County Update: Commissioner Hanzlick says county at a ‘crossroads’ on public transit

CommissionerJaneé Hanzlick.

Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 4 Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick, whose district includes much of central Overland Park.

The first public transportation in Johnson County began in 1906 when William B. Strang, Jr. opened a commuter railroad between Kansas City and northeast Johnson County. As a result of the Strang Line, city dwellers flocked to new suburban communities like Overland Park and Lenexa. However, Johnson County’s early reliance on public transit was short-lived (the Strang Line operated until 1940) as automobiles filled garages, and highways crisscrossed the countryside. Johnson County is again at a crossroads, as we grapple with the role of public transit in our growing and changing community.

Johnson County’s current transit system (RideKC, formerly “The Jo”) provides over 2,000 rides a day to over 550,000 people each year. Johnson County’s transit system consists of 13 fixed bus routes; an app-based Micro Transit pilot project; RideKC Freedom and Freedom on Demand for people needing ADA accessible and senior transit services; and SWIFT transit for clients of Johnson County Developmental Supports.

While RideKC in Johnson County operates under the management of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA), the Board of County Commissioners is charged with setting the direction and budget for transit in Johnson County. To make the best use of taxpayers’ money, our county’s limited resources should focus on transit options with the greatest positive impact on our community.

A statue of Strang sits at the site of the former railway depot at 80th and Santa Fe Drive in Overland Park.

There are several critical issues to consider as we plan for the future of transit in Johnson County.

  • Land development and public transit
    Just as Strang strategically built a railroad to attract homebuyers to the suburbs, public transit should be part of plans for ongoing development. In a county where it is increasingly difficult for even middle-income people to afford housing near their jobs, transit can no longer be an afterthought. If we are to maintain a sustainable and available workforce to fuel economic growth, then developers and local officials need to work together to ensure that transit is part of every development plan.
  • Changing county demographics
    Johnson County has a growing number of people who depend on public transit to get to jobs, healthcare and basic services. Serving vulnerable people and developing a transit plan are among the Commission’s top priorities this year. To that end, I am advocating for expanded options for transit-dependent people. I recently held a stakeholder meeting to discuss the transportation gaps along the 87th Street corridor in Overland Park where several human service agencies and other resources are located.
  • Range of transit services
    Expanding transportation options to better connect people to jobs is one of the goals of Smart Moves 3.0, a 20-year transit plan for the Kansas City region, developed by the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) in 2017 (http://www.kcsmartmoves.org/). This plan recognizes that dependence on traditional, fixed route service alone is not sustainable. Under this plan, fixed-route bus service provides the spine of a network of high-use “hubs”, supplemented by services like micro transit, express routes, local routes, van pools, park and ride lots, high occupancy vehicle and bus lanes, and bike and car sharing.
  • Environmental benefits of public transit
    Public transportation use is one of the most effective actions individuals can take to conserve energy. Riding public transportation far exceeds the benefits of other energy-saving household activities, such as energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances. As a member of the KC Climate Action Coalition, I look forward to including transit recommendations in the Coalition’s Climate Action Plan.

Johnson County is at a crossroads. We have the opportunity now to create a strategic transit plan that is cost-effective, forward-thinking, and will support residents and businesses for years to come. I encourage you to learn more and share your thoughts with me and my colleagues on the Board of County Commissioners.