DDA Floats Idea for Fourth Avenue

In committee: grant to AATA for Blake Transit Center

Typically on the last Wednesday morning of the month, two committees of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority meet back to back – transportation and operations. This past Wednesday was no different.

Fourth Avenue Ann Arbor

At Fourth & William streets in downtown Ann Arbor. The view is looking to the north. At right is an AATA bus shelter – further in the background on the same side of the street is the Blake Transit Center. Opposite the AATA facilities is a parking deck. (Photos by the writer.)

At the transportation committee meeting, Susan Pollay, the DDA’s executive director, floated an idea for partnering with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority on improvements to the South Fourth Avenue corridor, between William and Liberty streets. The partnership would include a grant to the AATA in connection with the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center. No numbers are yet attached to the concept, which Pollay described as a possible “transit mall” – she was checking with the committee for their basic reaction to the idea. That reaction could fairly be described as warm, with some caution expressed by DDA board member Leah Gunn, when she arrived for the operations committee meeting.

Starting last month, the last half hour of the  transportation committee’s meeting has been configured to overlap with the operations committee’s meeting, so that the two groups can meet jointly to discuss a directive from the city council to the DDA to deliver a parking plan to the council by April. A preliminary outline of that plan was discussed on Wednesday.

Fourth Avenue

When DDA executive director Susan Pollay articulated the concept for creating something like a “transit mall” along Fourth Avenue on Wednesday morning, it was not the first time transportation committee members had heard the idea. As a part of The Chronicle’s coverage of the AATA board’s December meeting, we reported on last month’s DDA transportation committee meeting as well:

At the Downtown Development Authority’s transportation committee meeting earlier in the day, executive director Susan Pollay had focused on the 50% of those passengers who did not transfer, but rather had downtown Ann Arbor as a destination point. The DDA, she said, needed to make sure that for those passengers, the area around the Blake Transit Center was a welcoming place. DDA board member Newcombe Clark concurred with Pollay’s suggestion of putting “everything on the table” – including Fourth Avenue as a transit hub, possibly integrating the Fourth and William parking structure, with getDowntown offices constructed in that structure. [For the complete Chronicle article, see "AATA Board: Get Bids to Rebuild Blake"]

At Wednesday’s meeting, Pollay offered the idea in somewhat more concrete form, though it could fairly be described as still conceptual. Her goal, she said, was to see if the idea resonated with the transportation committee, before trying to attach some dollar figures to it.

overhead of the DDA transportation committee

The Jan. 27 DDA transportation committee meeting. Starting at the near corner moving clockwise: DDA executive director Susan Pollay; board members John Mouat, Joan Lowenstein, Keith Orr, Gary Boren, Jennifer Hall; getDowntown director Nancy Shore; city of Ann Arbor forester Kerry Gray; DDA intern Amber Miller.

The concept includes four elements. First, it would include a grant to the AATA in connection with the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center, which is located on that block. The current conceptual design for the new BTC is for it to be a two-story building located on the same footprint as the current one-story facility.

The DDA grant to the AATA would go towards providing additional structural support in the new facility, so that additional stories could be added later – possibly in concert with development that might happen on the old YMCA lot, which directly abuts BTC to the south.

A second element of the concept would include installation of pedestrian-friendly amenities along the block, like trees and planters, or colorful banners and the like. A third element would be informational electronic signs mounted on the Fourth and William parking structure facing BTC, so that bus passengers could see arrival and on-time data for the next buses.

A final element of the transit mall concept would include building out the ground floor of the Fourth and William parking structure to accommodate retail/office space, to give the corridor a more human feel and generate more activity there. Offices for getDowntown was a specific suggestion – that organization recently relocated to Washington Street office space when the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce ended their arrangement to provide in-kind support.

Transportation committee member John Mouat suggested that a place for the AATA board to meet could be a part of the space built out in the parking structure. Finding a location for the AATA board that is more accessible to the public than their current board room at AATA headquarters on South Industrial Avenue has become a priority for the AATA.

About the concept Pollay said, “I’m feeling ambitious,” and the transportation committee seemed to concur in principle. Pollay will now work with deputy director Joe Morehouse to develop some dollar figures and present those to the transportation committee at its February meeting. At that point, the committee could choose to send a recommendation to the full board.

If a recommendation comes to the full board that includes building out retail/office space in the parking structure, board member Leah Gunn will likely need to be convinced that commercial enterprises that might use the new space would not be subsidized to compete with other businesses. That was the sentiment she conveyed later during the joint transportation and operations committee meeting, which followed the transportation committee’s session. [Gunn serves on the operations committee.]

Chronicle readers might have already seen Gunn’s view on the subject. She left a comment following a recent Chronicle article about the closing of the John Leidy shop, expressing much the same sentiment:

And who is to say that an existing business should not be helped as much as a “start-up” business? (Could your tax money have kept Shaman Drum or John Leidy open?) [link]

Parking Report

At their last meeting of 2009, on Dec. 21, the city council approved its part of an arrangement with the DDA that would direct net revenue from the surface parking lot at the old YMCA site to the city of Ann Arbor. [See Chronicle coverage: "Also: Most aspects of parking deal approved"] The DDA agreed to the deal at its Jan. 6 meeting. [See Chronicle coverage: "DDA Ponies Up: Parking, Pipes, Planning"]

Originally part of the city council’s Dec. 21 resolution was an extension of evening enforcement of parking meters downtown, but that was swapped out in favor of a resolution calling on the DDA to provide the city council with a plan:

RESOLVED, The City requests that the DDA present a plan to Council at its April 19, 2010 meeting for a public parking management plan. The plan should include but is not limited to:

  • a communication plan to Downtown patrons, merchants and evening employees
  • options for low cost parking for evening employees
  • variation of rates and meter time limits based on meter location
  • hours of enforcement
  • methods of enforcement

So on Wednesday, a draft outline of the presentation was discussed by the joint assembly of the transportation and operations committees of the DDA board.

The outline of the presentation was a comprehensive look at the entire parking program of the DDA – in terms of the city council resolution, it appears that the “not limited to” language is being taken seriously. Leah Gunn remarked: “I don’t think the council realized how big an assignment they gave us.”

Executive director Susan Pollay clarified for committee members that the outline was far more comprehensive than what the city council had asked for – the DDA was taking the opportunity to provide a complete overview. She reminded the committee, however, that the audience for the April presentation – the city council – would be listening for some very specific information: How much revenue would evening enforcement generate?


  1. January 29, 2010 at 12:32 pm | permalink

    Maybe they can fix the bridges and other road issues before spending money on concepts or ideas that might be nice.

  2. By David
    January 29, 2010 at 1:19 pm | permalink

    Agreed, some of our roads are getting very bad with potholes, ruts, etc.

  3. January 29, 2010 at 3:47 pm | permalink

    The DDA and AATA don’t have any responsibility/control over that infrastructure.

  4. By Karen Sidney
    January 29, 2010 at 6:06 pm | permalink

    If the city can figure out how to use $500,000 per year of the taxes the DDA captures from other governments, including Ann Arbor’s, to help pay for a new police/courts building, the city can figure out a way to use DDA money to help pay to fix roads. The DDA could also use some of the tax capture money to restore the downtown police officers eliminated in the last set of budget cuts. That way, at least some of the taxes on new downtown construction would go toward paying for basic city services so the rest of us don’t get stuck with the tab.

  5. January 29, 2010 at 6:48 pm | permalink

    Sorry, guys — jumped the gun. I hadn’t read the last section on the report to council.

  6. By David Lewis
    January 29, 2010 at 8:35 pm | permalink

    Paying for city police and courts buildings that are downtown is part of the charter for DDA’s. Paying for things like roads that are outside the DDA is not.

    The city is doing a good job of controlling the operating budget and that is what matters. I don’t think the city should pay for more police. An AAPD officer I know well says crime was down in 2009. Having a big police force is like having a huge military when there are no wars to fight.

  7. By Eric Boyd
    January 30, 2010 at 6:59 am | permalink

    Is the DDA considering enforcing parking meters on Sunday?

    As this article notes, other cities are finding that enforcing parking meters on Sunday can both raise money and increase turnover, benefiting downtown businesses.

  8. By Dave Askins
    January 30, 2010 at 9:27 am | permalink

    Re: [7] “Is the DDA considering enforcing parking meters on Sunday?”

    I don’t think that’s being considered.

    But Sundays represent a challenge for one of the demand management measures that the DDA is currently piloting: use of AVI cards for pay-as-you-go parking passes — instead of monthly parking passes, which are currently used. The road to the Sunday connection is long and winding. So strap in.

    Currently, if you have a monthly parking pass, then it costs set amount and it’s tied to particular structure. Once you have your pass, you have no incentive not to drive and park: “I have already paid for a parking pass for the whole month, so why would I want to walk/bicycle/bus/carpool if I had a chance?” The AVI cards, which are magically read at the gate of a structure from the dashboard of a car through the windshield (I think), simply records when you entered and exited and automatically deducts from your credit card once a month for the amount of time you’ve parked. Doesn’t matter which structure you use.

    If you have a pass at Maynard, say, and the sign says there’s 10 spaces left, then hooray for you, but you get the pleasure of winding all through the structure looking for one of those spaces. If you’ve got an AVI card, good for any structure, then maybe you want to try your luck at Fourth and William, and whaddaya know there’s 250 open spaces, according to the sign. And, to reiterate the pay-as-you go aspect, if you have a pass then you pay the cost of the pass … no matter how frequently you park in a structure. With the AVI card — you don’t park, you don’t pay. So the AVI card provides some reward to people to commute by some other means besides driving and parking, and gives someone a way of regulating their own parking expenses to whatever extent that’s possible for them.

    For the whole AVI system to work, the gate arms at the structures and lots need to come down and go up on entry and exit for every single car — even on Sundays when there’s no charge. I don’t fully grasp why this is the case — I believe it’s so that someone who parks, say on a Friday, then doesn’t exit until Sunday actually gets charged for the time they parked.

    The real challenge is all the non-AVI users on Sundays. One solution is just to have use signage and have everyone pull a “null ticket” on entry. Pull the ticket, the gate arm goes up and lets you in. I think they’d need to staff each facility to let people out as well. There’s a communications challenge with one of the main groups of people on Sundays — church goers. They’re accustomed to being able to swing into the free parking with the gate arms fixed in the up position. So the DDA is trying to make sure that if they decide to go down that path, the church goers are as informed as possible in advance that the gate arms don’t mean they have to pay.

    But thinking about [7], one position to take would be that there’ll be angry church goers anyway, who don’t read the signs, and haven’t heard the announcements at church about what the gate arms mean, so why not just go ahead and charge for parking on Sundays? Ann Arbor has experimented with free parking on Sundays versus charging for it over the years, though. And the current system of free Sunday parking is a result of that experience.

  9. By mr dairy
    January 30, 2010 at 9:43 am | permalink

    Too many “buckets”

  10. By David
    January 30, 2010 at 11:19 am | permalink

    Buckets are a means to protect money for one’s group/department. There are always ways to move money around and change the rules. Just look a the city council’s desire to receive more than $10MM in 10 years from the DDA.

  11. By Bob Martel
    January 30, 2010 at 11:39 am | permalink

    HD, I never knew about the AVI cards. I could sure use one. Do you get those at City Hall?

  12. By Dave Askins
    January 30, 2010 at 12:37 pm | permalink

    Re: “HD, I never knew about the AVI cards. I could sure use one. Do you get those at City Hall?”

    It’s currently just a pilot program, with half a dozen users, just to get the technology dialed in. DDA board member Roger Hewitt is one of the pilot participants, and my guess is that he’d be happy to tell you more about the specifics — everything I’ve reported (in this comment thread and elsewhere for The Chronicle) about the pilot AVI program has come from Hewitt’s updates at board meetings about how things are going with it.

  13. January 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm | permalink

    I think the idea of a “transit mall” on 4th is great. Right now that whole block is pretty dreary, and finding ways to make it more active and vibrant would be good all around. It would also help people feel safer at the bus stop with more eyes on the street there. Obviously there’s a lot more to figure out, but I’m definitely interested.

  14. By Lou Glorie
    January 30, 2010 at 7:00 pm | permalink

    Tarting up Fourth Ave. is, of course a great idea. The best word to describe it, at present, is dismal. But I would be cautious about the mall idea. If this includes a roof over the street, or blocking the street, we’re headed for trouble. Traffic speeds are slow on Fourth–as they should be–and the street is two way. We cannot afford to lose another two way street downtown. Any mall created there should be done by a combination of visuals and street surfacing, like cobblestones that make noise when cars drive across.

    In terms of retail at the structure, there are many kinds of businesses that could locate there and not be in direct competition with existing businesses and some existing local businesses could be asked if they would like a satellite at this location. Shoe repair, pastries and coffee, quick copies, sandwiches, news stands are just a few that come to mind that would cater to people in transit. Even people staying downtown need these kinds of services before or after their business downtown is accomplished. The support of some kinds of business could actually be indirect support for other existing businesses. One less trip to the mall keeps people downtown.

    But wouldn’t it profit us to focus on how to get AATA ridership up? We have a great asset here, but it’s under utilized. My own judgment of the AATA’s performance–based on my family’s experience–is that the routing is off. Part of the problem with the routing is the hub system. I understand that grid systems also pose problems. Perhaps we need a hybrid. Here’s an example: for my kids to have gotten to Pioneer from our house on Brooks (which is basically an extension of 7th) they would have taken the bus from our house to Blake then another to Pioneer. I always wondered why there wasn’t a bus that ran on 7th–the whole length. Well that would be a bus that did not connect back to Blake. For trips that originate outside of downtown and end outside of downtown, the hub system does not work so well.

    Yeah, it looks like I’ve thrown another spanner in the works. But why not get it right. Let’s work out the routing issues with the bus system then decide what to do on Fourth Ave.

  15. By Tom Whitaker
    January 31, 2010 at 1:55 pm | permalink

    How about a comprehensive area plan for these 4-6 blocks that includes the public, AATA, DDA, City, County, AADL, AAPS, County and Feds?

    Why the insistence on taking on one piece at a time, with little consideration for all the various problems and aggregate potential in this very important, and publicly-owned part of downtown?

  16. By Patricia Alvis
    February 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm | permalink

    I couldn’t agree more that the public needs to be able to put these various projects in context of an overall concept of the area. One of the most irksome aspects of the convention center plan is that it seems to be plop in the middle of what I regard to be a community core–the library, the bus transit, the Post Office and other Federal Building services, and that it opens out it to such townie features as the cluster of restaurants (Earthen Jar, Jerusalem Garden, Seva, Afternoon Delight, Herb David, the abounding treasures of the Fourth Avene Shops, and the Hands on Museum, and city and county buildings further on.