Fleshing Out Fuller Road Station

City staff field questions, concerns at public forum
At left: Architect John Mouat, a member of the Fuller Road Station design team, talks with Eli Cooper, the city's transportation manager, before the start of the Feb. 10 citizen participation forum. Moaut is a partner in the Ann Arbor firm of Mitchell and Mouat. (Photos by the writer.)

At left: Architect John Mouat, a member of the Fuller Road Station design team, talks with Eli Cooper, the city's transportation program manager, before the start of the Feb. 10 citizen participation forum. Mouat is a partner in the Ann Arbor firm of Mitchell and Mouat. (Photos by the writer.)

For Eli Cooper, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation program manager, a project like the proposed Fuller Road Station happens “once in a lifetime” – an opportunity for the city, he says, to take a vision and make it reality in a fairly short time.

What it will take to reach that reality was the topic of a Feb. 10 public meeting on the Fuller Road Station, a joint University of Michigan/city of Ann Arbor project. Its first phase entails a parking structure with about 1,000 spaces – nearly 80% of them earmarked for UM use.

But much of the presentation by city staff and members of the design team focused on the broader goals for that site, which they hope will eventually include a train station for commuter rail.

Beyond Phase 1

Eli Cooper began his comments by putting the Fuller Road Station into the context of the city’s overall efforts to increase alternative forms of public transportation. Ann Arbor is a regional employment center, he said, but rather than invest in wider roads and more parking, the long-term goal is to leave the cars outside the city and find other ways to bring people to work.

For this, commuter rail is crucial, he said. That includes a proposed north-south rail known as WALLY, which would run between Ann Arbor and Howell, as well as an Ann Arbor-to-Detroit rail, with stops in Ypsilanti, metro Detroit airport and Dearborn.

These two railroad lines cross but aren’t connected, Cooper said, so the idea was to create a local connector system. The east-west line, owned by the Norfolk Southern Railroad, runs past Washtenaw County’s largest employer – the UM medical complex, with more than 17,000 workers – so it made sense to start there. [The north-south track runs through downtown Ann Arbor.] City staff looked for a site where the concept could actually work, with major roadways and less than three acres of publicly-owned land, near the east-west railroad. Looking at the Fuller Road property, which has been leased by the city to UM since 1993, “it didn’t take a lot of thinking to say, ‘We can do this,’” Cooper said.

Site plan for the Fuller Road Station

Site plan for Phase 1 of the Fuller Road Station. (Image links to larger file)

The concept was brought to city council, which endorsed it, Cooper said. [In May 2009, city council approved $80,000 as its portion of a feasibility study for the project. In August, council approved a professional services contract with JJR for conceptual design, environmental assessment and engineering work, and set a budget of $541,717. The council approved the master plan concept, an additional $111,228 for work by JJR, and a memorandum of understanding with UM in November.]

As for the Detroit-to-Ann Arbor commuter rail project, Cooper noted that a representative from SEMCOG recently made a presentation to the city council, reinforcing that it’s a “go project,” with a target launch date of Oct. 25, 2010. If the commuter rail takes off and several hundred people need a place to park their cars, Amtrak will feel pressure to accommodate those commuters, Cooper said. [Amtrak officials have not committed to moving the train station from its Depot Street location to Fuller Road.] Cooper said that the Ann Arbor Amtrak is the highest-volume station in Michigan, and second only to downtown Chicago along the Chicago-to-Detroit corridor.

Cooper said that 98% of commuters into Ann Arbor come by vehicle, and that Fuller Road is a major artery used by vehicles as well as the AATA and UM bus system. The Fuller Road Station will include an indoor bus waiting room and a loading platform for those buses, with the hopes of getting regional carriers – like Greyhound and Michigan Flyer – to use the facility, too. There will also be bike lockers and bike hoops in the first phase of Fuller Road Station, Cooper said. Eventually, the structure might include showers and a maintenance area for cyclists, he said.

The structure will have about 1,000 parking spaces, plus another 50 spaces in an adjacent surface lot. Cooper said the parking structure is expected to be nearly full from the time it opens in 2012 – there might be need for additional parking when the commuter rail launches, he said.

In wrapping up his presentation, Cooper described the first phase as “modest,” but said that it has already attracted attention from federal transit officials. He’s hopeful it will attract additional investment to bring the future phases into reality as quickly as possible.

What Will It Look Like?

Dick Mitchell, of the Ann Arbor firm of Mitchell and Mouat, is one of the project’s architects, and spoke about the process of designing Fuller Road Station. He began his part of the presentation with three questions that he said they hoped to get feedback on:

  1. Are there qualities of the Ann Arbor area that you feel could inspire design of the Fuller Road Station?
  2. Are there special experiences, relationships or visual images within this area of Ann Arbor that you feel could be acknowledged and/or reflected in the design of Fuller Road Station?
  3. Are there unique qualities about the vision for the master plan of the Fuller Road Station as both a gateway and/or transportation hub that might inspire the design of the station?
Dick Mitchell

Dick Mitchell, an Ann Arbor architect who's working on the design for the Fuller Road Station.

Though all of the people on the design team have been Ann Arbor residents, Mitchell said, he hoped that people from the Fuller Road neighborhood would weigh in with design suggestions, based on their familiarity with the area.

At the city council’s Nov. 5 2009 meeting, Ward 1 representative to the council, Sandi Smith, expressed her hope that the design would be significant, and Ward 2 representative Tony Derezinski echoed that sentiment, saying that it would be a welcome center for Ann Arbor.

At the Feb. 10 meeting on Fuller Road Station, Mitchell said his team had spent considerable time thinking about the site and its connection to the Huron River and river valley. Using maps of the area, he showed how the site fits into the system of city parks along that stretch and the county’s Border-to-Border trails, describing the river as “an incredible force.”

While the natural environment dominates the east and north, the more urban environment – including the “citadel-like presence” of the UM medical complex – dominates the areas to the south and west. The medical buildings, with horizontal lines interrupted by vertical spires, give the design team its “architectural language,” Mitchell said. “We don’t know what that means to us yet, but we’re pondering.”

Later in the meeting, someone in the audience asked whether the design for the Fuller Road Station would be like the parking structure at Fourth & Washington, which Mitchell and Mouat also designed. It’s going to be quite different, Mitchell responded, “but just as nice.”

Questions from the Audience

The 30 or so people who attended Wednesday’s forum, held in city council chambers, were given notecards and asked to write whatever questions or comments they had about the project. Those cards were collected and Connie Pulcipher, a senior planner with the city, read some of them to the group. Different members of the project team fielded the questions – others, particularly those related to financial concerns, were deferred. Pulcipher said that all questions and comments would be compiled and posted on the city’s website for the project.

Here’s a sampling:

Will traffic lights be added to the entrance off of Fuller Road? Les Sipowski, a traffic engineer with the city, said they didn’t believe traffic signals were necessary. Boulevards like Fuller Road have “a ton of capacity,” he said. Two new crossovers between the eastbound and westbound lanes will be added.

Will the existing soccer field be removed? No. The field to the east of the site will remain.

Will users of the nearby parks continue to have free parking? Eli Cooper said there’s a firm commitment to the parks that during off-peak hours on nights and weekends, parking will continue to be available.

What’s the likelihood that non-residents commuting into Ann Arbor will actually use alternative transit, even if this station is built? Eli Cooper said there was no research specifically tied to the use of the station, but that surveys conducted to study the feasibility of commuter rail between Lansing and Detroit indicated that people would be willing to use that form of transportation. Jim Kosteva, UM director of community relations, said the university provides a range of alternative transportation options, and that now up to 40% of employees come to work in something other than a single-occupancy vehicle. [However, efforts by the AATA over the last year  to introduce express commuter bus service from Chelsea to Ann Arbor and from Canton to Ann Arbor have not been as successful as hoped in developing ridership.]

Is there evidence of future need for this facility? Eli Cooper pointed to SEMCOG studies forecasting that Ann Arbor would add 18,900 jobs through 2035. However, since the city’s population is expected to grow by only 1,800 people, he said, that means a lot of workers will be needing transportation to get from their homes to their workplaces in Ann Arbor. Jim Kosteva added that another reason for the facility is to reduce the area’s carbon footprint. He also noted that a significant number of UM employees live along the proposed commuter rail route between Ann Arbor and Detroit, particularly in the Ypsilanti area.

What plans does UM have for the former Pfizer site? Jim Kosteva said the university is undergoing a major planning effort for what’s now called the North Campus Research Complex, or NCRC, led by the Medical School, the UM Health System and the College of Engineering. As it relates to the Fuller Road Station, he said they expect the area to see employment growth, which will add to the need for transportation as people shuttle between the NCRC, the medical campus, central campus and their homes.

Will there be any private development at the site? Peer hospitals like the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic have supported nearby development of hotels, restaurants and retail, creating a real sense of place. Does the university plan to do the same near the Fuller Road Station? Eli Cooper said there were ample opportunities for that type of development in the nearby Lower Town area. Jim Kosteva said that UM is focusing on the delivery of health care. They do operate the Med Inn, he said, which has 30 rooms. Sue Gott, a university planner, added that UM’s mission is focused on academics, research and clinical care. They look to the private sector to provide other kinds of development. Kosteva then noted that the hospital’s cafeteria food is quite good.

At left: Cresson Slotten, senior project manager with the city, sorts through questions and comments written by people attending the Feb. 10 Fuller Road Station forum. Eli Cooper, center, and Dave Dykman.

At left: Cresson Slotten, senior project manager with the city, sorts through questions and comments written on notecards by people attending the Feb. 10 Fuller Road Station forum. Slotten is consulting with Eli Cooper, center, and Dave Dykman, a project manager for the city.

Isn’t the proposed train service a demonstration project? Yes, said Eli Cooper, the initial service planned as soon as the fall of 2010 would be a smaller scale service. [See Chronicle coverage of the Feb. 1 city council meeting where Carmine Polombo of the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG)  gave an update on proposed commuter rail service between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Polombo described the initial service offerings as likely to be limited to day trips for special events, like UM football games.]

What’s the estimated increase in train traffic? The SEMCOG demonstration service will start with four round trips each day, increasing to eight over time, Eli Cooper said. He envisions the service will eventually have between 16-18 round trips daily, with three to four per hour during peak commuting times.

What will the impact be on surrounding home values – for example, on Cedar Bend Drive? Eli Cooper said that in other cities where he’s lived – New York and Philadelphia – there’s a premium associated with housing that has immediate access to rail transportation.

What’s the timeframe for the commuter rail? A feasibility study will be completed this year, Eli Cooper said. Two years after that, an environmental impact study will be conducted, followed by engineering and design for an additional two to three years. It would take two or three years to build, he said – so the entire project would likely take a decade to complete. Coming up with local funding would streamline the process, he said, rather than relying on federal and state dollars. He projected a range of three to ten years, “if ever.”

Will UM compensate city voters for the long-term use of parkland? Eli Cooper said there’s a continuing commitment to city parks, through the city’s memorandum of understanding with UM. The facility will be city-owned, he said, so there’ll be no transfer of parkland to the university. And since the parkland isn’t going to be sold, he said, it’s not necessary to bring the city charter into the discussion. [He was referring to a charter requirement, approved by voters in November 2008, that the sale of city parkland be authorized through a voter referendum.]

Has a land swap with UM been considered to compensate for the use of city parkland? The lease of the land to UM for a parking lot generates revenues for the parks system, Eli Cooper said. The project team, he added, welcomed suggestions for how they can enhance the park user’s experience. He noted that they were planning to integrate “active art” into the facility’s design, though he did not specify what that might entail.

Why will the city be getting less money from UM in the future than it does from the current annual leasing agreement of $31,000? Connie Pulcipher said they couldn’t provide the answer to financial questions that night. Jim Kosteva, representing UM, read from the memorandum of understanding between the university and the city, which states that UM will be paying 78% of a $24,846 operating cost, and that money will go to the city’s parks and recreation unit. That amount – $24,846 – will increase by 3% each year over a 30-year period. In addition, UM will make two payments of $31,057 to parks and recreation between Sept. 1, 2010 through Aug. 31, 2012 – the period of construction. [.pdf file of the memorandum of understanding] The current surface parking lot at the site has 250 spaces.

Who’s paying for all this? Eli Cooper called the financing “very much a work in progress.” The city is working with the Congressional delegation that represents this area to help secure federal funding, and is working with the Michigan Department of Transportation to find state dollars. There will also be revenue generated from users of the facility, he said, adding that more financial analysis is needed.

[According to the memorandum of understanding, UM will pay for 78% of the cost of design and construction of the facility; the city of Ann Arbor will pay 22%. According to the city's capital improvements plan, which the city council postponed for consideration at its Feb.1 meeting, the city's share of $5.36 million would come from the city’s economic development fund. Minus the city's obligation to Google for parking incentives, the economic development fund currently has a balance of around $700,000. ]

Why not have a real public hearing? The city staff has been directed by council to fully engage the public, Eli Cooper said. He has made presentations at the park advisory commission, the planning commission and city council. There are requirements related to public hearings for the environmental impact study, he said, as well as at other points in the development process.

What are the plans for public art? After the forum, The Chronicle queried Dave Dykman, a project manager for the city, about a topic raised at the Feb. 9 meeting of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission. At that meeting, commissioners discussed the possibility of an art consultant being hired to oversee the integration of public art into the Fuller Road Station’s design. Dykman clarified that the project had a line-item for public art at about $250,000. He said it wasn’t clear yet whether an art consultant would be paid for out of those funds, or whether other funding would be available.

Comments from the Audience

Several people gave comments as well. Here’s a few:

  • Preserve as many trees as possible, include underground parking, and try to minimize the structure by blending it into the existing natural area on the site.
  • Include a place for large meetings.
  • Restrooms, showers and other amenities should be fully accessible.
  • In the design, consider the entire history of transportation and the surrounding natural environment, from the beginning of time.

All questions and comments will be posted on the city’s Fuller Road Station website, Connie Pulcipher said, where other information about the project is available. She also encouraged people to sign up for email alerts from the city about upcoming meetings, or to look at the Tree Town Log, a city calendar of events and meetings.

Project Timeline

Dave Dykman, a project manager for the city, concluded the meeting by giving an overview of the project schedule. He noted that the conceptual plan has been approved by both the city council and the UM regents.

An environmental assessment is ongoing, and is expected to conclude in the fall of 2010. Dykman said they don’t expect any significant findings, but it’s a necessary component for federal funding.

Efforts at community engagement will continue. There will be a presentation to the city’s park advisory commission at its March 16 meeting, and another public meeting similar to Wednesday’s will be held at a yet-to-be-determined date. In addition, the project will be taken to the city’s planning commission for approval, possibly this spring or summer, and there will be a public hearing associated with that process.

In the late spring, workers will relocate utilities that are on the site, including an electrical transmission line that runs above the property and a major sanitary sewer pipe located underneath the proposed building’s footprint.

Design and engineering for the project began about a month ago, Dykman said. The plan will likely be presented to city council in mid-summer, with a public hearing at that time as well. Early foundation work would start next winter, with construction through 2012.


    February 15, 2010 at 11:11 pm | permalink

    Thanks for the thorough update. Though I support carefully moving forward, my fear is that this project may be too utopian. The article reported one question along the lines of “will people actually use it”. I think this needs to be very thoroughly researched.

    My suspicion is that 97% of the folks who commute to town would like to improve their commute, but via reduced congestion and easier/cheaper/more accessible parking. They are not thinking “bring on the public transit!”

    One key reason is that everything else in life is still so car dependent. If you want to drop your kids off at school, visit the grocery store on the way home from work, need to leave work early to go to the dentist, etc., you will have to have your car. The closest critical mass of ordinary services like this would be 300 miles away in either direction (Toronto or Chicago).

    I am, however, looking forward to the possibility of rail service to the airport. I really hope that it will be competitive with car travel on price and convenience.

    February 15, 2010 at 11:21 pm | permalink

    I meant to comment on one more thing. Mr. Kosteva said that “up to 40% of employees come to work in something other than a single-occupancy vehicle.”

    Is this really true? I suspect he has included in his count the people who drive 45 minutes from elsewhere to park at Crisler Arena (or the other park and ride lots) and take the UM Commuter bus the final half mile to their building.

    Or, possibly he is counting student employees (TAs, etc.) who are walking from their near-campus apartments.

  3. By johnboy
    February 16, 2010 at 1:53 am | permalink

    Wake up people! Or does the kool aid taste that good? The is NO Intermodal transit station in the future of Ann Arbor. This is nothing more that a smoke screen to cover up the fact that UM is building a parking structure for the hospital on Ann Arbor City parkland property.

    Look at the evidence; There has been NO contact with or input from the future tenants of the transit station. Conrail, Greyhound etc. Does it make sense to build a mutli-million dollar exclusive use structure for tenants that MIGHT move in? Certainly not, and it is the refusal of one of those tenants to participate that will give that city, in the future, the excuse it needs to cancel the transit center. What are we left with? A big parking structure for UM hospital on city park property (and guaranteed future employment for Hieftje at UM).

    Every reason cited by Cooper for the construction of a transit center can be seen to be flimsy and false. How do you “increase alternative forms of public transportation” by building a big parking structure at the end point of most commuter’s trips? If the introduction of a Detroit to Ann Arbor commuter rail train will increase the need for parking at the Ann Arbor station why not use the land across from the existing station that was recently opened up by the demolition of the old MichCon building? Because it is too far from the hospital.

    Remember, in spite of all it’s pomposity and posturing, Ann Arbor is still a company town. And as in any other company town, the company gets what the company wants.

  4. By MargaretS
    February 16, 2010 at 7:20 am | permalink

    Maybe this project is some kind of rorschach test? As hard as I look, all I see is a parking structure, now and forever. These planners are in love with the IDEA of a multi-use transit center, that seems clear. But reality seems to have escaped them.

    Another thought, it seems like the proper place for an expanded transit center for the city is downtown – right where Blake is. But the mayor seems intent on kicking that out of downtown too. And what better way to achieve this goal than with false promises of snazzy rail service, etc.? Build lots of useless buildings downtown, but direct public transportation to the hospital area instead?

  5. By Bob Johnson
    February 16, 2010 at 8:27 am | permalink

    The full extent of the City’s financial exposure for the Fuller Road parking structure has not been revealed by the City. The Memorandum of Understanding given to City Council back in November had no estimate of the cost of building the 1000-place parking structure. The construction cost was never mentioned at the public meetings.

    However, when the same project was presented to the UM Regents for approval on January 21, the UM Memorandum said:

    “The estimated cost of the project is $46,550,000. Costs will be shared between the University of Michigan and the City of Ann Arbor in proportion to the number of parking spaces available to each (78 percent and 22 percent respectively). ”

    22%of the project cost is $10.2 million.

    The cost to the city, just for 22% of Phase 1 construction, will be $10.2 million.

    There’s more. “The City of Ann Arbor will manage the site preparation at an estimated cost of $3,000,000. In addition, at the City’s expense, they will undertake an environmental assessment of the property.”

    And Phase 1 does NOT include a rail transit station. That’s in Phase 2, for which there are no plans or projected start time.

    So, what does the City get for its $14 million? 200 parking spaces.
    What is on the site now? A City parking lot with 200 spaces!

    The City of Ann Arbor can’t afford to spend $14 million to help build a parking structure for the UM, when we are laying off police and firefighters This is a terrible deal for the City. City Council must vote to end City participation in the construction of the parking structure. If Phase 2, with the rail station, ever becomes a reality, that will be time for the City to commit its scarce tax dollars. But not now, not for this.

    For information about the UM Regents meeting, see:
    [link] and [link]

  6. February 16, 2010 at 9:56 am | permalink

    The design, engineering, utility, and construction work schedules all seem to be well established, while the public input process seems to be considerably less so and lagging. For example, the utility work is scheduled for late spring, possibly prior to the expected public hearing at planning commission.

    The transportation manager, project managers, and city planners as well as private consultants are deeply involved in this project. Meanwhile, the email notice link connects to the city’s communications office, whose role in this project (and projects in general) could be greater:

    “Our mission is to ensure communication between the city and citizens. Equally important, the Communications Office seeks to increase citizen involvement and input into all areas of the city’s operations.”

    I’d like to see a ‘communications manager’ position in that office whose responsibilities included coordination of all public input with the other project components in a way that really does “increase citizen involvement and input into all areas of the [project]“, as opposed to only requesting after-the-fact input on the appearance, for example, of an already-decided structure.

  7. By Chad
    February 16, 2010 at 4:57 pm | permalink

    Transit ridership doesn’t just appear out of thin air, or because someone says that they’d be willing to consider switching out of their single-occupancy vehicle commute. Transportation economists say that transit use is based on things like
    (a) the relative time/cost of transit, compared with other modes,
    (b) the amenities and safety of travel modes to the transit station,
    (c) transportation and land use policies that affect population density, and
    (d) the choices of metropolitan planning organziations (MPOs), which are the governors of transportation choices in a region according to Federal transportation law.

    On (a), the relative time/cost of different travel modes, we need to be aware that SEMCOG’s long-range regional transit plan includes plans to expand US-23 NS north of Ann Arbor, MDOT is already expanding Michigan Avenue from Saline to US-23, and the Detroit highways like I-75 and I-94 are getting expanded and redesigned to accommodate truck traffic. These projects reduce the “cost” of single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips (i.e., congestion), making SOV trips not all that unpleasant, unless fuel prices get higher. Take a look at [link] for the 2035 long-range regional transportation plan.

    On (b), transit stations aren’t generally located at trip origins and destinations. People need to walk, bike, drive, carpool, or ride transit to a transit station. In Ann Arbor, the Fuller Road location is right up against the hospital hill, but where are the other possible transit locations going to be sited, and will that be easy? Canton can be a nightmare during rush hours, and driving to a station there might take as long as driving to Ann Arbor. Ypsi’s got potential in Depot Town, but there needs to be systematic thinking there too… the urban form there is still somewhat 1900ish in design and most accessible using 20th century tranport modes. Downtown Plymouth — that’s got potential galore, but also high real estate value. Unless these issues get addressed, I’m skeptical of swinging the rails from the current depot — with all the millions that takes — along with Amtrak to Fuller Street.

    On (c), there’s a lower limit of population and employment density that makes transit economically viable (even with heavy subsidies). The Ann Arbor zoning ordinances base residential density decisions on the capacity of connecting roadways, which often presumes SOV travel. How’s that sustainable? Other municipalities are even more off the mark, zoning to protect property value or just maximizing short-term revenue growth (e.g., many townships). You need around 7 residences per acre — at a minimum — to make transit really viable (AATA probably subsidizes some of the routes in low-density areas using high-density areas’ routes). One caveat there: that presumes that the public is going to be subsidizing SOV-oriented infrastructure to the same level as the last 50 years. Ann Arbor can’t make other municipalities act to support transit, and few surrounding municipalities want to upset its homeowners by saying no to another lane on Ford/Michigan/Grand River/etc. That takes me to the second part of (c): infrastructure capacity changes also affect the relative cost of different modes of travel, so SOV-oriented infrastructure subsidies make transit-oriented travel look unattractive. It also affects the relative cost of residence locations: traveling quickly to job/school/shopping from a low-density suburban neighborhood reduces the cost of that residence choice. Heavy congestion increases those costs. Anyone who watched the farms along US-12 outside Saline pop up “FOR SALE” signs after MDOT finalized its plans to expand the roadway knows what I’m talking about. Developers follow infrastructure!

    On (d), many of the choices that Ann Arbor would like to make are curtailed by the actions of the rest of Southeast Michigan. Although we’ve got WATS, SEMCOG is the Federal-aid trust fund planner and MPO for Southeast Michigan as a whole, and its exective board is disproportionately weighted toward suburban municipalities. That’s a product of Federal transportation law, which has resulted in national MPO executive boards being dominated by suburban votes, with extreme under-representation of nonwhite and urban residents. See the Brookings Institution study by Sanchez at the following link: [link]

    I’m an optimist, but Ann Arbor, even with Detroiters struggling alongside to reintroduce transit with privately-funded rail lines like the M-1 rail project, can’t change the “cost” of transit projects when the “cost” of SOV-oriented travel are reduced by large area municipalities with low-density voting populations. I would LOVE to see the true cost of transportation and land use expressed on equal footing, but there’s no interest in angering the ‘burbs. I lived in Saline when Joe Schwartz was running for re-election on the fact that he’d won Federal subsidies for expanding I-94 outside Jackson.

    Odd to put it like this, but for public transit to succeed, there needs to be more free market policies!

  8. February 16, 2010 at 5:35 pm | permalink

    This (#7) is a very astute analysis. Of course some of his comments directly lead to the reasoning for Transit-Oriented Development as expressed in the Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update. (I don’t agree that we should destroy our Ann Arbor neighborhoods to make them more transit-friendly.)(Yes, I know that is a bit over the top.)

    I often think the people planning and talking about all these schemes don’t understand the personal decisions that go into making certain transportation decisions, or what the daily life of a commuter consists of. I had a 2-hour commute (one way) when I lived in Southern California. The Amtrak commuter train was running between two very large population centers (San Diego and Los Angeles). Even so, I would guess that I and my fellow commuters were no more than a couple hundred. The train fare consumed a third of my gross salary, even with a 10-ride discount book. The reasons I chose to use it were: (1) the station on my home end was near my home and my husband could drop me off; (2) free parking at the station on the other end (after which I had a 35-min drive); (3) the freeway commute was impossibly congested, so that what would have been a 1 1/2 hour drive was often an hour longer; and of course (4) the ride was more pleasant and I could work on the train.

    If I had been required to take a bus to get to the station on either end (not possible) it would have made the commute almost intolerable. Some people had clunkers at both ends (still free parking). Will FITS provide enough parking for such people? Also, are there really enough people commuting to downtown Detroit or Dearborn from Ann Arbor (or vice versa) to support the service?

    I also was able to take the train because it left very early in the morning and had a late night return, as well as several times during the day when I could pick it up if that fit my schedule. Will a new commuter service have enough runs to fit more than a standard 9-5 schedule? I would guess that the only people who would trouble to take such a step would be professionals, who often have variable schedules.

    People who like this plan because they imagine traveling into Detroit occasionally for pleasure, or to the airport (it won’t go directly to the airport) will not be enough to support the service.

  9. By zollar
    February 16, 2010 at 10:17 pm | permalink

    Todays Detroit news.No rail funding for Detroit to Ann Arbor. [Link]

  10. By David Lewis
    February 17, 2010 at 1:58 am | permalink

    I think you miss the point. They only expect a few hundred people to take the train to the east. 200 plus parking spaces and 200 taking the bus to the station and a few walking. The bonus for A2 is the 2,000 plus who will take the train to work in A2.

    18,000 employees at the midical complex alone, two million visitors per year. The train will be used. Especially when gas hits $5 per gallon in two years.

    But in the short term you get the whole bus transit station and bike center and a base to build on for the rail. Federal money is flowing and anything is possible. Time to think large. This is a good thing.

  11. By David Lewis
    February 17, 2010 at 2:05 am | permalink

    As to Zollar’s point. The rail money for Det. A2 has already been allocated, not to say they wouldn’t like more. But, even as a bus transit station this will work for now.

  12. By Bob Johnson
    February 17, 2010 at 11:29 am | permalink

    A question for David Lewis@10: If the transit component needs only 200 spaces for east-bound travelers, why are the City and the UM building a 1000 space garage? There are 200 spaces there now, in a City-owned lot.

    But it has to be emphasized that any rail transit component is purely speculative at this point. There are no plans, no projected start date, and no financing lined up for the rail station. The question actually before us is whether our City government should spend $14 million toward the construction of a 1000-place parking garage sitting on a corner of Fuller Park.

    After all, SEMCOG [link] is funding a three year trial run (beginning October 2010) of Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter service, using the existing Amtrak station. The City could wisely wait to see how that works, before committing funds for a new rail station at Fuller Psrk. In any case, there is absolutely no reason why the City should now spend millions of dollars toward the construction of a parking garage that the City does not need.

    February 17, 2010 at 12:19 pm | permalink

    Chad’s comments (#7) are a much better way of articulating my initial comment asking “will people really ride this?”

    I would suggest that a factor that I mention that Chad did not directly address is that the incremental cost of SOV commuting is often not that high.

    My sister lives in a large East Coast urban center, where she truly does not need a car. Everything she does is within reach of public transit (if not walking/biking distance). That is simply not the case anywhere in SE Michigan, even Ann Arbor. So, I have concluded that I have no practical choice but to own a car. Since I own a car, the incremental cost of driving it to work is not a substantial penalty. From a convenience/cost ratio, it pretty significantly outweighs public transit, even at $5/gallon gas (which of course would drive up the costs of public ridership as well).

  14. By Eric Boyd
    February 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm | permalink

    While moving the rail station sounds like a great idea to me, for now its just a parking garage. It would be nice to have some sort of guarantee the rail station move will also happen linked to approval of the parking structure, but I don’t know how that could be structured.

    One other aspect that’s been suggested in news reports [link] is that in some respects this parking structure is in lieu of a University of Michigan built parking structure on Wall Street.

    Even if this is on parkland, it’s already a parking lot. And this may reduce the number of parking structures in the Wall Street neighborhood. Is that better for the neighborhood? Is it better for the city?

  15. February 17, 2010 at 2:34 pm | permalink

    Fridgeman, as you may be aware, now that ZipCar is well established in Ann Arbor we have another component in the mix that might shift the decision point about car ownership. When I made the decision to sell my car I did a comparison between all the costs (maintenance, repairs, insurance, time, etc.) and benefits of having the car versus the costs (minimal and no longer marginal, in the sense you describe) and benefits of walking, biking, riding the bus, and potentially using ZipCar. The latter set of options is both cheaper and healthier overall, enough so that selling the car was an easy decision.

    In the bigger picture, we could do several things in Michigan to tip the scales in favor of transit. First, tying car insurance more directly to car use (to eliminate the marginal cost effect) through a pay-at-the-pump system would make the economic comparison cleaner. Likewise, eliminating subsidies for road construction, parking, and gas/diesel, and then increasing the taxes on those polluting fuels would get us much closer to a point where decisions about transportation will be more in line with the realities we face, much to our benefit.

    I encourage you and others who are concerned that this effort might be putting the cart before the horse to communicate with your state reps about what they and the governor could do to help cities like ours to move toward sustainable transportation systems.

  16. February 17, 2010 at 8:35 pm | permalink

    Regarding comments like Steve Bean’s, “public input process seems to be considerably less so and lagging,” a couple of months ago I heard Eli Cooper express surprise and disappointment that this project wasn’t getting more attention and input. Well, I guess now it is….

    February 18, 2010 at 3:43 pm | permalink

    Steve, I fully agree with your comments (#15). I applaud your choice. I submit, however that it is the right choice for only a very small percentage of the local populace. We need to move the needle on this, and I believe that spectacular project failures — like this transit center — will do more harm than good (slow but steady progress is needed).

    It is interesting to me that every Midwesterner I’ve ever talked to who has spent time in NYC or in Europe will willingly use (and rave about) transit in those places. But they won’t touch it with a 10 foot pole here.

  18. By John Floyd
    February 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm | permalink

    For public transit to be effective as a full-service transit option (errands, visits to homes, entertainment districts, as well as commuting), you have to commit to living in a rabbit warren with little or no green around your dwelling.

    Car = freedom to come and go as you please, not as the schedule dictates. Also, freedom to go where you please, not where the route dictates.

    I lived in Chicago for 9 years. it was fun for a while, but when I became ready to be serious about life, the mechanics of life in a dense environment were nightmarish – even with two full-service grocery supermarkets within a block of my apartment. It was a relief to come home & live on the Old West Side, in a neighborhood of small homes on small lots, with kids, parks and a public school, an 8 minute walk from Main & Huron. This is the kind of density Ann Arbor needs, not blocks and blocks of faceless apartments. People who want the Chicago-style density and scale of population needed to make rail transit even thinkable, let alone do-able, are not likely to be happy here.

    Building a parking lot for incoming traffic as the prelude to a train station for incoming traffic makes little sense, in any case. Sounds more like bait-and-switch publicity for shifting the Wall Street lot to a city park. Again, the deep cynicism of this government, to turn parkland over to the University under the guise of a long-term lease instead an out right sale, cannot be overestimated. The form of this transaction is a lease; the substance of it is a sale.