Why You Don’t Need to Own a Car in Kansas City

Last year I moved back here after living in Colorado for thirty years. One day I was standing at an intersection on the east side of town. A man across the street in a large vehicle yelled, “Do you want a ride?”

That made me angry, so I marched over there and told him not to yell at women on the street. We got into an argument. (Going up to him like that was not my smartest move ever.) The argument ended when he said, “You’re an asshole because you’re on foot!” Then he drove off.

The Typical Kansas City Attitude

There’s no doubt Kansas City is a car-oriented city. People here wonder about you if you don’t have a car, and they’re always wanting to give you rides. For all I know, that man was genuinely trying to help, but I would never accept a ride from a man I didn’t know—though I did once take a ride from a woman who was a complete stranger. She saw me chasing a bus, picked me up, and drove me to the bus stop ahead of the bus. It was awesome.

Kansas Citians can be so nice.

But if you’re not part of their car culture, you may sometimes feel like a ghost. Or like someone who has failed at adulting. Or like a weirdo.

Don’t worry!

Things Are Changing in KC

You can take a bus from downtown to the airport (the 129—see the picture above).

On weekdays, buses run every 10 to 15 minutes on Main Street and Troost and across town on 31st and 39th.

ZipCar is expanding. Uber is here, and Lyft is in Kansas (KCK), waiting to cross to the Missouri side when they work things out with KCMO. And there is a streetcar that runs from River Market to Union Station—a whole 2 miles!

Okay, KC has a long way to go to rival Denver’s public transit. But if you live (and work!) in the neighborhoods running south from River Market to the Plaza, you can get along fine. You could even live in Waldo, which has a library, places to work out, Aldi’s, and more and more cool restaurants.

Last spring I read an article in one of the newsweeklies about a man who lives around 31st on the west side: he walks everywhere or takes Uber. Downtown’s apartment boom is attracting people who want to drive as little as possible, or not even own a car.

The key, really, is where you work. When I lived in KC in 1986, I lived waaaay out south (but still on the Missouri side) and worked near Crown Center. That was an hour-long commute by bus (which I did for a while) and at least half an hour by car (after one of my co-workers started picking me up). It was not fun.

But now I work at home. I could live anywhere in KC within walking distance of a grocery store, gym, library, and coffee shop. Or even within an easy bus commute (say, up to 15 minutes).

The Most Walkable and Transit-Oriented Neighborhoods in KCMO

Downtown, Crossroads, and Westport, definitely. In Westport, there are four weekday buses that can take me downtown, three buses that can take me east to Troost and one that can take me west to State Line, and several that can take me south. One bus (the 47) will take me to Royals Stadium. And those are the buses within easy walking distance.

In downtown, the 71 and 108 go to the east side of town, and many buses go south and even out to Kansas or Independence.

River Market has fewer options, though you can still take the Main Max, the 85, and the streetcar to points south.

When in Need, Rent a Car

For those times when you need to run a slew of errands, get the weekend special at Enterprise, which is the car rental company I use, or rent a car by the day or by the hour from Enterprise or ZipCar.

Without a car, you’ll get to know your city and its denizens better—because you have to walk down the street or sit next to people on the bus. Sometimes that is really fun—and sometimes, especially for women, it isn’t. The biggest problem, for me, is walking west along 39th Street from Main to Southwest Trafficway, but I’ve learned that I have fewer unpleasant encounters if I walk along the north side of 39th.

So go down to the street all alone—and get started.