UM, Ann Arbor Halt Fuller Road Project

City of Ann Arbor's rail/bus station plans still in play

According to a statement released on Feb. 10, 2012, the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor have halted plans for the proposed Fuller Road Station as it’s currently conceived – a city/UM parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located at the city’s Fuller Park near the UM medical complex.

Fuller Road Elevation Drawing

An architectural drawing of the proposed Fuller Road Station. (Image links to city of Ann Arbor webpage on the Fuller Road Station)

The press release includes a statement from mayor John Hieftje, which reads in part: “After months of fruitful discussions, we received new information from the Federal Rail Administration regarding the eligibility of monies for the local match. This information altered project timing such that we could no longer finalize a proposal under the current Memorandum of Understanding.”

On the university’s side, Jim Kosteva – director of community relations – is quoted in the press release as follows: “We are optimistic the city’s drive to win additional federal and state dollars for Fuller Road Station will be successful …When the time comes, we stand ready to reengage.” [.pdf of press release]

The press release also includes the news that the university will build the parking deck it had planned for the Fuller Road Station site at a different location: “… it is acknowledged that the University will need to move forward with building a parking structure, in a yet to be determined location, near the Medical Campus to address the expected demand as employment and patient activity continues to grow.”

The university was primarily interested in the initial phase of the project, a large parking structure with more than 1,000 spaces planned.

The city of Ann Arbor’s main interest was in the second phase of the project – a multimodal transit center that city officials hope would include a new Amtrak station, bus depot and sufficient parking for those needs. That component of the project appears to be very much still in play, contingent on identifying funding.

The Chronicle has compiled a timeline overview of Fuller Road Station with links to previous coverage. After the jump, we look at: (1) the train/bus station component of the project; (2) what led UM to initially participate in the project; (3) what happened since a memorandum of understanding between the city and the university was ratified; and (4) the timing of the decision to halt the project.

Funding a Rail Station

With the university’s parking requirements no longer a part of the project, some of the controversy surrounding it could be reduced. That specific controversy stemmed from the objection that the construction of a large parking deck would require some kind of lease arrangement with the university over a long enough period to be tantamount to a sale of the land. A sale of city parkland is required by Ann Arbor’s city charter to be put to a voter referendum.

The parcel is zoned as public land (PL). The city council approved a change to the city’s zoning code in July 2010 that explicitly allows for “transportation facilities” on public land.

The city was looking to an investment from the university in Fuller Road Station to count toward matching funds for federal funding that would support construction of a later phase of the project, which would include a rail station. The project would still need to include a parking component – but not anywhere near the scale of the structure UM was planning to build. It’s not certain what funding sources will be available to the city of Ann Arbor as it moves forward with the project without UM’s involvement.

However, federal funds have always been a part of a hoped-for funding strategy. And in the spring of 2011, the city received news that initial federal funding for the project had been awarded – $2.8 million from the Federal Rail Administration, towards a $3.5 million project for environmental assessment and engineering at the site. The difference is required to be paid by a local match. The city and the university have already made expenditures in connection with that project that the city believes will count for most if not all of that local match. It’s typical that federally-funded infrastructure projects require something on the order of a 20% match in local funds.

The rail station component of the project is estimated to cost about $18 million, with necessary modifications and upgrades to tracks totaling an additional $6-7 million. When the FRA funding for the environmental assessment was announced, Ann Arbor transportation program manager Eli Cooper called the award significant because it indicates the FRA’s willingness to be the lead federal agency for the project. Although it’s not guaranteed, the FRA does not typically fund initial phases of a project like the environmental assessment without following through with funds for the project itself.

If the city eventually pursues the project independently of the university’s own parking needs, it would provide a more narrow focus on the amount of parking that’s required just for the rail station component. To meet that need, some amount of parking spaces would be required for short-term and drop-off parking, as well as some long-term parking. The figure corresponding to the city’s allotment of the spots when UM was involved would have worked out to around 200 parking spaces. Those spaces would need to be constructed as a project independently of UM’s parking needs.

The FAQ maintained by the city of Ann Arbor about Fuller Road mentions that Greyhound and Amtrak have indicated an interest in the project. [For a historical look at Amtrak ridership from 1994-2011, see "Transit Ridership Data Roundup: 2011"]

The Fuller Road Station is included in a 30-year vision that has been developed by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority as part of a transportation master plan for a countywide system. The transition of the AATA to a system of governance that includes a wider geographic area than the city of Ann Arbor is currently being debated by the Ann Arbor city council. That’s a discussion centered on details of a four-party agreement – between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA.

Wall Street Controversy Led to Fuller Road Location

The attempted collaboration by UM with the city on Fuller Road Station stemmed from a controversy about UM’s plans to build a parking structure on Wall Street dating back at least four years. Plans by UM to expand in the general area go back to the 1980s. In 2008, the university’s plans to address its parking needs by constructing a parking deck on Wall Street had generated vocal opposition among nearby residents.

Early sketch of Fuller Road Transit station from 2009

Early sketch of Fuller Road transit station from 2008-2009. (Image links to higher resolution image.)

So the alternative proposal to build the parking structure at the Fuller Park location next to the railroad tracks – in conjunction with a transit station that the city hoped to construct – had relieved some of the Wall Street controversy.

The specific pitch by the city to the university to collaborate on a multimodal transit center was publicly given concrete form at a January 2009 meeting of city staff and neighbors held at the Northside Grill, on Broadway in the Wall Street neighborhood. The city had identified the possible site for the proposed Fuller Road Station – a parking lot on land designated as part of the city’s park system – in its “Model for Mobility” long-term transportation planning initiative.

Later that year, on Nov. 5, 2009, the city council ratified a memorandum of understanding with the university for the parking deck component of the project. It called for a 22%-78% city-university proportionate share of the 1,050 parking structure spaces and a corresponding financial responsibility for construction. With an estimated cost of $46.6 million, the city’s share of the parking structure (phase 1) would have been roughly $10 million.

The UM board of regents approved the project at its Jan. 21, 2010 meeting. The memorandum of understanding calls for the parking structure component of the project to be ready for use by June 15, 2012. Construction would have needed to start in 2011 for that target to have been met.

The memorandum of understanding between the city and the university also gave a nod to the university’s interest in the rail station component (phase 2) portion of the project, but placed no obligations on UM: “The City and University shall cooperate and use their best efforts to achieve completion of mutually-beneficial elements of Fuller Road Station not included in Phase One.” Now, however, it’s not clear how UM might be involved on any elements of a rail station that might connect across the tracks to the UM hospital complex. The Feb. 10 press release includes the statement from Kosteva: “When the time comes, we stand ready to reengage.”

After the City-University MOU

Since the ratification of the memorandum of understanding, the project had languished, with little visible progress on the city-university deal. But community conversation about the deal has continued – during public commentary at meetings of the city council, the city’s park advisory commission, the city planning commission and of the UM regents. That’s because the Fuller Road location for the construction of parking for UM included at least as much controversy as the original Wall Street location – due partly to the fact that the parcel (currently a surface parking lot) is located on city-owned land designated as part of the city’s park system.

In May 2010, the city’s park advisory commission (PAC) considered a resolution that called for the city council to abandon the Fuller Road Station project, or at the least to get a better deal from the university in terms of revenues provided to the city for leasing the structure. [Chronicle coverage: "Better Deal Desired for Fuller Road Station"] That caught the attention of Hieftje, an advocate of the project, who attended PAC’s May 18, 2010 meeting and asked commissioners for their support. [Chronicle coverage: "Hieftje Urges Unity on Fuller Road Station"]

Hieftje’s request led commissioners to reconsider their position, dropping a call to stop the project but still urging city council to work for a more open process and to ensure a better financial deal to benefit the parks system. [Chronicle coverage: "PAC Softens Stance on Fuller Road Station"] The Ann Arbor city planning commission voted 7-2 on Sept. 21, 2010 to recommend approval of the Fuller Road Station site plan.

By the next year, with no visible additional movement, in June 2011 Hieftje indicated at a city council meeting that he’d be willing to schedule a work session on the topic of Fuller Road Station. And when a July 11, 2011 work session was added to the council’s calendar, it appeared the topic would be Fuller Road Station. However, at the council’s July 5, 2011 meeting, Hieftje indicated that the upcoming work session would not deal with Fuller Road Station – it dealt instead with possible changes to the city’s approach to garbage collection, as well as a reorganization of the city/county office of community development.

Later in July 2011, Hieftje sent a letter to constituents that reviewed much of the information that was previously known, but appeared to introduce the possibility that the University of Michigan would provide construction costs for the city’s share of the parking structure up front, with the city’s portion of 22% to be repaid later.

Although the final project has not been voted on and formally approved by the city council, aspects of Fuller Road Station, including its design, have moved ahead. A task force for a public art component was formed last year, for example. But at the public art commission’s November 2011 meeting, commissioners on the task force reported that they were told by city staff that the project had been delayed by 6-12 months.

Timing of the Decision to Halt Fuller Road Project

The Feb. 10 announcement about halting the joint university/city project comes after a release on Jan. 31 by the Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group of the city of Ann Arbor’s response to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking information on Fuller Road Station.

The material released under the FOIA request indicated growing frustration on the university’s side dating back at least to late October of last year. In an Oct. 20, 2011 email sent to mayor John Hieftje and city administrator Steve Powers – with the subject line “Action on Fuller Road Station” – UM director of community relations Jim Kosteva wrote:

There is growing anxiousness among university leadership regarding the ongoing delay in getting the commitment from Council and construction started. And revisiting our decision to postpone the structure(s) on Wall Street is becoming a more frequent discussion.

In that email Kosteva points to the imminent opening (since opened) of the new C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and the increased pressure that the new hospital puts on the university’s parking system. [.pdf of Oct. 20, 2011 Kosteva email]

The decision about halting the Fuller Road Station project was made at least as early as Wednesday, Feb. 1. And in retrospect, there were some signs of that. During that afternoon’s meeting of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, Hieftje appeared pre-occupied at the board table – he did not cast his vote of principle against the Republic Parking management incentive, as he has consistently done the previous three years.

And Lucy Ann Lance reported on air just after 9 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 3 that a hoped-for guest who could talk about UM’s parking and transportation system – Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations – would not appear on her Business Insider radio show (1290 AM) that morning.


Joe Grengs, University of Michigan associate professor of urban and regional planning, speaking at a Feb. 9 forum on sustainability in the city of Ann Arbor.

Possibly factoring into a delay in announcing the news were two public events held by the city of Ann Arbor on Wednesday and Thursday this past week (Feb. 8 and 9) – events where the topic of Fuller Road Station might naturally emerge. On Wednesday, the city hosted two sessions of a forum on the city’s non-motorized master plan update. And on Thursday, the city held the second of a four-part series on sustainability forums. The city’s transportation manager and AATA board member, Eli Cooper, was a speaker at both events. Had the news been released before those events, conversation might have centered on Fuller Road Station to the exclusion of other topics.

Even without the news of the project’s suspension, the topic of Fuller Road Station was raised during the sustainability forum, which focused on land use. During a question-and-answer period, Clark Charnetski – a member of the AATA’s local advisory council – voiced support for the proposed location.

Charnetski’s comment prompted a response from Joe Grengs, a panelist and UM associate professor of urban and regional planning. Grengs said he didn’t believe the university needed more parking, and that there are steps that could be taken to reallocate parking within UM’s current infrastructure.

The Fuller Road Station project undermines the city’s stated sustainability goals, Grengs said, because the mode of parking falls into a completely different category than walking, biking and rail transit. All of those latter modes work well in areas of high density, he said. But cars work against that – they are “big, hulking objects” that simply sit all day, he observed. So to have 1,000 cars parked at that location every day, at a place where there should be opportunities for interaction – places for retail or recreation, for example – “to me is a mistake and I’d urge the city to think about that,” he concluded. Grengs’ remarks were met with a smattering of applause from the audience.

Grengs’ commentary included a view that has been expressed by UM graduate student Joel Batterman at more than one public meeting covered by The Chronicle: That the university could meet its parking needs by reallocating and optimizing its current parking resources. Batterman is an urban planning student who is specializing in transportation issues. From his remarks made to UM regents on Jan. 20, 2011: “… continually increasing parking supply may be less environmentally and fiscally sustainable than an alternative strategy of adjusting parking pricing to more efficiently use existing parking supply.”

Fuller Road Station Timeline Overview

The following is a detailed timeline of the Fuller Road Station project, compiled by The Chronicle, with links to previous coverage.

  • 1824 Ann Arbor is founded.
  • 1837 University of Michigan re-locates from Detroit to Ann Arbor.
  • 1993-Jun-26 UM and city make a land swap deal involving the surface parking lot at the site of the proposed Fuller Road Station. Ann Arbor News article states: “Oak trees to be spared from ax – A request from UM officials for a temporary parking lot may be the key to saving condemned burr oak trees.”
  • 2006-Jun-15 City of Ann Arbor “Model for Mobility” introduced as a three-point vision, with: (1) north-south commuter rail, (2) east-west commuter rail, and (3) local circulator connector system.
  • 2008-Sep-18 University of Michigan regents give initial approval to $48.6 million Wall Street parking structure.
  • 2008-Dec-16 UM officials meet with residents who live near the proposed Wall Street parking structure projects.
  • 2009-Jan-27 City transportation program manager gives combined multimodal transit center and parking structure concrete form by showing a sketch of the project, indicating its location at the Fuller Park parking lot. The presentation takes place in the context of a neighborhood meeting to respond in part to concerns about the UM proposal to build parking structures on Wall Street.
  • 2009-Jun-19 UM regents pause the proposed Wall Street parking structure project.
  • 2009-Aug-17 Ann Arbor city council approves $213,984 of city funds for an environmental study and site assessment. Of that amount, $104,742 was appropriated from the economic development fund.
  • 2009-Nov-05 Ann Arbor city council approves memorandum of understanding with UM on Fuller Road Station.
  • 2009-Nov-05 Ann Arbor city council authorizes additional $111,228 for environmental study and site assessment.
  • 2010-Jan-21 UM board of regents approves the Fuller Road Station project.
  • 2010-Feb-10 Public forum held for Ann Arbor residents on Fuller Road Station.
  • 2010-May-04 Ann Arbor park advisory commission weighs a resolution calling for the city council to abandon the Fuller Road Station project, or at the least to get a better deal from the university.
  • 2010-May-04 Ann Arbor city planning commission recommends amending zoning code list of permitted principal uses of public land (including the site of the proposed Fuller Road Station) – specifically, changing a “municipal airports” use to “transportation facilities.”
  • 2010-May-18 Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje attends meeting of park advisory commission urging their support of Fuller Road Station.
  • 2010-Jun-01 Ann Arbor park advisory commission modifies resolution draft due in part to the mayor’s visit at their previous meeting.
  • 2010-Jul-06 Ann Arbor city council votes to change zoning code to allow transportation facilities as allowable use for public land.
  • 2010-Jun-15 Ann Arbor park advisory commission passes resolution on Fuller Road Station calling for transparency.
  • 2010-Sep-21 Ann Arbor city planning commission votes 7-2 to recommend approval of the Fuller Road Station site plan.
  • 2011-May-17 Ann Arbor park advisory commission gets update on Fuller Road Station, including award of $2.8 million from Federal Rail Administration for environmental study and site analysis. The funds would reimburse some money already expended.
  • 2011-Jun-06 Public commentary at a city council meeting prompts city councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) to request that a council work session be scheduled on Fuller Road Station – mayor John Hieftje agrees that one can be scheduled.
  • 2011-Jun-20 City council adds a working session to its calendar for July 11, 2011.
  • 2011-Jul-05 Mayor John Hieftje indicates during the city council’s meeting that Fuller Road Station is not among the intended topics for the July 11 work session.
  • 2011-Jul-27 Mayor John Hieftje sends letter to constituents about Fuller Road Station.
  • 2011-Oct-20 Jim Kosteva, UM director of community relations, sends an email to the mayor and city administrator warning of the need for urgency.
  • 2012-Jan-31 Press release from Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club calls for details of Fuller Road Station plans to be made known.
  • 2012-Feb-10 Press release from the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan announcing a halt to the project.
  • 2012-Jun-15 Date by which Ann Arbor-UM memorandum of understanding anticipates Fuller Road Station parking structure would be ready for use.

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  1. By Alan Goldsmith
    February 10, 2012 at 1:23 pm | permalink

    The moral of this story: Mayor Hieftje made political promises to the U of M, didn’t have a clue about the funding and public support backlash, was in way over his head and didn’t undstand anything was wrong with ‘leasing’ parkland for several decades. His grade as a politician rates a D+.

  2. By Bob Elton
    February 10, 2012 at 2:15 pm | permalink

    Note that back in 1993, the deal was for a TEMPORARY parking lot. It was never intended to become anything else, and was supposed to revert back to the city after a while.

    I was chair of the parks advisory commission at the time, and I remember this swap, and the surrounding controversy, very well.

    Bob Elton

  3. By Tom Whitaker
    February 10, 2012 at 2:20 pm | permalink

    I see no mention in the article of the $1.2 million project undertaken by the City last year to relocate a well-functioning, 5-foot diameter concrete sewer line out of the way of the speculative Fuller Road parking structure (and to install leads for future City utility connections). City Council had the opportunity to reconsider this premature and wasteful expenditure thanks to Council Member Mike Anglin, but they chose to proceed anyway, despite all the doubts surrounding Fuller Road Station. Even though an attempt was made to hide the real purpose of the sewer project by removing “Fuller Road Station” from its title, there was no doubt why it was being done. In fact, several council members used the sewer project reconsideration discussion as an opportunity to reaffirm their support for FRS, even though there was no assurance that agreements would be reached or funding for FRS would be provided. All of them said they knew exactly why the sewer project was being done, and except for Mike Anglin, did not object to it. Mike was the sole dissenting vote.

    That $1.2 million would have been a significant contribution toward the rebuilding of the sewage treatment plant that will now need to be borrowed. It now appears to have been just another waste of money by a group of civic leaders who remain irrationally convinced that Ann Arbor is on its way to becoming Seattle or Portland within a decade or two. Just look at the deficit spending going on at the DDA and AATA due to the speculative expansion projects brought forward by mayoral appointees there. I sincerely hope voters will reject the Council Party incumbents this year and replace them with candidates from the Sanity Party.

  4. February 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm | permalink

    The scope and coverage of this story are awesome. Really, I mean inspiring awe. Puh-leese tell me some had been composed ahead of the press release this morning.

    And then the Toons too!


  5. By Rod Johnson
    February 10, 2012 at 6:14 pm | permalink

    I’m a little disappointed that you didn’t include the peopling of the Americas and the breakup of Pangaea in your timeline.

  6. By John Guttinger
    February 11, 2012 at 12:10 am | permalink

    1985-Austrian rock group Falco records “Rock me Amadeus”

  7. February 11, 2012 at 10:34 am | permalink

    The press release also includes the news that the university will build the parking deck it had planned for the Fuller Road Station site at a different location

    This is the part that frustrates me about this whole deal. While I agree with Prof. Grengs and Batterman that the university should undertake better demand management before another massive parking garage, that has never seemed to be an option the U had on the table.

    And now, quite the contrary, we see the piece of this project that could have supported the demand management half of the equation (by moving us towards a commuter rail option for campus & the med center) shelved, while the parking structure moves ahead? I really hope nobody sees this as a win for the community.

  8. By Steve Bean
    February 11, 2012 at 10:47 am | permalink

    I agree, Murph. The U apparently (still) equates hospital services demand with parking demand rather than with transportation demand (much like the city council and DDA board do for downtown employment and retail demand.) But I suppose that fits with them giving themselves 13 more years (until 2025) to implement so-called sustainability measures. What’s the Peter Principle equivalent for those proficient at playing kick the can (down the road)?

  9. February 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm | permalink

    Employees (and patients) will always prefer to drive rather than take mass transit because of the speed and reliability of the car. This is a truth universally acknowledged. Hence the wish of the Sovereign Nation of the U of M to build another structure.

    My guess is that the Big U will try hard to find another spot for the structure rather than inflicting it on Wall Street.

  10. By cosmonıcan
    February 11, 2012 at 3:36 pm | permalink

    There’s a huge open space just west of the Cardiovascular Center, big enough for a structure much larger than anything I’ve seen proposed, close enough for covered walkways to most of the medical campus. Have they proposed building anything there yet? Seems that area just opened up within the past couple of years with no intended purpose that I’ve heard of. Why is it never mentioned?

  11. February 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm | permalink

    Re: [10] “a huge open space just west of the Cardiovascular Center”

    I had trouble identifying this location when I had a look on the satellite view of Google Maps. Can you give us some additional landmarks or a link to a placemark? Thanks.

  12. By cosmonıcan
    February 11, 2012 at 4:14 pm | permalink

    Dave, it doesn’t show up on Google because they bulldozed it so recently. I think it’s the area bounded by Ann St and Zina Pitcher; Google shows a building there, it’s gone.

  13. By Tom Whitaker
    February 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm | permalink

    It’s the former site of the Kresge research buildings. Good spot for an underground structure, with the potential for a future building on top. It’s an easy walk to the CVC, Cancer Center, Med School, BSRB, LSI, the hospitals, and Angelo’s. No need to bus people from down the hill or across the river.

    That said, I still think UM should just buy some nice coaches and provide commuter bus service for their employees. They could buy a fleet of buses and run them for decades for less than the cost of a parking structure.

  14. By Steve Bean
    February 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | permalink

    @13: Commuter bus service to and from where, Tom?

  15. By Tom Whitaker
    February 12, 2012 at 9:39 pm | permalink

    Wherever their employees live in sufficient numbers to justify it. Brighton, Canton, Chelsea, Ypsilanti, Saline, etc. I know if I worked there and chose to live many miles from work that I’d be happy to pay the same amount as a blue parking permit, or more, to ride a coach with wifi to and from work.

    Whatever the long term solution, I hope that the plan includes the eventual removal or at least shrinkage of all the surface parking lots that now blight the once scenic Huron River Valley along Fuller Road.

  16. By Rita MItchell
    February 12, 2012 at 10:34 pm | permalink

    Tom’s idea is great. The University could save a lot of the over $40 million that was planned for a parking structure, by developing a bus transportation system for employees who live in target areas outside of Ann Arbor.

  17. By cosmonıcan
    February 12, 2012 at 11:10 pm | permalink

    After rereading it a number of times, it seems the item missing from the timeline is the date of the letter from Amtrak demanding the city build it a new station.

    Isn’t Amtrak a public corporation though, not a part of the federal government? Why should we build them a train station, I thought they did that themselves anyway. I think the city should tear down Briarwood next and rebuild it as a gift, just because we’re good eggs around here and like to do nice things for our corporate friends.

    Maybe the next mayor will realize the city isn’t in the development business—that kind of gambling is for private enterprise, not governments with part-time mayors and executives with degrees in political science instead of MBAs.

    So far as that parking lot goes, I’ll keep my yap shut since the U could care less what I think, even if I my dues are paid until 2078. Just so long as they keep their lot out of sight, and not drop a dead horse next to the river, I’ll be happy.

  18. February 13, 2012 at 5:33 am | permalink

    Re #15 & 16: The UM is already encouraging employees to use express buses from Chelsea and Canton. The UM pays half the fare (which is $5 one way, $40 for a 10-ride ticket, or $99 for 30 days). These express buses are specially equipped with improved seating and at least the Canton bus has free WiFi.

    But the UM does not need to buy or develop these coaches. It is being done for them by AATA. A major driver behind the push for a “countywide” transit system (which would also include an express bus to Livonia and perhaps Brighton as well as to major points in Washtenaw County) is the need for alternate transportation for UM employees.

    The cost is being borne for the most part by state operating assistance and local (i.e., Ann Arbor) property tax. For the 3 months preceding December 31, $26,571 was paid from local tax (36.7% of the cost). Passenger fares, including the UM subsidy, were $23,612 (32.6% of the cost).

    All that said, I don’t think the UM will be able to plow up its parking lots anytime soon.

  19. By Steve Bean
    February 13, 2012 at 10:15 am | permalink

    @15: The case for such a bus system is somewhat undermined by the objection to the blight of parking lots/structures, since they would only be displaced to those other communities, unless they all have adequate transit systems or are small enough that most people would walk or bike to the bus station. Do you have thoughts on that, Tom?

  20. By Tom Whitaker
    February 13, 2012 at 11:58 am | permalink

    Most of these communities already have existing lots that could be employed to hold 100 cars or more, whether in underutilized shopping centers, or next to a high school stadium or closed factory, etc. There’s a number of existing park and ride lots located at major freeway exits, too.

    It’s quite a different thing to have 20-40 small lots spread out in communities over 100 square miles, than it is to have lots and structures for 5000+ cars located within 1/2 square mile of the medical center, along the Huron River.

    The question to me is what is the most effective solution financially and environmentally: building more and more parking infrastructure to support ever-increasing numbers of commuter vehicles, building a very expensive rail network that serves limited numbers of commuters and requires huge annual taxpayer subsidies, or using existing roads and satellite lots to bus people in using a system paid for by the employer and its employees? Many hospital employees are already accustomed to making this work on a smaller scale using vanpools.

    What are YOUR thoughts, Steve?

  21. By Andy
    February 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm | permalink

    RE: #10 — I have been saying this ever since they demolished the Kresge labs. It is astonishing that the UMHS leadership, when faced with the chronic parking shortages it has inflicted upon itself, chose to use that massive site for a park while proceeding with plans to build an alternate structure elsewhere. Does anyone have insight on who decided that a park was the best use of the Kresge lab site?

    Having said that, re: #15,19/20 — I don’t often find myself in agreement with Mr. Whitaker, but I wholeheartedly do with his remarks here. There’s no reason to expect an exception to the law of induced demand in this particular case.

    The parking shortage problem could also be partly addressed by setting the cost of parking permits on the basis of an employee’s salary (i.e. a cardiac surgeon living off the #4 route in Angell would pay more than the receptionist commuting from Jackson, but I have yet to meet a member of the faculty who rides the bus or carpools). Alas, I imagine that proposal would be politically DOA.

    Another broader issue is that housing in Ann Arbor is unaffordable to many UMHS staff, taking off the table the option of commuting by bike or foot. But that’s another discussion, I suppose.

  22. By Steve Bean
    February 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm | permalink

    I think what you’re suggesting for bus transit makes sense.

    I think it’s not so different to have lots spread out versus concentrated near the river. Whether the runoff goes to the river is a matter of engineering and design, not proximity, for example. Structures reduce the footprint but require more embedded energy. Tradeoffs. Using existing infrastructure makes sense (see first thought above), but that’s unrelated to aesthetics (what you meant by blight?).

    I think that financially and environmentally effective solutions don’t exist. Financial and environmental problems do. In both cases, it’s the financial aspect that’s the problem, and we won’t ever get around it as long as we continue to use money. No matter what environmental improvements are made there will always be an end run made for financial reasons that negates them.

    Those are MY thoughts. (-:

  23. By Eric Boyd
    February 13, 2012 at 3:09 pm | permalink

    I got the sense that the Kresge “park” would only be such until the next big building came along. Maybe I’m misremembering the original article.

  24. By Brandon
    February 13, 2012 at 7:55 pm | permalink


    Re. The former Kresge labs site. It’s such a high value site right in the middle of the medical campus. I was told years ago before it was torn down that U-M didn’t have any plans for the site, but wanted to keep its options open. If it needs to build another medical building, and the rate U-M is growing, it probably will, that site will be extremely useful.

    Then again, maybe U-M’s priorities have changed. But I would expect U-M to seek to build parking on Wall Street again, rather than at Kresge.

  25. By Eric
    February 15, 2012 at 9:31 am | permalink


    That’s what I was trying to say. The university seems to be hopskotching around building new buildings and shifting where the function is served. I can’t imagine they don’t want to hang on to the land to build a new medical building or replace another one.

    In other words, I’m guessing the parking garage goes on Wall Street.

  26. February 15, 2012 at 10:07 am | permalink

    Just this morning I read of what my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, has done in conjunction with the city of Madison to create a “front door” that is a benefit to the city as well as the University. [link] The UM, on the other hand, appears to do its planning as though the real estate around it is merely in a holding pattern for future acquisition and exploitation. Look at the sea of parking garages that it is creating in the Glen area. This is not exactly a benefit to our urban fabric.

    We enjoy the Diag and parts of the central campus (many of which are a legacy of earlier eras) but otherwise UM is acting just like the large corporation that it is, and exerting its money and power at will without much notice of the effect on the locals.

  27. By Mary Morgan
    February 15, 2012 at 10:07 am | permalink

    At a planning commission work session last night, one of the planning commissioners had been reading these comments and pointed me to UM’s master plan for the medical center campus. The report is dated – it was completed in 2005 – but does identify the former Kresge site for “major growth and investment opportunities.”

    [link to medical campus master plan]

    The part that’s relevant to Kresge starts on page 13.

    A section on the Wall Street district begins on page 19, and shows two proposed parking structures there (page 21) as well as other proposed development. This was prior to the Fuller Road Station project.

    And here’s a link to other UM campus plans: [link]

  28. By Tom Whitaker
    February 15, 2012 at 3:32 pm | permalink

    Another interesting group of resource documents on the medical center parking issue are the Regent’s Actions for the new Mott. In these briefings, provided to the Regents when they were asked to approve spending for Mott, there are some interesting statements made about parking lost by Mott, parking recently gained at the CVC, and a parking plan for the future. Administrators also promise to provide the Regents with an annual report on the status of med center parking strategies. Not sure if they’ve done that. The plan and annual update was in response to the fact that Mott would take out an existing surface lot, but no new parking would be included in the project.

    Looking back a few more years, much of the current medical center parking woes are due to the lack of foresight when building the last parking structure on the medical campus–the one next to the Cancer Center. In a money-saving move, they opted not to build in the structural capacity to add floors to that structure in the future. Perhaps it could still be done–albeit quite expensively, and not without losing spaces during construction.

    UM does still have the option to build an underground parking structure on the Kresge site, and to provide the additional capacity to build on top–whether it be another medical building, or more parking. It would be more expensive than building above-ground parking on Wall Street, but then again, parkers wouldn’t need to be continuously shuttled back and forth either, a fact that just compounds the environmental impact. Ironically, this would also make the commuting experience not a whole lot different than parking in a satellite lot miles from campus.

    Perhaps the best solution, but not a likely one, is to build a moderate structure at the Kresge site, and then build some decent, affordable housing for employees and/or medical students on Wall Street.

  29. By cosmonıcan
    February 15, 2012 at 5:25 pm | permalink

    Regarding the UM parking plans, Kresge Park and Wall Street. Wall Street would seem to be a done deal, the houses are gone now, which caused the protests before, all that remains is a parking lot for the full length of that street; they may as well build a parking deck there, though below ground parking is probably impossible at that site. While it may be suitable for housing, I can’t imagine the UM doing it, even for an undergrad dorm.

    As for Kresge Park, there is this from the “Medical Center Campus and East Medical Campus Master Plan Update” linked by Mary: “Alternative methods of storing cars in parking facilities may allow parked cars to be stored more efficiently in the limited amount of space available; this concept should be explored in the future.” Obviously the UM planners were thinking about automated parking systems which have been discussed here in the Chronicle before. This is a company which makes such systems: [link]

    Underground parking high up that hill, away from the water table, seems possible, and an orderly method of storing the vehicles would reduce noise and idling fumes. The proximity of parking to the hospitals is priceless, and there’s room above for any type of building.

    I don’t care what they do with any of those areas, so long as they keep their mitts off of Fuller Park and leave the lower parts of the river valley for nature. Keep the train station where it is if you must; I’d rather see it and the railroad moved alongside I-94 to create a transportation corridor, but that will never happen except in my dreams.

  30. By Eric
    February 16, 2012 at 7:19 pm | permalink


    Assume the train will still go along the river valley.

    Assume the Michcon site is cleaned up.

    Assume a new train station will be built either on the Fuller Transit Station area or on the current Amtrak / Michcon area.

    Would you prefer that land currently proposed for Fuller Transit Station was taken out of the park inventory and turned into a train station (and maybe some commercial) and the current Amtrak / Michcon site was turned into park or vica versa? (I suspect the latter based on your comment, but didn’t want to assume.)

    (I realize there are other options and my assumptions may not holdup.)

    I can see pros and cons to both approaches in terms of the transit station having the maximum possible positive impact, but either way, you’d have about the same about of park land in the Huron valley.

  31. By cosmonıcan
    February 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm | permalink

    #30: I think it’s clear I want Fuller Park left alone, preferably with the current asphalt removed. There is nothing about the current location of the train station that begs it to move.

    Hope that answers your question, I have no interest in writing a screed about some dream scenario, I’ll just keep that notion to myself.