Ann Arbor to Face Environmental Lawsuit?

Letter: Proposed parking garage poses environmental risk

In a letter to Ann Arbor’s mayor and city council, Noah Hall, executive director of the The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in Detroit, has raised the specter of an environmental lawsuit filed against the city of Ann Arbor. At issue is whether the city’s planned underground parking garage on Fifth Avenue violates the Michigan Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). The bond issuance for the project, for an amount not to exceed $55 million, was approved by city council at its Feb. 17, 2009 meeting. As of Friday, May 15, 2009, bonds have still not yet been issued, according to Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer. [text of Hall's letter]

Joining Hall as signatories to the letter are Henry L. Henderson (Natural Resources Defense Council), Stuart Batterman (environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan), David Yves Albouy (economics at the University of Michigan), Doug Cowherd (Sierra Club-Huron Valley Group), Tom Whitaker (Germantown Neighborhood Association), as well as two other Ann Arbor residents.

In an emailed response to The Chronicle reacting to a previous draft of Hall’s letter circulated two months ago (which covered substantially the same issues), Leigh Greden (Ward 3) stated: “A lawsuit alleging that the parking garage violates MEPA would be frivolous,” contending that the standard suggested by Hall would make any construction project non-compliant with the MEPA.

Still, based on background sources for The Chronicle,  the project has been slowed somewhat by the extra unknown of a lawsuit. We’ll track this dispute as it evolves, and will hopefully be able to gain some insight into any planned next steps from councilmembers at their Sunday night caucus.

Meanwhile, what exactly is the MEPA standard to which Hall appeals in his letter to the Ann Arbor city council? Two key aspects to consider in evaluating a MEPA claim are (i) standing, and (ii) cause. The first relates to those who are allowed to bring a suit in a MEPA case.

Legal Standing

In relevant part, the section from Michigan Compiled Law 324.1701 reads [emphasis added for readability]:

(1) The attorney general or any person may maintain an action in the circuit court having jurisdiction where the alleged violation occurred or is likely to occur for declaratory and equitable relief against any person for the protection of the air, water, and other natural resources and the public trust in these resources from pollution, impairment, or destruction.

But in a July 25, 2007 Michigan Supreme Court decision, the court set a possible precedent for narrowing the set of possible plaintiffs in such cases, by applying traditional requirements for legal standing. That is, there must be an injury to the plaintiff, and that plaintiff’s injury must be different than the injury to the public at large. The 2007 case involved a water bottling plant operated by Nestlé Waters North America that threatened to lower the levels of two nearby lakes, a stream and three wetlands.

In that decision, the court ruled that the group filing the lawsuit could sue based on damages related to one of the lakes and the stream, because some members of the group owned property located directly on the lake and the stream. But because none of the group owned property on the second lake or any of the three wetlands, nor did they enjoy the direct benefit of those properties, the court said the group could not sue based on damage to those bodies of water, because the group lacked the legal standing to do so.

… the record below does not indicate that plaintiffs used or had access to these areas or that they enjoyed a recreational, aesthetic, or economic interest in them. Plaintiffs failed to establish that they have a substantial interest in these areas, detrimentally affected by Nestlé’s conduct, that is distinct from the interest of the general public. The absence of a concrete, particularized injury in fact is fatal to plaintiffs’ standing to bring a MEPA claim.

So while the MEPA itself appears to grant legal standing to anyone at all to bring a lawsuit based on “pollution, impairment, or destruction” of the environment, the precedent set by the 2007 case allows for some restriction on the range of people who can bring a lawsuit under the MEPA.

And that restriction depends on the relationship of the potential plaintiffs to the resource that is alleged to be in danger of “pollution, impairment, or destruction.” That relationship needs to be relatively direct: The court rejected an “interconnectedness” argument based on the entire planet’s hydrology, on pain of giving “anyone but a Martian” the standing to contest water withdrawals like Nestlé’s. It’s not enough, the court said in a previous case (Lujan v Defenders of Wildlife), to use a resource in an area roughly “in the vicinity” of the jeopardized resource.

One resource identified in Hall’s letter as jeopardized by the planned Fifth Avenue underground parking structure is air – partly in the form of increased CO2 emissions from automobile emissions caused by motorists driving to and from the structure. So with respect to the issue of legal standing, one question on which a court might deliberate would be: Is there a party to the lawsuit who has a recreational, aesthetic, or economic interest in the air that is likely to be directly affected by the garage? A second question on which the court could deliberate with respect to legal standing would be whether the question of CO2 air pollution is sufficiently similar to water hydrology to reject any claim to standing based on the global warming phenomena.

With respect to the first question, the locations of the letter’s signatories’ homes could be germane: The geographic area of the Germantown Neighborhood Association abuts the same block on which the underground parking garage is to be built; Albouy, the UM economics professor, lives on the 300 block of South Division, directly adjacent to the proposed structure.

Hall’s letter indicates that CO2 emissions from automobiles are not the only source of environmental damage he might argue, should the case be litigated:

… the construction of a new parking structure of the size proposed will require a massive quantity of materials, including concrete and steel. The manufacture and synthesis of these construction materials require vast amounts of resources and energy, with associated pollution, impairment, and destruction of the natural environment.

The Case for Environmental Damage

Based on the space allocated to the topic in Hall’s letter, he’d likely place more emphasis on the the case for environmental damage from automobile CO2 emissions, than on destruction of resources associated with construction of the facility.

The line of reasoning for environmental damage based on CO2 emissions goes roughly like this: more vehicle miles traveled means more CO2 emissions, and more CO2 emissions translates into more global warming.

Once built, the underground parking structure – with 677 spaces in Phase I – will lead to increased vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on the streets surrounding the structure that provide entrance and exit to the structure. The expected increase in VMT at those locations is reflected in two kinds of city documents: (i) in the site plan analysis done for the underground parking garage project by the city, which notes the expected increase in traffic surrounding the structure, and (ii) the financial plan analyzing the feasibility for issuing bonds to fund the structure, which assumes an overall increase in the number of vehicles using the Ann Arbor parking system downtown.

Part of the context of the VMT discussion is that an increase in VMT is counter to the city of Ann Arbor’s stated environmental goals. It’s also one of the areas of weakness identified in the city’s State of the Environment report. The number of per capita VMT has been trending upward from 2000 to 2005.

Does increased VMT lead to increased C02 emissions? For now, at least, Hall said in an interview with The Chronicle, increased VMT correlates with increased CO2 emissions. Until there’s a predominance of electric vehicles on the road, with batteries charged with solar arrays or windmills, more VMT means more CO2, he said.

What’s the significance of CO2, given that various natural processes emit CO2? At least the legal significance of CO2 could be affected by the April 17, 2009 proposed endangerment finding by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that greenhouse gases (of which CO2 is one) contribute to air pollution that may endanger public health or welfare. The EPA finding is “proposed” because it must now go through a public commentary phase.

It’s that proposed finding, together with a scientific consensus on global warming, that convinces Hall that the case he might bring would be easier to argue now than it would have been a year ago. Even considering that, Hall allows that it’s not an open-and-shut case. Otherwise put, it’s not about “routine enforcement,” but rather a new kind of case that could establish new precedents.

Defense and Settlement

Hall contends that either in advance of the parking garage construction – or as a defendant in an environmental lawsuit – the city of Ann Arbor needs “to engage in a thorough and objective evaluation of alternative ways to meet the defined need (for example, providing downtown Ann Arbor with transportation to support vibrant commerce).”

What is the defined need in this case? At the Feb. 17, 2009 city council meeting, the public commentary as well as council deliberations focused on symptoms that indicated a lack of sufficient parking. Those symptoms ranged from the anecdotal (complaints by potential patrons of downtown merchants about a lack of parking), to a parade example of a business that was reported to have relocated away from downtown Ann Arbor due to a lack of parking (Xoran Technologies), to some numbers on structure usage (84% capacity during peak periods) and excessive waiting times (greater than 30 days) to obtain a monthly permit.

The anecdotes will likely be familiar to readers of The Chronicle.

The example of Xoran Technologies was introduced at council’s Feb. 17 meeting during public commentary by Newcombe Clark, who works with Bluestone Realty Advisors, and who reported trying to negotiate a deal to provide 20 dedicated parking spaces for the growing company. Xoran, which makes advanced medical imaging equipment, will move from their current location at Miller and First in in the summer of 2009 to Pittsfield Township. At their current location, The Chronicle counted 53 spaces designated by signage for Xoran employees.

During council deliberations, Leigh Greden (Ward 3), who was involved in the attempt to negotiate the 20 additional spaces through the Downtown Development Authority, seemed to portray the Xoran decision as turning only on the 20 parking spaces. Based on a cursory inquiry by The Chronicle, it’s not clear who on Xoran’s part might have introduced a requirement or desire for the specific number of 20 additional parking spaces as a condition for staying downtown.

According to Jackie Vesitvich, head of communications for Xoran, with whom The Chronicle spoke by phone a few days after council’s Feb. 17 meeting, the company needed additional space in general. The company had been very interested in staying in the downtown Ann Arbor area, she said, because they loved being there – but the decision to move to their new Pittsfield location was based on the need for additional space, and specifically a particular configuration of office and warehouse space to accommodate their operation to FDA requirements. An extra 20 parking spaces, she allowed, would have been nice.

In an email sent to The Chronicle in response to an inquiry about the 20 spaces, Clark clarified that there were numerous “deal points” in addition to parking that led Xoran to decide to move to Pittsfield Township. However, he wrote, “All that is certain is that they had a strong desire to stay downtown and a very specific and small lack of parking was the stated reason at the time to look outside of the downtown.”

Asked at the podium during the Feb. 17 meeting what the usage numbers were for the parking system, Roger Hewitt, chair of the Downtown Development Authority’s operations committee, indicated that during peak periods the usage was at 84% of capacity, and that at 85% of capacity, there was already perception that a structure was full. [The DDA administers the city's parking structures and surface lots through Republic Parking. The organization's chair, Jennifer S. Hall, is married to Noah Hall.]

In light of the discussions and deliberations at council’s meeting, then, the need to add parking capacity by approving an underground structure was based on symptoms of a lack of parking capacity.

The parking study for Ann Arbor prepared for the city in 2007 by Nelson\Nygaard, a consulting firm, alludes to some of these symptoms in its final recommendations. With respect to permits, the study says:

6. Maintain sufficient parking supply to allow purchase of monthly parking access instrument on demand, or following a waiting period of no more than 30 days.

And with respect to the need to woo particular companies (like Xoran), the study says:

Coordinate on Economic Development Strategies: The recent Google deal (400 free parking permits offered to lure an influential employer to Downtown) points to the reality that parking access can play a major role in economic development. The City, the Chamber of Commerce, and the DDA should therefore meet early in the process of such deals to determine the potential volume of permits being discussed, the potential value returned to the City for providing this incentive, and to begin developing an approach that follows the established Downtown Parking Policy.

In a phone conversation on May 14, 2009, The Chronicle spoke with David Fields, principal with Nelson\Nygaard, about a basic approach to determining when to add capacity to a parking system. Although Fields worked on the Ann Arbor study, we were asking him to comment in complete generality, not to weigh in on the question of whether to build the underground parking garage at Fifth Avenue. And in that spirit, he suggested that every community will determine for itself how much parking it wants.

One possible step, he allowed, was to decide how much access to an area the community wanted to provide – that is, how many people did a community want to transport into and out of an area. From there, the community could decide what portion of that access was feasibly provided by various means: single occupancy vehicles, bus, rail, bicycle, etc.

In his letter, Hall argues essentially that the feasibility of providing access to downtown Ann Arbor through various other means besides the proposed underground parking garage needs to be analyzed by the city in order to defend against the prima facia case that the underground parking structure will damage the environment. That is, in response to the lawsuit that he might bring, Hall cites one allowable defense specified in the MEPA, which reads in relevant part:

The defendant may also show, by way of an affirmative defense, that there is no feasible and prudent alternative to defendant’s conduct and that his or her conduct is consistent with the promotion of the public health, safety, and welfare in light of the state’s paramount concern for the protection of its natural resources from pollution, impairment, or destruction.


When The Chronicle interviewed Hall, he suggested that a 2000 2008 case involving the Sierra Club and the city of Stockton, Calif. might provide a model for a settlement of the Ann Arbor case. There, the city of Stockton took two steps. They (i) set forth a whole range of plans to reduce CO2 emissions and vehicle miles traveled, and (ii) made a specific investment in bus rapid transit. Hall is not wed to the idea of bus rapid transit in particular, but says that it’s important to make some commitment to an initiative that the federal government is interested in helping to fund.

Hall notes there’s no federal stimulus money being offered for parking structures – because, he says, they’re totally out of line with what the Obama administration wants to do. The only part of the underground parking garage bond issuance that’s receiving matching funds from non-local sources, Hall points out, are the streetscape improvements (to enhance pedestrian experience) along Fifth and Division streets. For that project, the Michigan Department of Transportation has awarded a $1 million grant.

During the last couple of months, Mayor John Hieftje  has often made a somewhat similar point about federal versus local funding in connection with the East Stadium bridges. The city of Ann Arbor  would not want to issue bonds, or use the local street repair millage to repair the bridges, he has pointed out, because the state and federal government place a high enough value on such projects to offer funding for them.

Editorial Aside

Hall has lent to The Chronicle nearly 1,000 printed pages of material related to the underground parking structure obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the city of Ann Arbor. Some of that material includes email exchanges among city councilmembers made during their council deliberations. Hall’s letter mentions that material as possible Open Meetings Act violations. Having read through it, the content seems to fall into two categories: (i) adolescent humor, and (ii) apparent “backchannel” discussion of issues before the council, which raises more serious concerns.

We have arranged to have the material digitally scanned as images, and converted to text. To the extent that’s a successful arrangement, we’ll make the material available here on The Chronicle, and follow up as appropriate.


  1. May 16, 2009 at 10:49 am | permalink

    I have read Hall’s letter. It is not marred by the citation of any legal cases supporting his claim.

    The idea that the builder of a parking structure has a legal duty to conduct some kind of environmental analysis is bizarre on its face. Plus, this claim leads to a “slippery slope” argument. Building one house uses construction materials, and probably will result in increased auto use. Does the house builder have a legal duty to do an environmental analysis? For example, should the builder consider whether or not the alleged need for his/her house could be met by renting a vacant house elsewhere?

    What about building a small office building with a small parking lot?

    I (gasp) agree with Leigh Greden. Hall’s letter does not really threaten a suit, so it is not your typical “demand letter”. However, if he does sue, I think the suit will be frivolous. He and/or his group may wind up having to pay the City’s legal costs.

  2. By mr dairy
    May 16, 2009 at 12:46 pm | permalink

    Wouldn’t it be something if the amount of $$ spent on a parking structure were spent on local public transit? IS the cost of the structure around $50-$60 mill? That would be a good start on improving local public transportation.

  3. By Jim Blake
    May 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm | permalink

    I bet Ann Arbor spends more on public transit per person than any city in the state. Look at your property tax bill. Look at what the UM spends. Look at the AATA budget.

    But anyway, without the parking fees from the parking spaces there is no money to spend so forget it.

    Besides, I think the cost of only the parking spaces is less than $40 million. The rest is going to put in new sewer and water lines and to upgrade the Division and 5th corridors to be more pedestrian friendly and to add bike lanes so there is finally a way to quickly cross downtown.

    It would be great to have new trees and wider sidewalks and flowers and bike lanes on these streets but if they hold up the work with this wacko lawsuit the bike lanes and ped construction will not happen.

    But the key point to me is that you can’t make everybody ride the bus. Not many people going downtown for a $100 dinner or $500 piece of art are going to ride the bus, the people who come from out of town never will. If there is no place to park they will just stay out in the suburbs or over in W. Bloomfield and go to somewhere there.

    It is a Utopian myth that you can limit parking and people will ride the bus, some will of course but you can’t maintain a lively downtown without lots of parking.

    Downtowns are just not that huge a draw, there are good restaurants in the burbs too and malls full of shops, all with huge impervious parking lots. That must be good for the environment. Without good parking, people just won’t go downtown.

    As I understand it, and maybe someone can fill in the blanks, the city is losing parking and could lose a bunch more if a big privately owned parking lot is built on. Where will downtown be then?

  4. By Concerned about A2
    May 16, 2009 at 4:24 pm | permalink

    Isn’t it strange that a man that lives in Ann Arbor and commutes to Wayne State is concerned about CO2 emissions from vehicles?

  5. By Dave Askins
    May 16, 2009 at 8:01 pm | permalink
  6. By Jerrod Mason
    May 16, 2009 at 9:43 pm | permalink

    This kind of nonsense makes me oh so glad that I moved from the People’s Republic of Ann Arbor. What a bunch of nutcases you have living there and stirring up trouble with nonsensical lawsuits. I can hope that there is a judge with the cajones to rule that Hall’s suit is frivolous, and make him pay through the nose.

  7. May 16, 2009 at 10:05 pm | permalink

    I’d love to ride the bus to eat downtown, but they don’t run that time of night. Wish we could figure out a way to fund AATA to have a full schedule.

  8. May 17, 2009 at 12:33 am | permalink

    I’m surprised that Councilmembers would have these sorts of conversations, knowing full well that their emails are public records.

  9. By Phillip Farber
    May 17, 2009 at 12:37 pm | permalink

    Spending on parking structures is a waste of public dollars. The desire to drive anywhere and find a convenient place to store your car is a fantasy we’ve chased for too long. The jig is up.

    Transportation by private automobile is already unaffordable for some households and undesirable by others. This trend will accelerate as gas prices resume their ascent. 100 mpg cars are not a solution. The roads themselves are made from oil. We have reached the point of insufficient resources to support even our current transportation infrastructure let along expand it.

    Basing the health and vibrancy of downtown on the assumption of driving and the ready availability of parking is a prescription for failure. We need to spend on other modes whether we like the idea or not. Get used to it.

  10. May 17, 2009 at 1:48 pm | permalink

    My understanding is that the parking structure per se would not violate the MEPA. Rather, it would be the city’s failure to adequately consider alternatives, identify the purpose of the project, etc. (as outlined in the GLELC letter) that would violate the law. I imagine that the city’s lawyers will actually read the language of the law before assessing its applicability.

    Jim, not building a structure isn’t the same thing as removing all of downtown parking. Likewise, the extreme case of making “everyone” ride the bus isn’t a realistic way of looking at this. The text of the email I sent to council that Prof. Hall included with his letter addresses many of the relevant considerations, including alternative approaches to managing peak parking demand.

  11. By Dave
    May 17, 2009 at 9:06 pm | permalink

    Vivienne: Hear hear – we agree on something ;) I’ve always wondered why they don’t run one of those smaller buses on the Newport route. Perhaps they could do so into the evening and/or on weekends.

  12. By Karen Sidney
    May 18, 2009 at 11:09 am | permalink

    I hope litigation is not required to resolve this. But if the a lawsuit is filed, it will be fascinating to see what the Michigan Supreme Court does. The 2007 case linked in the article was 4 to 3, with Taylor in the majority. The voters replaced Taylor with Hathaway. If Justice Hathaway agrees with the dissenters, the 2007 case could be reversed. Considering that there are two prominent environmental organizations as plaintiffs, we might even see a trend-setting pro-environment opinion from the Michigan Supreme Court.

  13. By Joan Lowenstein
    May 18, 2009 at 3:02 pm | permalink

    The supreme court case Karen cites deals with standing (eligibility) to bring suit. In this case, I don’t think a court will even need to address that. I agree with Dave Cahill. The city and the DDA have been discussing the alternatives since Noah Hall was a teenager. The usual criticism of Ann Arbor is that we discuss matters too much. The parking issue in downtown is not a new one and pretty much every solution except a space station has been considered over many, many years while owners of stores and workers in offices have been waiting.

  14. May 18, 2009 at 9:56 pm | permalink

    What I find confusing is that we have been promoting the idea of transit, pedestrian/bike, and everything but automobile access to downtown, until it becomes a question of what businesses want for their own owners/employees. The excellent GetDowntown program and the work the AATA has done in conjunction with them has been arranged to help people who work downtown to use an alternative to storing a car there all day. Commuters are the most natural group to use another way to come downtown. The Google deal was in direct contravention to our supposed philosophy of encouraging use of transit for this purpose. Assuming that downtown is still a place for retail businesses, our parking strategy should be aimed at making parking available for short-term visitors. I’m stunned to see a serious discussion of availability of monthly parking permits be the driving force for expensive investment in parking structures. Let’s make our actions and our “vision” match.

  15. By David Lewis
    May 19, 2009 at 2:33 am | permalink

    Vivianne: Are you suggesting that the city should “starve” the downtown in regard to parking? Are you suggesting that had you been on city council you would have held out on giving parking to Google?


    Anyone who thinks downtown Ann Arbor can be sustained and grow on a starvation diet of parking does not understand anything about business or downtowns.

    No city in Michigan and only a few in the whole U.S. do as much as Ann Arbor to promote transit and non-motorized. But that is not enough to sustain a lively downtown.

    Do you think the bike and bus riders and walkers will sustain the downtown? Will they fill the restaurants and buy the $1,000 art pieces at the galleries?

    What business owner is going to locate their company in a city with no parking when they can go outside of town and have miles of surface parking? Google wouldn’t and they are one of the most progressive companies you are likely to find.

    Like almost any business, downtowns depend on the last 10 or 15% of customers to come in the door and that means you need to get as many people downtown as possible if it is to survive. As many have said before, the shoppers and diners from West Bloomfield and Scio Twp. are just not going to come if they can’t park downtown. There are too many other options.

    The knowledge based companies of the future won’t come either. Nor will the anchor retailers. Nor will the seniors with disposable income. Again, there are just too many other options.

    If you are anti growth, anti downtown, please just come out and say it.

  16. May 19, 2009 at 6:33 am | permalink

    If you will read my comment again, you will see that I was opposing the building of parking aimed primarily at employee (commuter) parking, while supporting parking for customers. I agree that parking for retail customers is critical and have said so on my blog.

    Employees of downtown businesses are the ideal population to use alternative transportation. Otherwise they are using some very expensive vehicle storage all day.

    I was also trying to make the point that our actions have not been following our stated policies. Note the Nonmotorized Transportation Plan, for example, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Plan Update (still under consideration).

    Sorry to repeat my earlier comment, but apparently it was not clear.

  17. By Susan
    May 19, 2009 at 9:17 am | permalink

    Vivian’s comments were perfectly clear but I’m glad she reiterated. The new $50M+ parking structure is for commuters and car storage for students who are supposedly going to want to live in the new “6 bedroom housekeeping units” with insufficient parking. People coming downtown to “fill the restaurants and buy the $1,000 art pieces” are not going to be crawling out of the sub terrain. And Google employees should be the FIRST to want to use alternate transport to get to their offices. If not them, who??

    I’m really curious what exactly Ann Arbor does that is “so much to promote transit and non-motorized.” Bike racks? A couple of park and ride lots and a bus system with few covered stops and a slow, circular route? “No city in Michigan and only a few in the whole U.S.” do more than that? I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of hyperbole.

    Mr Dairy makes a good point. To go even further, $50 million spent on making it easier for people to drive downtown is $50 million that won’t be spent on making it easier for people NOT to drive downtown. So the City will have simply made it $50 million HARDER for alternative forms of transportation to ever compete with the individual car. How can we ever make progress when cities like Ann Arbor (!!!) are stacking the deck against alt transportation?

    Imagine a $50 MILLION investment in alternatives!

    And Dave’s fab bit of investigative reporting on the big Xoran fable deserves an article of its very own. So, it turns out that “their new Pittsfield location was based on the need for additional space, and specifically a particular configuration of office and warehouse space to accommodate their operation to FDA requirements.” Remind me which council members were the ones pounding their fists on the table about how this business was leaving because they couldn’t get 20 more parking spaces? I think we would all do well to remember this “story” the next time certain people are talking big about how our tax dollars “need” to be spent. Pffft.

  18. By My two cents
    May 19, 2009 at 10:42 am | permalink

    Those of you who are so strongly for public transportation over parking, do you actually use it? Do you commute to work by bus or bike? Do you take the bus downtown to go shopping?

    I am interested to know if you guys actually live the way you are trying to force everyone else to live.

    If not, I suggest for 2 months you do nothing but take the bus to work, to go shopping and to dinner downtown. And I suggest that you do this not only now, but in January, where you have to stand outside at 7am in 10 degree weather waiting for the bus to commute to work. I suggest you do this when you have kids in daycare that you MUST pick up by 6pm. I suggest you do this when you have a formal event downtown and you want to look nice for it.

    We cannot live in a society with only public transportation. Parking is not a luxury it is needed. It is needed for employees as well as for shoppers and restaurant patrons.

    So I ask that those of you who are against additional parking to actually set the example for the rest of us. Try living this way for awhile and you might change your tune a little bit.

    I am pro public transportation and biking but as an addition to parking, not as the rule.

  19. By Susan
    May 19, 2009 at 11:05 am | permalink

    The point is not to “force” anyone to do anything. The only way alt transportation works is when it is DESIRABLE. Currently everything we do is geared toward making it MORE convenient for people to drive a car everywhere. There are many parking structures downtown. Nobody is arguing that we tear them down. There are many surface lots downtown parking. Aside from Friday night, the lots are rarely full. Building more parking so that on Friday, during Art Fair and football Saturdays is the same “solution” as all those empty buses driving around all day because they need the capacity a few times a day/days a year. I think the bus system sucks. Since Michigan gets winter weather EVERY YEAR the system needs to be set up to accommodate it. Covered stops would be a start but not a solution. The bus system is not an attractive option for most people. What would be? Hey, how ’bout we spend $50M to find out?

    Every dollar spent on car storage is a dollar not spent on a better way to do this.

    Btw, in order to get to a bus stop from our current house I have to walk on a busy road with no sidewalks. In the winter or when it is wet, I get sprayed by cars speeding by. The current alt transportation system does not work. And when the city spends $50M to make it more convenient for people to drive, it will be that much harder to ever make an alternative system that does work.

  20. By My two cents
    May 19, 2009 at 11:34 am | permalink

    You have obviously never taken public transportation on a regular basis and/or never lived on the east coast. Public transportation is and never will be desirable; it is necessary for some and an alternative for others, but is in fact miserable in bad weather.

    People mostly take public transportation because they have to, not because they want to. Nobody would go to that much inconvenience on purpose.

    The public transportation system is sustainable out east because they have no other choice. There is no more room to build parking structures in the major cities such as NYC or Philly. The spaces that are available are so overpriced that the average middle class person with a family cannot afford one. If you want a job that pays well, you almost always have to work in the nearest large city. When getting this job you know that you will have to sacrifice convenience (parking) for the better job. Some suburbs do have good jobs, but typically the better jobs are within the city which has limited parking. You have no choice; you must take public transportation.

    Here in Ann Arbor, people can find an equal job outside the city limits so it is much more difficult to try and persuade people to take public transportation. There is not a feeling that they “have to”. The downtown will suffer because of all the alternative places for people to shop, work and eat that are not as inconvenient.

    If public transportation was billed as the socially responsible thing to do it would have a better chance of going over well with the public. As for making it desirable, it does not have a chance especially with our winter weather.

    Having stood on a train platform in the pouring rain, wind and cold, I can tell you that NOONE who takes public transportation on a regular basis in bad weather thinks of it as desirable and if they could afford to, would drive.

    Try it for a couple months and you will see what I am talking about.

    Trying to make public transportation in this area desirable is naive.

  21. By David Lewis
    May 19, 2009 at 1:00 pm | permalink

    Susan: I will have to do some research to back up my claim regarding what the city is doing for alternative transportation.

    Please get it straight that less than $40 million of the project is going to build the underground parking (where parking should be in a modern city) the rest goes for water and sewer mains, new pedestrian improvements and narrowing 5th and Division for cars to add bright new bike lanes. A whole new street will be built and it will all be made better for cyclists and pedestrians.

    And when it is done, there will be shiny new space for a tax paying building. Exactly what any city in Michigan would do almost anything to get!

    But without the parking, there would be no $40 million because it comes from parking fee’s. There isn’t $50 million sitting around to be spent on transit and why would they do it anyway when the community is spending millions already.

    But I will get back to you.

  22. By Joan Lowenstein
    May 19, 2009 at 1:52 pm | permalink

    David makes some excellent points. Part of the consideration in putting parking underground at the library lot is to entice some residential development on top. Even if the public transportation is perfect, residents will want to have at least one car. We are doing “all of the above” — more bike lanes on 5th and Division; non-motorized path on Washtenaw; requiring covered bike parking in new residential projects; working with UM and SEMCOG on planning for train transportation; encouraging more Zipcars; and increasing the efficiency of AATA. None of that will keep people out of cars 100% of the time.

  23. May 19, 2009 at 4:17 pm | permalink

    “None of that will keep people out of cars 100% of the time.”

    That’s another example of the all-or-nothing thinking that Jim demonstrated in #3. We only need to get a small percentage of the existing and anticipated demand to shift, not all of it. It’s already happening, through all those ways that Joan mentioned. The go!pass use has greatly increased in the last year. ZipCar is planning to add more downtown vehicles, just a few months after opening operations in that area. By the time the structure could be built, where do we think parking demand will be, given the shifting picture? The city hasn’t answered that question (if they ever asked it.)

  24. May 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm | permalink

    As a member of Council who voted for the parking structure, I believe — at a gut level as well as an intellectual level — that some or all of the future alternative transportation uses had been taken into consideration. I also believe that we are building this new structure, knowing that some of our older structures will be phasing out inthe next decade as antiquated and surpassing their useful life. For all that the infernal combustion engine (not a typo) may no longer be state of the art, I believe there will be personal transportation devises as well as mass transport for the next 50 years. So even with my commitment to alternative transporation, mass transit, and fewer overall vehicles, we will still need SOME parking structures. I would rather have our last parking structure be this one — underground — than any of the above ground structures.

    I can go into a lengthy monologue about my logic; I cannot tell you anyone else’s or the level of research conducted on the issue. There are some really good books on parking structure design and the high cost of storing cars.

  25. May 21, 2009 at 1:43 am | permalink

    Ms Briere’s explanation of her rationale for the new parking structure is the best I’ve heard yet, and elicits my grudging respect. I have voiced opposition to the new structure in a letter to the Ann Arbor News, pointing out that for about half the cost we could purchase enough new buses to bring the equivalent number of people downtown.

    But if one or more of the existing structures will need to be demolished, that’s good news. I agree with everyone who said we need to maintain the amount of parking we have, and parking structures are much more aesthetically appealing when they’re not visible at all.

    Mr/Ms Cents is right that we can’t make everyone take the bus, and of course we shouldn’t try. But there are quite a few things that *can* be done to make public transportation more appealing. This isn’t the place to discuss that, but I do want to assure Mr/Ms Cents that I almost always ride the bus to get downtown, either from my home in Ypsi Township or from WCC. It’s true that a coat and umbrella are necessary sometimes, and boots in snowy weather. But none of that would deter a true Michigander – would it? ;-)

  26. May 21, 2009 at 1:25 pm | permalink

    “I also believe that we are building this new structure, knowing that some of our older structures will be phasing out inthe next decade as antiquated and surpassing their useful life.”

    Sabra, that’s news to me. Which ones and when?

  27. May 21, 2009 at 3:33 pm | permalink

    In response to Steve Bean’s query about which parking structures will be phased out — and when . . . I wish I had all the answers. I don’t. Here’s why I think we’ll face that issue:

    Two of our parking structures (4th & William and Maynard)are about 60 years old. They were built in the early 1950s. No matter how much we decorate them (I’m thinking of Mary Thiefal’s proposed mural, here, or the earlier proposal for a ‘lightfall’) these are buildings that are aging, exposed to the elements, and have been repaired at expense several times. In the early 90s, these parking structures were falling apart — one could see through the floors, in some spots.

    The City spent resources on these structures, and maintains them in part by turning the management over to the DDA. But still, these two are OLD. The most recently built structures — well, rebuilt — are 4th and Washington (1998) and Forest (2000). Before that, the City built the one at 1st and Ashley, nearly 20 years ago.

    Parking structures in this climate don’t generally age well. The oldest one was 60 when we tore it down (1st and Washington). We need to think about the fact that we’ve two others nearly that age. I’ve thought about it a lot. I certainly don’t want to authorize replacing or rebuilding them.

  28. By David Lewis
    May 22, 2009 at 9:24 am | permalink

    I just received an email from my council member that is drawn from DDA data as a response to a question I sent about the parking situation.

    The DDA stands to lose 112 spaces at William and 1st when that parking lot converts to a park. They just got some federal “earmark” $$ the mayor requested to start cleaning up the pollution under the lot so it can become a park eventually.

    The DDA leases the “Brown Block” between Washington, Huron, Ashley and First and the owner has it listed as “build to suit,” that would mean another 170 spaces lost. At some point it seems like this will be built on, in any event the DDA does not control it.

    The DDA has lost 175 metered spaces since 2002 due to UM projects, street changes downtown, etc.

    They lost 133 when two floors of the Washington and 1st structure were torn down. They will get some of those back when the residential project is built. That structure was 60 years old.

    As Sabra said, there are two others at Maynard and 4th and William that are almost as old. Taking those down in a few years would mean a loss of another 1,700 spaces. The one that was replaced a few years ago at 4th and William was only 30 years old. These are close to 60.

    I think it is easy to see that what has been said about the new structure being “replacement” parking is true, if not today then in a few years. It seems wise to plan for this.

    I am still researching what the city is doing for alternative transportation, from what I have seen so far it is a lot but I will get back here with some of that soon.

  29. May 22, 2009 at 12:46 pm | permalink

    I wouldn’t look to lose Maynard anytime in the near future. It is essential to the commerce of the State Street region and was extensively repaired not long ago. It may be old, but only in parts. 4th and William was only recently the site of construction to add another floor (by city council direction).

    I think Mr. Lewis meant to refer to the 4th and Washington structure that was recently torn down and replaced.

  30. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 7, 2009 at 11:48 am | permalink

    “We have arranged to have the material digitally scanned as images, and converted to text. To the extent that’s a successful arrangement, we’ll make the material available here on The Chronicle, and follow up as appropriate.”

    After the Ann Arbor News coverage this morning, any word on this?

  31. By Dave Askins
    June 7, 2009 at 12:48 pm | permalink

    Re: [30]


    Scanning and optical character recognition of the initial corpus of electronic records has been completed. Our approach to this story was to look at three perspectives: (i) ethical questions of the appropriateness of the communication (ii) legal issues related to open meetings laws — which go deeper than merely the calculus of the “To: and From:” lines of emails (iii) information policies related to FOIA and the city’s ability to respond adequately to those requests in an electronic age.

    Of those perspectives, we’ve so far gotten comment on (i) and (iii) and are working on (ii). Laying out the issues in (ii) has been slow-going.

    Part of “following up as appropriate” has included a request for additional electronic records from the city of Ann Arbor, which we think could illuminate a variety of decisions made over the last
    several months by the city council. Government bodies are entitled to an extension of the FOIA deadline by 10 business days, which in this case results in a final deadline of June 15.

    The Chronicle has a record of publication calling for city councilmembers to move their work more squarely into public view, and those record requests are consistent with that history of publication.

    We think there are issues here that are more substantive than whether some members of council behave in an ill-mannered way on their government email accounts. The separate Ann Arbor News piece written by Judy McGovern, which addresses some of the legal issues, is a good start in the direction of exploring those issues.

    It is somewhat ironic that one of the ways that The Chronicle has been lobbied against publication of the emails exchanged by councilmembers during council meetings was based on the idea that The Ann Arbor News had an long understanding that such material was inappropriate for publication and that The Chronicle should follow the example of The Ann Arbor News.

    On publication of our story, whatever form that might take, we’ll provide an electronic archive of all the material.

    My apologies for not being able to work faster on this — part of our difficulty could be that The Chronicle is headquartered in the Fifth Ward, which might mean that we are among the “dim lights” known by some councilmembers to densely populate our section of the city.

  32. By Alan Goldsmith
    June 8, 2009 at 8:10 am | permalink


    I really appreciate your efforts on this and my question was in no way related to the speed of at which the story was unfolding.

    “The Ann Arbor News had an long understanding that such material was inappropriate for publication and that The Chronicle should follow the example of The Ann Arbor News.”

    While I appreciate the Sunday Ann Arbor News articles on this issue, it’s interesting all of a sudden they are doing ‘investigative reporting’ as the Newhouse owned publications enters its final hours. Where have they been the last ten to twenty years? Your quote about the ‘long understanding’ between council and the newspaper should be repulsive to anyone who appreciates real journalism. As usual, the News got the focus all wrong. While the comments about the Firth Ward might be true (lol, just kidding) the fact the newspaper focused on the ‘cute’ interchanges and the insults, while valid, wasn’t as important as the possible violations of the Open Meetings Act and one member emailing about possible election foes.

    Good luck on your FOIA requests and I’m looking forward to your continued coverage.