Tuesday’s streetcar accident reminds drivers to share the road

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- You may have already seen new signs and white lines downtown, but following the streetcar's first parked car crash Tuesday, workers were out Wednesday trying to drive home the point even harder, as drivers are learning to share the road.

The streetcar travels with normal traffic. The tracks are embedded into the ground. This means you'll be driving and parking right alongside Kansas City's newest means of transportation.

Jeremiah Finnegan's Wednesday lunch stop felt more like drivers ed. As he stopped on 5th Street in City Market in front of Cascone's, he tried several times to park his car inside the white line. He said, "It is tough. I'm trying to get inside the white line so I don't get hit by a streetcar, that's what I'm trying to do." Finnegan is paying extra attention to the white line after a streetcar hit a parked car Tuesday at 20th and Main St.

Donna Mandelbaum is the Communications Manager with the Kansas City Streetcar Authority. She said of Tuesday's crash, "This is the first incident with the streetcar and a parked car."

But is is the last? Two months, three days, and counting. KCMO is using that time to make sure the message is clear. Mandelbaum said, "We have signs! We have signs that say where you should park." Workers put up dozens more signs Wednesday.

The Streetcar Authority said Tuesday's driver parked over the white line, which means the car was "fouling the track." Fox 4 measured from the track to that white line; it stretched 3 feet 8 inches. The city says that length is consistent on all routes around the city, regardless of whether the parking spaces fit compact cars or school buses. Mandelbaum said, "The widths vary across the route."

Police gave Tuesday's driver a ticket. "That was definitely a violation on their part." But could the operator have stopped? Not as easily as you might think. We're talking about a 78,000-pound vehicle, going 25 miles per hours. It takes 60 feet for it to come to a stop. Mandelbaum said, "Just like trains, they are fixed to a track. They cannot swerve off a track, stop on a dime, it's not like a bus or a car."

If the operator sees a car in the way and he can stop in time, get ready to hurry up and wait. "They have special radios that go straight to the supervisor, supervisor calls into police, police come to the scene and deal with the tow."

The city said it's a learning curve for everyone. "It is a learning situation that we have here." The streetcar won't start carrying passengers until May, but operators are out training every day, including weekends. Mandelbaum said just in case drivers begin to consistently park cars over the white lines, the city is looking at safe ways to make sure tow truck drivers can get to the area quickly.

Parking over the white line violates a city ordinance. Mandelbaum said a non-moving parking violation costs $72.50, plus the cost of the tow fees which cost about $225. Those costs are the responsibility of the driver.

RideKC Streetcar has set up a helpful site to teach drivers about rules and regulations, as well as safety tips.