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Episode 27: The KC Experience

Chuck returns to Kansas City and walks the streets during the rush hour to experience what the local advocates insist is congestion.
Bonus: A note from Chuck Marohn on the Strong Towns Network responds to inquiries of why he is "picking on" Kansas City.

Reader Comments (13)

I suppose I should chime in from Los Angeles, the granddaddy of traffic.

The first minute or so in the video below shows traffic in Los Angeles similar to that in your video from Kansas City. I made it on a Sunday morning, around 8:00 AM. I wasn't trying to capture traffic, but it's the background tapestry of this city. At rush hour on most days, all lanes here would be mostly full with multiple lines of cars, and often backed up behind stop lights as cross streets get their turns.


As another example, consider the Friday ten-mile drive I usually take from my apartment in Beverly Hills to my uncle's house in Los Feliz, a region in Los Angeles. I leave around 4:05-4:10 PM with a goal of arriving at 5:00 PM. My average speed, as reported by my car's computer, is usually around 12 MPH, and has varied between 10MPH and 14MPH on different days. On days with especially bad traffic it might take me more than an hour. The drive back, which usually happens after 9:00PM, takes me about 32 minutes, or an average speed around 18 MPH. These are bicycle speeds -- and I would ride my bicycle sometimes, were it not for the considerable lack of safety, at least subjectively, on the roads.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrent

Does this ever happen in KC?

I suspect downtown Toronto rush hour is usually not that bad (I don't drive there during rush hour), but on my walk to Union Station when I worked there, you would see people unable to clear the intersection and having to wait for the next light cycle quite often... or some people failing to clear the intersection and causing a lot of honking.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNicolas Derome

Alright, let's listen to this guy. Let's be a huge pessimist and do nothing.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Also, the author misunderstands the point KC is aiming for.

We don't have congestion for sure except select times of the day. We don't have enough traffic. We need to bring more people downtown to live and work.

And people these days don't just want a parking space, so we're bringing a streetcar in.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

Just 2 thoughts:

1) 4:30+ on a Friday may not typify a regular "rush hour" in today's world as many leave a bit earlier than that. However, I guarantee that even with that said, Minneapolis streets (which is by no means a great place and has nearly as many design flaws catering to getting cars in and out as quickly as possible) has easily 3x the car and pedestrian traffic at the same time on a Friday (I know this as I pick my wife up from Target HQ sometimes, and often have to loop around several blocks while waiting).

2) My favorite illustration of your point of excess capacity and poor (over-) design is the experiment with a closed lane. I see this all the time, even on streets/roads/stroads that are more congested than here where one lane is closed off for whatever reason, and people still get by just fine. And that includes the extra commotion caused by late mergers that would otherwise have been in the moving lane if it were reduced by one for the entire street length.

Okay, 3 thoughts. Great work. KC folks should not be offended, we ALL need to take a hard look inward on our places. If everything was so great, our cities wouldn't be strapped for cash and trying to find ways to fund schools, snow removal, road repairs, and everything else. This is one piece to the puzzle we all need to acknowledge.

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cecchini

Such a liar! You said at the beginning you were observing traffic at 4:30 "prime rush hour". Well, at the 3 minute mark in your video, the bank clock says 3:30. I don't know about most cities, but we work here in Kansas City. Call it the traditional Midwest farm work ethic. All I see is your spIn to stack your point. Good luck chasing those consulting dollars. Blowhard!

February 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbfa

Interesting, BFA. A couple people sent me that and I really can't explain it. My flight didn't land until after 3PM and then I had to wait for a shuttle, ride in, check in, and get out there. It was definitely after 4PM.

Either way, you trying to say things really heat up then and somehow I missed it again?

February 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterCharles Marohn

what happened at 5pm? That typically when people get off of work in KC. 4:30 is early.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermm

How about this... does KC have any downtown traffic cameras? I have to believe there are SOME, particularly for what KC residents would consider to be the most busy ones traffic-wise. Let's see if we can get a 5-day moving average of pictures of streets (stroads) at 4:00, 4:30, 5:00 and 5:30 in downtown across multiple days.

I believe Chuck is not lying. 1) He's an honest dude. Read this site, listen to his podcasts. He's not out to lie to make money. 2) Look at the lighting. If it was 3:30 it would be much brighter on the streets than it was. Given the time of year, the shadows definitely tell me it was closer to 5 than 3:30-4.

Also, stating "we work here in KC" implies that other places don't. On a Friday between 4:30 and 5 would definitely be rush hour anywhere I've ever been to (and that includes KC when I visited my wife's cousin). At the very least, Chuck would have captured the beginning of the "mad rush" of cars at the end of his video if everyone stays til 5 PM on a Friday.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cecchini


This video has so many excellent illustrations of why it would be unappealing to be a cyclist or pedestrian in Kansas City. What a shame for downtown businesses and overall city enjoyment. Thank you! As you say and I agree, "what a waste of resources and opportunities." -- and of course, Kansas City is not the only place with these built environment problems!

(As for the "rush hour" -- I recommend KC residents check out Los Angeles. I would circle a two mile radius for a minimum of 30-45 minutes to find parking anywhere near my former apartment in Koreatown almost every day after work. That traffic insanity -- to say nothing of the commute itself -- was the last straw for me.)

I think your overall point is not that we should build Kansas City to mimic places like LA but rather to rethink our built environment entirely. It's a criticism we can level at most of the U.S., not just KC in particular. That's why I'm interested in small town/rural infrastructure. These small places mostly lacked the resources to overbuild and retain a built environment on the human scale.

February 15, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatie McCaskey

Step back a second....are we going to debate whether or not there is a lot of traffic in downtown KC? Is someone still suggesting that there is?

Maybe everyone in KC pours of out their building at 5PM and suddenly there is congestion. If that is the case, well then, they could simply stagger themselves by 15 minutes on each side of that and we'd be back to nothing.

But acknowledging there is no traffic is like the alcoholic acknowledging they have a drinking problem. It is the first step. It is an important one, but there are many that will be just as difficult, if not more, in the months and years ahead.

If we can't agree that these streets are ridiculously designed for 10x+ the traffic they actually carry, then maybe we should try to agree on something slightly more obvious, like the color of the sky or the days in a year.

...yeah, there's Leap Year and all that...

February 15, 2013 | Registered CommenterCharles Marohn

I travel to Chicago with my wife perhaps 2 times a year. Chicago is one of my favourite places to visit. The streets are alive, its vibrant, exciting and energetic. I can honestly say that traffic in Chicago is similar to the KC video chuck posted.. except at 3am. Chuck is 100% correct. There is no traffic here! I live in a city of 200k and we have the same issue... our streets are far over designed. What I fail to see is why people disagree with Chucks observation? It seems to me he is simply stating the obvious.

February 17, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterwindsorshane

Who says that Kansas City has congestion?

February 18, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Deacon
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