they try to attract new employers, and competing local jurisdictions seem to fall all over themselves to hand out tax breaks — again, without considering transit availability.

We’ve known for a long time that two-thirds of transit riders are going to work, or going in search of work.  The Brookings report helps to re-frame the transit issue as one of equitable access to jobs and other opportunities.  People who need and want jobs often can’t get to them — can’t even get to a job interview — because they don’t have a reliable car and transit service is lacking.  The situation is just going to get worse in the future as gas prices continue their upward trend and more people need to turn to transit.

Mid-America Regional Council and the transit agencies are actively engaged in many transit studies and projects: the Smart Moves Transit Plan, Downtown and Commuter Corridor  Studies, and investments to make additional corridors “BRT-ready”. These are all good, but Transit Action Network’s impression — and we hope we’re wrong — is that the region doesn’t intend to do much more than it is already doing.  Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to rectify the problems identified in the Brookings Report.

Moreover, MARC and the transit agencies can’t do everything that’s needed.  City and county public officials must be aware of the problem, must take it seriously, and must implement many of the necessary steps.

Transit Action Network makes the following recommendations to the region’s leadership:

1 – Identify the 500 largest job locations (including major “opportunity locations” such as health care, shopping, higher education) in the region, measure how well our transit network serves those locations, promote better transit service to these locations where needed, and track how we improve the situation over time.

2 – Track local, state and federal money used to operate our public transit systems over time, adjusted for inflation.

3 – Publish an annual “Transit Access to Opportunities Report Card” based on the information gathered, and share it with elected officials and the public.

In addition to collecting and reporting data:

4 – Continue to work for additional transit funding.

5 – Impress upon local and regional economic development people, as well as local public officials, the importance of guiding development to existing “activity centers” and transit-served corridors when new employers are courted, or when current employers relocate. That’s called for in our region’s policy on new development, and it requires a new kind of “affirmative action” by local jurisdictions to make sure it happens.

6 – Identify transit friendly land use and zoning policies, and provide municipalities with appropriate templates to assist in adopting such policies.

7 – Discourage public subsidies or incentives for employers who locate beyond the reach of public transit.

8 – Work with state, federal, and private organizations involved with the financing of multi-family housing to make sure it’s located near employment and transit.

9 – Improve coordination of services currently provided by our three transit providers to make using transit more “seamless” for transit riders.

If the Kansas City region is to avoid falling behind in its struggle to compete with other cities, we must place higher priority on getting people to jobs by transit.

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Open House in Independece July 19 and July 23 -Potential Transit Alternative

Posted by Transit Action Network on July 19, 2011


The Independence City Council Transit Committee is seeking public input on the potential changes to the transit system.

Open House meetings for the Potential Transit System will take place on:

  • Tuesday, July 19, 2011
    • 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm at Noland Road Baptist Church, 4505 S. Noland Road
    • 5:30 to 7:30 at Hawthorn Place Apts Gymnasium, 16995 Dover Lane
  • Saturday, July 23, 2011
    • 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm at Palmer Center, 218 A North Pleasant Street

There are no cuts planned to the current service.

The goal is to:

  • Improve Efficiency of Resources
  • Increase Ridership
  • Improve Access to Public Facilities
  • Increase Opportunities to Shop Local
  • Improve Access to Employment

Take the online survey or print the  Potential Transit System survey and mail it. You can listen to a detailed description of the changes on the website.  Independence Open House

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Johnson County Transit Open House – July 19

Posted by Transit Action Network on July 18, 2011


Johnson County Transit is having an open house, to present the transit investments along  Metcalf Avenue and Shawnee Mission Parkway that are being funded by the federal government  Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant.

  • When: Tuesday July 19
  • When: 5 to 7 pm
  • Where: Matt Ross Community Center at 8101 Marty, Overland Park, KS 66204

Significant improvements will be made to passenger facilities in this transit corridor as well as improving the transit signal priority system.  The project will include:

  • Eighteen transit stations;
  • Two park-and-ride facilities;
  • Pedestrian access improvements along Metcalf Avenue from 87th Street to College Boulevard;
  • Pedestrian access improvements at Broadmoor and Martway;
  • A transit signal priority system, which will improve bus movement, timing and efficiency; and
  • A transit center adjacent to Mission’s downtown, to support existing transit service and future local bus service.

Representatives from Johnson County Transit (JCT), the cities of Overland Park, Mission and Roeland Park and project team members will be available to answer questions.

Open House Invitation

TAN hopes that these improvements will encourage Johnson County to devote more money to additional transit services.

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GSA and EPA Make A Bad Move

Posted by Transit Action Network on July 16, 2011


As transit advocates the hypocrisy of the local General Services Administration (GSA) and local Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to move the Region 7 EPA offices from downtown Kansas City, Kansas to a building in Lenexa, Kansas is almost unbearable.

The EPA facility is moving from a transit rich location in a city center in the middle of the region to an extreme western suburb with a deplorable level of transit service.

Keep in mind that the decisions around this move were made locally and deliberately. This move is not the decision of some bureaucrat in Washington, D.C. who doesn’t know the difference between Kansas City, KS and Kansas City, MO. The GSA office is local. They knew that leaving the current EPA facility meant they would leave downtown Kansas City, Kansas since there isn’t another qualified building for the EPA needs in that vicinity.  Deciding to stay in Kansas meant they would move to the suburbs. Although the GSA Solicitation For Offers has a “city center neighborhood” location option, this was a false choice since they eliminated that possibility by not allowing Missouri to compete. They had just failed after three years to negotiate a new lease with the only qualifying building in a city center in Kansas. Unless the bid submission for the current EPA building changed drastically from earlier negotiations, they were on their way to the suburbs.

Even if the area is stuck with this result we should complain to the heads of the GSA and EPA and tell them to get their internal house in order and instruct their employees to abide by government goals, priorities and Presidential Executive Orders. Federal facilities are supposed to be located in sustainable locations in sustainable communities. According to a government website sustainable communities are places that have a variety of housing and transportation choices with destinations close to home.

The local GSA office made the worst location decision possible.

 When the GSA couldn’t find enough qualified bidders close to the Science and Technology lab in KCK they extended the search area from the lab and limited the search to Kansas. They had to go out 20 miles to even include this Lenexa building. Google transit calculates a 20-21 mile drive to this building from the science lab.  This was the wrong decision.

It is common knowledge in this region that the EPA used to be located in Missouri. It was moved from Missouri to downtown Kansas City, Kansas apparently due to congressional pressure to help revitalize downtown KCK. (Timeline)

The GSA says they had congressional approval to extend the search distance and stay in Kansas, However, the local GSA made this determination and then submitted it to Congress for approval and received this reply, “The GSA Contracting Officer was directed to consider the expansion approved if Congress had not responded by Dec. 16, 2009. No inquiry from Congress was received.” EPA Regional Office Background April 20, 2011. So they got permission for this search area by default.

TAN believes if the rationale for being in KCK is abandoned then the reason to limit the search to Kansas is void and Missouri should have been included in the central business district search. In this case, there may not have been a need to extend the distance out to the extreme western suburbs of the region.

The federal government agrees with this position. Presidential Executive Order 13514 on Federal Leadership In Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance clearly states federal facilities should “Operate high performance sustainable buildings in sustainable locations” and ensure “that planning for new Federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and emphasizes existing central cities …”

Executive Order 13514 had been in place for over a year when the GSA Solicitation For Offers (SFO) for a new location was released. Previous executive orders covering sustainability issues have been in effect since Nixon. What happened here doesn’t appear to abide by either the letter or the spirit of the Order by either the local GSA or the local EPA.

 Although the EPA didn’t make the decision to move, and they don’t contract to lease buildings for federal facilities, EPA isn’t blameless. The EPA Program For Requirements document and the GSA Solicitation ignored Executive Oder 13514 and ignored sustainable communities and sustainable locations. The EPA document even fails to list their Office for Sustainable Communities.  (EPA “Program Requirements” starts on page 83 of the Executed Lease Agreement)

GSA has added a page to its website regarding this move and its commitment to Executive Order 13514. It states “GSA has enthusiastically embraced that direction “, but cost was a bigger factor. This contains only a kernel of truth. Sustainable buildings have been enthusiastically embraced.  However the evidence shows there was no mention of sustainable communities or locations in either the GSA or EPA “Sustainability” section of their documents. They didn’t even pretend to abide by this part of the Presidential Executive Order. Of course lower bids can be obtained if major factors are left out of the solicitation.

Transit Situation

 The building at 11201 Renner Boulevard, Lenexa doesn’t qualify as a sustainable location.

 The transit situation at this location is awful. Either the buses don’t cover a long enough workday or they are too far away. If you are disabled and can’t drive or afford a $50,000 specially equipped van, you may not be able to get to work. Area ADA transit services either don’t go to Lenexa or are already overbooked. Add to this the fact that the buses are so slow hardly anyone uses them.

GSA says that less than 5% of the EPA employees use public transit. They aren’t counting all of the public transportation services. Another 75 people use the KCATA vanpool service, AdVANtage. Johnson County Transit (JCT) doesn’t have a vanpool program. So between the buses, vans and ADA public transportation services provided by KCATA and Unified Government Transit (UGT) that is closer to 100 of the 670 employees, or 15%. That is a significant number of employees who are going to lose their public transportation options.

Johnson County, where Lenexa is located, is basically a “transit desert” except for some commuter routes into downtown KCMO and the K-10 Connector to Lawrence, KS. The lack of transit service and the job sprawl in this part of the metro area are the main reasons that Kansas City rated 90 of 100 in the recent Brookings Institute report on job accessibility in the top 100 cities. JCT has no money to start new services, even though they are located in one of the richest counties in the US, but they may be able to change the routes to be closer to the facility.

Lenexa will benefit significantly if the EPA relocates there. TAN would like to see Lenexa step forward to support increased transit funding in Johnson County to improve the transit situation.

The cost issue

GSA cites the cost difference as the major reason for the choice of the new location. Of course everyone wants to save the government lots of money. However in this economic climate there is every reason to believe that a facility in Missouri, in the city center and much closer to the Science lab, could have made a comparable offer. We won’t know though since the GSA eliminated that possibility.

 Conclusion

We can’t turn back the clock and have GSA and Urban America, the owner of the current EPA building in Kansas City, Kansas, agree to a lease. Unfortunately the lease for the Lenexa building was signed April 4, 2011. (Executed Lease Agreement)

Urban America has filed an official bid protest with the General Accountability Office (GAO) Bid Protest Forum. By July 25, 2011 the GAO has to rule on whether federal procurement law was violated. The GAO bid protest process can only result in a recommendation. Since the contract has been signed even if Urban America wins the bid protest, the likely outcome would be a recommendation to pay Urban America for the cost of the bid process. (Timeline)

There is a terrible irony to moving the EPA and the Region 7 Sustainable Communities Office to this new location. How can government agencies move employees to a location that undermines what they stand for and the work they are committed to do?

TAN believes that the federal government must lead by example as stated in the Executive Order. The federal government should not add to the job-sprawl in Johnson County in direct conflict of a Presidential Executive Order, especially when there was such an obvious alternative by allowing Missouri facilities to compete.

Even if the GSA is not found guilty of breaking the law it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t complain to keep this from happening again.

Contact the EPA and GSA to let them know what you think about their actions and tell them both locally and in Washington, D.C. to implement the “Recommendations  for Sustainable Siting of Federal Facilities”.

 GSA

Washington D.C.- Administrator of the General Services Administration, Martha N. Johnson (202) 501-0800  martha.johnson@gsa.gov

Two special email addresses have been established to collect comments about this move: Washington D.C. office kc-epa@gsa.gov, Local office kansasepa@gsa.gov

EPA 

Washington D.C.- Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson jackson.lisap@epa.gov

Local EPA Office Phone: (913) 551-7003, Region 7 EPA Regional Administrator – Karl Brooks x7303  Brooks.Karl@epa.gov

Additional reading – Kaid Benefield’s blog http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/epa_region_7_we_were_just_kidd.html

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