City Seeks Feedback on Transit Center

Sept. 17 open house to provide details of conceptual design
At Tuesdays meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission, Eli Cooper shows a conceptual design for a proposed transit center on Fuller Road

At Tuesday's meeting of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission, Eli Cooper shows the original conceptual design for a proposed transit center on Fuller Road. A newer version (see below) includes two buildings and a possible roundabout at Fuller and Maiden Lane. (Photo by the writer.)

Tim Berla of the Ann Arbor Park Advisory Commission has a suggestion to liven up the proposed Fuller Road transit center: Add a pub. You can bet that people who use the nearby city athletic fields would grab a post-game beer there, he told Eli Cooper at Tuesday’s PAC meeting.

Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, was soliciting feedback from PAC members and giving them an update on the project known as FITS – the Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station. FITS is  a joint venture by the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor that would include 900 parking spaces in a multi-level structure.

Cooper made clear that the two partners are hoping to get more input from the general public, too. To that end, on Thursday, Sept. 17, the city will host two public forums at city hall, from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. After incorporating feedback from a variety of stakeholders, Cooper said the city hoped to present the facility’s conceptual design for approval at the city council’s Oct. 19 meeting.

Meanwhile, at Tuesday’s meeting several PAC commissioners had questions about the project, including a query about the designation of the city-owned land being used: In the city’s master plan, it’s designated as parkland – which didn’t originally mean a place to park cars. For zoning purposes, however, parkland is under the broader designation of “public land” – which can include transportation uses.

FITS: Status Update

By way of background, the transit center has been discussed for years but has gained momentum recently, surfacing at several public meetings over the past few months. At the July UM Board of Regents meeting, Hank Baier – the university’s associate vice president for facilities and operations – told regents that UM was talking seriously with the city about the Fuller Road station. The site is near the university’s medical complex, with thousands of employees and patients traveling into the area each day. Because UM was considering the Fuller Road project, Baier said at that meeing, they had put a hold on plans to build two parking structures on nearby Wall Street, including one on nearby Wall Street and one on north campus.

By August, UM and the city had reached an agreement. They would split the cost of the first phase: UM agreed to pay $327,733 of an estimated $541,717 cost, with the city picking up the rest. The city’s portion of the cost will go toward an environmental impact study – they’d need that environmental impact data if they apply for federal funding. If the project moves ahead, it’s expected to cost roughly $65 million.

A conceptual design for the proposed Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station.

A conceptual design for the proposed Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station. The design will be tweaked again before Thursday's public forums to make it more clear that the roundabout is just an option – it's a work in progress. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Cooper told PAC members that this specific 3-acre site, which the city owns, is unique in Washtenaw County for several reasons. It’s located next to an east-west rail line, with easy access to major roads. The location is also near a large employer – the University of Michigan Health System. That makes for a convergence of modes of transportation and high-demand users, he said.

[At the Aug. 17 city council meeting, Sue McCormick – the city's director of public services – also noted that the site was within the corridor of analysis for a north-south connector study for the Plymouth Road and State Street corridors.]

The design for this station began as a large, single building, Cooper said. But about two weeks ago, a group of around 50 stakeholders – including representatives from the city, UM, the state Department of Transportation, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and others – met and hashed out possible designs.

They ultimately came to a consensus on a two-building option: A large, multi-level transit center with 900 parking spaces, plus a much smaller two-level train station connected to platforms for commuter rail. Set between the two would be a drop-off area and public plaza, perhaps with a sculpture garden. The rationale for two buildings, Cooper said, was a sense that the transit train station should be architecturally distinct.

In a followup phone conversation with The Chronicle, Cooper said that the first phase of the project – assuming eventual approval by the city and UM – would be the larger transit center. It would include parking on the upper levels and a bus/taxi shuttle, as well as a bike station and waiting area on the first floor. Because the university had previously been willing to invest in parking structures on Wall Street, it’s likely UM would have capital available for this project, he said, to partner with the city. It’s less clear whether a university contribution would be available for the train station and platforms, but federal money is one option the city plans to pursue.

In addition to the two buildings, the conceptual drawing that Cooper brought to PAC showed a roundabout at the intersection of Fuller and Maiden Lane. The roundabout is only one possible approach to managing traffic, he later told The Chronicle. They’ll also look at the possibility of adding signals at intersections for pedestrian crossings.

Cooper told PAC that the city currently leases a portion of the land to UM for a parking lot. He said they are sensitive to the park environment, and plan to keep the buildings as much as possible on the same footprint as the existing lot. In a followup phone conversation, Cooper said the east/west footprint would be the same as the current lot, but that there would be some extension to the south to link the buildings to the railroad platforms and to a possible pedestrian walkway connecting to the UM medical complex.

Questions from PAC

Several PAC commissioners had questions for Cooper after his presentation. Sam Offen started off by saying that he understood the desire to have an architecturally distinct transit train station. But he wondered what would be lost in efficiency, as people parked their cars in one building, then walked to a different building to catch the train. What might be gained in aesthetics could be lost operationally by the people who actually use the facility, he said.

Cooper responded by noting that there will likely be different kinds of users: commuters who use only the parking structure and have little interaction with the transit train station; commuters who come in via train and who work close by; and long-haul Amtrak riders who’ll likely be picked up and dropped off. Commuters who use the train frequently tend to be very efficient, Cooper said – they know the schedule, and know how much time to allow to get to their departure point. He said that changing the design from the original one-building concept involved some compromise.

Responding to a query about whether there’d be a covered passage between the two buildings, Cooper confirmed there would be such a passage.

Offen mentioned a presentation that local developer Peter Allen had made at a previous PAC meeting. [Allen is part of Riverfront LLC, a group of UM graduate students, developers and architects. They've made presentations to a few different public bodies, including city council and the UM Board of Regents, advocating for the Fuller Road site to become a welcome center for Ann Arbor and the university.  Their proposal includes residential and retail components as well as the transit center station.] Offen said he liked Allen’s proposal for retail at that location. A restaurant or coffee shop would bring activity to the area in the evenings and weekends, he said, and provide a waiting area for commuters and other travelers.

Doug Chapman – PAC’s newest member, who was attending his first meeting on Tuesday as commissioner – asked what would happen to Amtrak’s existing station, located on Depot Street. Cooper said they’d had discussions with Amtrak, but that there was no commitment to relocate. Amtrak officials are interested in relocating if the station is built for them, he said, but there’s been no discussion about what would happen to Amtrak’s current station. Aside from signature stations in major metro areas, Amtrak doesn’t think of its stations as a benefit to its system, Cooper said – a remark that drew laughs from commissioners.

PAC commissioner Gwen Nystuen asked Cooper to explain the land’s designation – was it, in fact, parkland? The land is designated parks in the city’s Parks, Recreation & Open Space (PROS) plan as well as the Central Area Plan. Cooper explained that the city had acquired the property in bits and pieces since the 1880s. The city attorney’s office had examined deeds and other records to determine whether any of the property had stipulations on its use – whether, for example, any of the pieces required that they be used exclusively for parkland. They found no such stipulations, he said.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, added that his staff had been involved in the project, with the goal of adding elements like an connection to the county’s border-to-border trail and other park features. He said they’ve scheduled a meeting between parks staff and the city attorney’s office to get clarity on zoning issues. Parks are considered “public lands” under the city’s zoning ordinance. Nystuen said the project would present an entirely new use of parkland. “It does raise several issues,” she said.

Responding to another question from John Lawter, PAC’s vice chair, Cooper said that the current surface parking lot leased by UM has about 250 spaces, while the proposed transit structure – which will likely be four or five levels high – calls for around 900 spaces.

Post-PAC Questions

Speaking with The Chronicle on Wednesday, Cooper stressed that “this is all still in the very, very preliminary stages,” though the idea for an intermodal station can be traced back several years. It stems in part from the city’s 2006 Model for Mobility effort, gaining momentum more recently from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) push for an east-west commuter rail from Ann Arbor to Detroit as well as pressure from residents opposed to two parking structures that UM was planning to build on Wall Street, across the Huron River from the Fuller Road site.

When considering alternatives to UM’s Wall Street projects, the city commissioned a feasibility analysis for an intermodal center on Fuller. That report was issued in March of 2009, and indicated that such a project was, in fact, feasible. At that point city staff approached the university – those talks led to the current partnership, Cooper said.

At its Aug. 17 meeting, city council approved the hiring of JJR to handle several aspects of the transit center’s preliminary site work: 1) an analysis of utility relocation – DTE and wastewater – that would be needed if the project moved ahead, 2) a traffic and transportation analysis, and 3) an environmental assessment of the site.

After gathering community input and getting council approval for the conceptual design, work could proceed on a more detailed design, moving in parallel with JJR’s site work and analysis. Cooper expects the intermodal center – the building with the parking decks – could be completed by mid-2012.

Meanwhile, the city is seeking federal funding for the larger project, which would also include the train station and platforms. Just this week the city applied for $40 million from the highly competitive Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants, which has $1.5 billion for projects nationwide. While it’s possible that the train station component never gets built, Cooper said that local investment in the initial intermodal center could be helpful in securing federal funding for the remainder of the project.


  1. September 17, 2009 at 12:32 am | permalink

    Mary, can you clarify if the two proposed structures referred to by the link to your previous article were both on Wall St. or if one was to be on north campus? The one on Wall St. was to have 500 spaces; what about the other one?

    Also, what’s a “bike station”? I was wondering if bike parking would be included with all the rest. Is that just their name for it?

    I’ll be interested to hear how 900 (650 net new) car spaces are expected to complement the station’s functionality or the use of mass transit as well as how the increased(?) rush-hour car traffic would be handled.

  2. September 17, 2009 at 12:48 am | permalink

    Just to continue my thoughts on this…. If the Pfizer property acquisition provided enough parking for current medical campus demand (according to the U-M CFO, as reported in the previous article), and the demand (“crunch”) for the other structure didn’t materialize, it’s a bit perplexing how a proposed multi-modal transit center could make use of any more than the existing 250 spaces, let alone another 650.

  3. By Mary Morgan
    September 17, 2009 at 7:49 am | permalink

    Steve, you’re correct – the two parking projects that the university put on hold included one on Wall Street and one on north campus. I’ve made that change in the article. Longer term, UM did have plans for two parking structures on Wall Street – we reported on that late last year.

    The feasibility report linked to in this article refers to a “state-of-the-art bicycle commuter station.” I don’t have additional details on that.

  4. By Karen Sidney
    September 17, 2009 at 10:06 am | permalink

    Gwen Nystuen is right that this raises several issues. A recent amendment to the city charter requires voter approval for sale of parkland. The charter amendment provides no protection if the council majority decides it is a good idea to use parkland as something else as long as no sale is involved. If the city can have a partnership with the U of M to use parkland for a joint transit center and parking structure, I see no reason why the city cannot enter a partnership with a private developer to use parkland as affordable housing or a riverfront restaurant, as long as the city retains ownership of the land.

  5. September 17, 2009 at 10:38 am | permalink

    Mary, I understand “transit center” and “train station”. However, in a couple of spots in your article you use “transit station”. To which building does this term refer?

  6. By Mary Morgan
    September 17, 2009 at 1:10 pm | permalink

    Dave, thanks for raising this issue. There were four instances of the phrase – I’ve made changes in the text to be consistent with how the buildings are referred to in the rest of the article. In the cases where I meant indicate the train station, I’ve changed “transit” to “train.”

    The naming conventions speak to the need for clarity as we report on this project, and as the city and UM proceed with it. In the conceptual design shown to PAC, the train station is labeled as a “transit station,” and the larger building is called a “parking and transit facility.” The overall project is the “Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station.” The part that appears to be most likely to move forward is the multi-level parking structure with a first floor designated as a bus/bike “station.”

    There are “marketing” reasons for not calling any part of this project merely a “parking structure,” although that label might fit.

  7. By Karen Sidney
    September 17, 2009 at 3:35 pm | permalink


    Do you know the source of operating funds for the east-west and the north-south trains? Is there an approved grant for operations and, if so, from whom, for how much and for how long? Is there a source of long term operating funds?

    The March 2009 feasibility study linked in your report says “it is assumed” that the Amtrack depot will incorporated within the parking deck footprint. Has Amtrack made a firm commitment to move or is this still in the discussion stage?

    I appreciate the thorough reporting including all the links you provide in your articles.

  8. By anon
    September 17, 2009 at 4:17 pm | permalink

    Even Pfizer parking, plus new Wall Street parking, plus FITS parking would not meet demand. It’d take thousands of spaces to meet actual market demand. The parking the University “needs” is just to maintain a reasonable modal split.

    The new spots would be full if the structure opened tomorrow, let alone after the new Children’s hospital opens. Plus, not all of the FITS spaces are for University use. The number of incremental spaces for University employees will be _far_ less than 650.

  9. September 17, 2009 at 6:00 pm | permalink

    “The new spots would be full if the structure opened tomorrow”

    Why? What is the source of that demand and where does it go now? Why do you think the CFO said that the Pfizer purchase provided enough to meet the current medical campus demand?

  10. September 18, 2009 at 9:35 am | permalink

    After the flak they took for the Library parking structure, Council has realized that when they spend tens of millions of taxpayer money on unneeded parking they have to call it something else.

  11. By John Floyd
    September 22, 2009 at 10:28 am | permalink

    #4 Karen is, as usual, insightful. The charter needs to be amended again, to require parkland to be USED as parkland until released by voter referendum. The intermodal system is the occasion to think about this idea, but the idea of non-park use of city-retained land is much bigger than the intermodal system.

    It is possible to support the inter-modal system, and also support strict limits on what the city can do with retained parkland without voter approval.

  12. By David Lewis
    September 23, 2009 at 12:01 am | permalink

    Good lord people. This land has been a parking lot for 40 years. It may somehow be connected to the adjacent park but it is a PARKING lot. No kids have been playing there. It has been leased to the UM for years and years. The city has a couple of thousand acres of parkland, we don’t need any more.

    This would be a perfect transit center at what is probably the most often visited place in the region, where 15,000 people work.

    Karen and John, as someone said a few days ago about someone else: Can’t you move away from your never ending campaign of opposing anything the city wants to do just once? Not even for something so needed, something that opens a whole new chapter for the city and the region?

    This is brilliant! Imagine; commuter trains coming into Ann Arbor again bringing thousands of commuters and patients, a train to the airport, to a Tigers game, less cars on the streets, a new beginning for rail in our city. Imagine….

  13. By jcp2
    September 23, 2009 at 10:17 am | permalink

    ‘Tis true. The proposed transit center sits right on the footprint of an existing surface lot. Even the pre-existing soccer field is preserved.

  14. By Tim
    September 27, 2009 at 2:28 pm | permalink

    As someone that works right up the hill from the proposed site, I can explain clearly that the university and the Health System works under an *extremely* pro-public transit psoition. For instance, when the new Cardiovascular Center was built (entirely new construction), they projected 4,500 new parking spaces were needed. They built 2200. And they considerably underestimated the 4,500. Traffic flow around the hospitals is confusing and poor, and it’s going to be compunded dramatically when the new hospital is completed (for which NO new parking is being built). In short, and beyond the public resistance to vast number of man hours wasted by commuters/patients taking a car to campus, parking far away (as in the Pfizer lots), and taking a bus in, additional levels of transporation from that location is going to be required anyway. Better to combine multiple methods in one site (FITS) where the busses, trains, Zipcars, mtoorcycles, bikes, and walking paths can all converge. The Fuller locations is really a staggeringly appropriate location for this. I’m a little shocked that government – any government – is considering something so smart, timely, and appropriate.

  15. By John Floyd
    September 28, 2009 at 1:10 am | permalink

    Mr. Lewis #12,

    My point was not to oppose this project, but rather to endorse the idea that there exists a loophole allowing council to re-purpose parkland to non-park uses without voter approval. It is possible for council to, for example, lease Huron Hills golf course to a developer (instead of selling it to a developer, as was trial-ballooned a year or two ago) and get around the prohibition on selling park land without voter approval.

    As I said, it is possible to support this intermodal project, and still want to place limits on what can to be done with parkland without voter approval. Ironically, a more open, transparent and responsive local government would perhaps find that it had more freedom of action than the current policy of conducting business behind closed doors. This government has made a series of unwise decisions in recent years, and this, along with its unwritten policy of secrecy, lends itself to a desire for tighter reigns by many citizens.

  16. By Matt Hampel
    November 12, 2009 at 12:50 am | permalink

    The Michigan Daily is reporting 1000+ spaces in the parking structure: [link]