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Transit historian says places like Kansas City should rethink their transportation infrastructure

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Patrick Quick
Since the 1950s and 1960s, cars have been the primary mode of transportation in places like Kansas City.

Kansas City was once home to a robust streetcar system. Then, the arrival of the car caused it, along with most other American cities, to plan cityscapes for automobiles. As Kansas City works on extending its solo streetcar line, one transit historian says it's time for cities like ours to give residents significantly more options.

Myriad cities across the U.S. used to boast impressive public transit systems. Many of those services — such as the once robust streetcar system here in Kansas City — were largely eliminated as the car became the primary way to get from point A to point B for most Americans.

But Peter Norton, a transit historian and associate professor at the University of Virginia, says the cost of owning a car and the price tag on building and maintaining car infrastructure is the most expensive transportation strategy to use in urban areas.

While he believes that access to car infrastructure can be important, he says it's also very important to give people options.

"Access can also mean having a place to park your bike, having a convenient bus stop, having a nice walkable sidewalk," says Norton. "So, we're a country that says it values choices, and so what I'm suggesting is that we should put our money where our mouth is and give people choices that includes the choice to drive, but it should include other choices as well."

Norton joined KCUR's Up To Date to discuss public transit solutions ahead of his speaking event at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library this Thursday.

  • Peter Norton, transit historian, University of Virginia associate professor

Taking It to the Streets: Rethinking Mobility in America's Cities, 6 p.m., Thursday, April 27 at the Truman Auditorium, Kansas City Public Library - Plaza Branch, 4801 Main Street, Kansas City, MO 64112.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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