Transit’s Missing Middle

UG Planning + Urban Design
4 min readMar 11, 2022

James Molloy / Planning Intern

When we talk about the “missing middle:, we often recall “Missing Middle Housing”, which refers to the types and price points of housing that aren’t buildable in most cities for a multitude of reasons. I contend that while missing middle housing is important, there is another important missing middle that isn’t talked about as much; public transit.

Often referred to as the “first mile / last mile problem”, this missing middle is following the same general idea of missing middle housing, except for transportation it refers to the commute to and from a person’s house to their nearest transit stop (Transportist, 2016). Most people don’t have the luxury of living right in front of their bus, streetcar, or other transit mode. While making it to the stop might be relatively simple for those who live within a ¼ mile, the trip is much harder when you factor in things such as sidewalk access, physical abilities, or travel distance from the stop. Allow me to offer a personal anecdote from last summer.

In July 2021, I had the misfortune of having both my vehicle and my bike out of commission. Top that off with a nasty bout of the flu, and what typically would be a 10-minute drive to work became an hour-long bus ride, with half of that time being a half-mile walk from my apartment. My experience only reflects what many of my fellow residents here in Wyandotte County experience daily. Living at the limits of the Kansas City region’s transit system and being transit-dependent severely restrict many households’ access to opportunity.

107 Bus Stop Ride KC

You might be wondering, “yeah, but how do we solve the problem?” I argue we are already implementing some of the tools needed to solve this problem. Recently the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, KS (UG) has implemented two (2) big initiatives. The first being the implementation of a Bikeshare pilot project in Rosedale in May 2021, which utilizes e-bikes as a mode of sustainable and healthy transportation. The e-bike program has proven successful, with a total of 1,350 trips taken since its launch in April of 2021, with increasing ridership each month (UG, 2022). The e-bikes will be redeployed starting March 1, 2022.

The second program is the implementation of micro-transit in October 2019. Micro-transit is a version of ride-hailing, similar to Uber, that operates within a set boundary and provides door to door service, as well as door to transit center service. Ridership for Kansas City Kansas’ microtransit is approximately 20 riders per day or 5,000 people annually (UG, 2022). Comparatively, ridership for Johnson County’s Microtransit in 2019 reached 12,000 (APTA, 2020). In addition to the new microtransit, the Unified Government has also operated paratransit (as RideKC Freedom), which provides door to door service for eligible riders who live within ¾ of a mile of existing transit stops. Bonner Springs offers a similar service within the boundaries of Bonner Springs and Edwardsville, and extending into Kansas City, Kansas on certain days (RideKC, 2022). Recently RideKC has launched an app for its flex service, to make scheduling trips quicker and more intuitive (RideKC, 2022).

Proposed Bus Route Maps for 47th & State Ave
Proposed Bus Service Area Map

On top of these changes, RideKC is implementing a system redesign, which orients fixed-route transit to the communities and locations where ridership is highest, as well as a pilot project, bringing all-day and weekend service to nearby Johnson County (RideKC, 2022). This system redesign will be implemented in April and July of 2022.While on a small-scale basis now, these initiatives, paired with larger changes by RideKC can fill in the gaps where fixed-route service is not available or not feasible, and greatly increase access and opportunity for residents of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.