UM Regents Get Transportation Update

Regents hear report on alternative services for UM commuters

University of Michigan Board of Regents (July 16, 2009): At their monthly meeting on Thursday, regents approved a major renovation project for one of UM’s oldest residence halls, and got an update on the university’s parking and transportation strategy. The topic of parking and transportation came up again during time set aside for public comment, which included a pitch for a development at the possible Fuller Road intermodal transit center.

University executives also praised the recent inclusion of UM Hospitals and Health Centers in the U.S. News & World Report ranking of best American hospitals – they ranked 14th in the nation.

Parking & Transportation

Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, gave regents an overview of the university’s strategic plan for parking and transportation. UM’s approach is to provide commuters with multiple options, he said, including parking, buses, vanpools, carpools, Zipcars and cab service.

The total number of UM bus passenger rides for fiscal 2009 reached 5.9 million, he said, only a slight increase from the 5.8 million in ridership for each of the previous two years, but up from 4.7 million in 2004. Participation in the M-Ride program has also increased. M-Ride, a program of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, allows UM faculty, staff and students to ride AATA buses for free. In fiscal 2008, UM ridership through the M-Ride program was 2.254 million, out of AATA’s total 5.739 million passengers on its fixed routes. The university pays $700,000 annually for this service, with additional subsidies paid for from federal grants. Baier described AATA as a “great partner.”

The university’s vanpool program had 531 riders in fiscal 2009, up from 452 the previous year. Riders pay $25 per month, but the driver doesn’t have to pay. UM encourages both vanpooling and carpooling through its GreenRide program, which provides an online interface to help people find out if there’s a carpool or vanpool they can join.

Baier also gave an update on the university’s plans for parking. The Thompson structure is being expanded to add 273 spaces and offices for Parking and Transportation Services and the Office of Budget and Planning. When finished in the fall of 2010, the $15.7 million project will have a total of 1,049 spaces, plus additional spots for motorcycles and bikes.

Two previous parking structures that were planned on Wall Street and north campus have been put on hold, as reported at the regents’ June meeting. UM’s acquisition of the former Pfizer site near north campus came with 2,800 parking spaces, Baier said, giving them more capacity in the system. They’re also talking with the city of Ann Arbor about a Fuller Road intermodal transit center, which could include east-west and north-south commuter rail.

Baier showed a map indicating how many UM employees were commuting from different parts of the region. Around 16,000 people live in the immediate Ann Arbor area, but more than 24,000 come from other parts of Washtenaw County or other counties. About 12,000 people, for example, commute from eastern Washtenaw or western Wayne County. That’s why UM is interested in a commuter express bus to Canton, which AATA is planning to launch.

A similar express bus – the A2Chelsea Express – isn’t being used as much as UM had hoped, Baier said. [AATA staff reported at the transportation authority's May meeting that ridership was "quite low," averaging around 1,200 total rides per month.] There are about 3,000 UM employees who commute from the western part of Washtenaw County.

Baier said the university is willing to explore subsidizing alternative transportation, such as the proposed north-south commuter rail between Howell and Ann Arbor. About 3,800 UM employees commute from the Livingston County area. Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, followed up by saying that the potential for getting more employees out of their cars – and parking spaces – is a win-win. It cuts costs for the university and opens up more parking for visitors, like patients coming to the medical campus.

Building Projects

Regents approved several building projects at Thursday’s meeting, but the major one was a $49 million renovation of Couzens Hall on East Ann Street. Slottow said that this will be the last “deep” renovation of a heritage residence hall – Couzens was built in the mid 1920s. The hall, which houses about 560 students, will be out of commission for about a year, starting in the spring of 2010 and competed by fall 2011. In addition to infrastructure upgrades, the renovation will transform a vacant dining hall and kitchen (which were closed when the Hill Dining Center opened last fall) into living-learning areas.

Dave Battle, an architect with Integrated Design Solutions, which is handling the project, gave a brief presentation with some architectural renderings of the proposed changes. He mentioned that they were planning to upgrade existing bathrooms into “spa-like” facilities, which prompted Royster Harper, UM’s vice president for student affairs, to say that meant installing low-flow toilets. “That’s our definition of spa,” she joked.

Other projects approved at the meeting include:

  • $6.9 million to renovate and expand the University Hospital area devoted to surgical instrument processing, assembly, sterilization and storage operations. Ann Arbor-based Hobbs and Black Associates Inc. will be the architects for the project.
  • $2.4 million for the first phase of a project to renovate and relocate the Alexander G. Ruthven Museums building and the Museum of Zoology collection. Regents approved the initial $20 million project at their December 2008 meeting. This first phase covers the installation of fire detection and fire alarm systems.
  • $1.2 million to update and build new lab space at the Clarence Cook Little Science Building. The work is being done to support new faculty’s research in the Dept. of Geology.
  • $1.16 million to expand the Cancer Center’s infusion pharmacy and infusion area, where chemotherapy is administered.

Regents also approved the renaming of the Indoor Practice Facility for Intercollegiate Football, which will now be called the Al Glick Field House. Glick, his family and his company, Alro Steel Corp., donated $8.7 million to fund the new facility under construction, which will be completed in August.

Public Comment

Two people spoke during the meeting’s public comment session, which allows for three-minute presentations per speaker.

Aaron Jacobson: Jacobson, who described himself as a third-generation Wolverine, said he was representing Riverfront LLC, a group made up of UM graduate students, developers and architects. (The group includes local developer Peter Allen, who attended Thursday’s meeting but did not speak during the time set aside for public comment.) They’ve been working with the city of Ann Arbor, Jacobson said, to develop a shared vision for the city in the underutilized area along Fuller Road. That’s the location being considered for an intermodal transportation center on city-owned property, a possible node for parking, bus and rail.

Jacobson reported that Riverfront had conducted a survey with 94 respondents. Of those, 65% said they would take a commuter train that stops at the UM hospital; 82% said they would patronize restaurants and retail shops within walking distance of the hospital; and 65% said they would choose to live or stay at a hotel within walking distance of the hospital, if they could.

The Fuller Road site should serve as more than a parking structure, Jacobson said. It could be a welcome center for Ann Arbor and UM, creating a first impression as people enter town by rail. Building a parking deck at the edge of the site would allow more space for future development, including retail and residential.

Jacobson said his group planned to make similar presentations next week to city council, planning commission and the park advisory commission. [A presentation was made to Ann Arbor's city council caucus on the evening of Sunday, July 19]. He asked regents for their feedback, and said he hoped they would express a preference for Amtrak to relocate its station to this site.

The regents did not comment on his presentation. However, UM CFO Tim Slottow did. He told regents that he wanted to make clear that Peter Allen and the Riverfront group were in no way advising or representing the university – he said it was worth noting, since there might be confusion because Allen is a UM adjunct faculty member and Jacobson is a graduate student.

Jim Mogensen: Mogensen said that the transportation report had been a “Cliffs Notes” version, and doesn’t give a full representation of the community’s transportation picture. It’s a challenge to provide services, especially to areas that are currently underserved. He said if AATA makes additional cuts to service for Ypsilanti, he plans to file a disparate impact complaint. He noted that it’s difficult to get bus service to UM’s medical campus on Plymouth Road in northeast Ann Arbor, and he urged the university to make sure they provide basic transportation access to their health facilities when they renegotiate their M-Ride contract with AATA later this year.

What We Missed

Thursday’s meeting began an hour earlier than its usual 3 p.m. start time – and being creatures of habit, The Chronicle did not notice the change and showed up at 2:45 p.m., the time when the doors typically open for these meetings. (We weren’t the only one – Dave Gershman of The Ann Arbor News arrived at 3 p.m.) So we missed the presentation of annual reports on the economic status of the faculty. These reports had previously been posted on the website for the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA), the faculty governance group.

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Olivia Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andrew Richner, Martin Taylor, Katherine White

Next board meeting: The regents do not meet in August. Their next meeting is Thursday, Sept. 17, at 3 p.m. in the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]


  1. By Bob Krzewinski
    July 20, 2009 at 11:19 pm | permalink

    “Regents hear report on alternative services for UM commuters” -”UM’s approach is to provide commuters with multiple options, he said, including parking, buses, vanpools, carpools, Zipcars and cab service.”

    Ummm…. What about encouraging, and providing facilities, for students, faculty and staff that (GASP!!!!) walk and bicycle?

  2. By Matt Hampel
    July 22, 2009 at 12:50 am | permalink

    Bike racks are routinely full past capacity. Those that aren’t are inconveniently placed for commuters.