New ideas for a historic district in Kansas City, MO

A historic district renewed

The Historic City Market (Photo by Janice Person)

The first and oldest incorporated district in Kansas City, MO is enjoying a rebirth. The River Market neighborhood, just north of downtown Kansas City, has experienced exponential growth in the last five years that has transformed the former warehouse district into a walkable, bustling neighborhood. River Market is also home to the Historic City Market, one of the largest and longest running farmers markets in the Midwest, making the neighborhood a popular stop for residents and visitors alike on the weekends.

The neighborhood is rapidly adding more shops and housing. The addition of the KC Streetcar in May of 2016 has made River Market more accessible than ever. Attendance at City Market is also rising, bringing  more people into the neighborhood.

All of this growth and activity has put stress on the parking supply available in River Market. In an effort to quell parking frustrations, Kansas City introduced time limits in some of its parking lots to encourage faster turnover. But quick, reactive solutions are not enough to manage the rising parking demands of visitors and residents. Kansas City needed to come up with a long-term parking strategy that encourages, rather than stifles, future ongoing development in the River Market neighborhood.

Kansas City looks to national best practices

Kansas City leaders turned to Smart Growth America’s team of policy advisors for guidance through the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities free technical assistance program. In September, SGA’s Robert Benner and project consultant Jim Charlier traveled to Kansas City to host an SGA Parking Audit Workshop. The workshop provided an objective forum for discussing River Market’s parking issues. SGA’s team engaged local stakeholders to develop parking strategies that best fit the challenges and character of the River Market neighborhood.

A group discusses parking solutions in Kansas City.

To get an accurate picture of River Market’s parking needs, SGA’s team directed a collaborative parking audit — with the help of city staff and local volunteers — taking detailed stock of the River Market area’s parking supply and demand, down to the frequency of use of individual spaces. This parking audit was conducted twice, once before the opening of the streetcar and once after, to examine how the introduction of public transit affected the area’s parking burden.

Workshop participants were later split into smaller working groups to devise ways to provide sufficient parking for River Market visitors without sacrificing the neighborhood’s character. The working groups then reconvened at the end of the workshop to compare notes and build consensus on ways to move forward.

Next steps and new ideas 

The groups agreed that the creation of a strategic communication program was necessary to solve many of the parking issues in River Market. An app that shows transit routes and schedules, bike facilities and racks, and available parking for not only River Market, but also for nearby downtown, would provide system users with the information they need. The app could also provide a clear narrative to the community on the changing parking policies in Kansas City to help manage expectations.

Using the information gathered by the parking audit, stakeholders discussed implementing new enforcement measures, creating a parking database, and converting free parking to paid parking  to improve the circulation of open spaces. With changes in play,  the working groups stressed the importance of using the new communication methods to inform drivers of new parking policies and their expectations.

Kansas City is poised to greatly improve the parking situation in the River Market Neighborhood. With smart policies informed by stakeholder interests on the ground, the city can encourage development while making parking easier. Make sure to check back here for progress reports from Kansas City.

Technical assistance