Work Session: Snow Plows, Buses, LDFA, Peds

The relatively heavy agenda of the Ann Arbor city council’s Dec. 12 work session includes: (1) a demonstration of the city’s new automatic vehicle location (AVL) snow plow tracking system; (2) the annual report of the local development finance authority (LDFA); (3) a presentation on countywide transit from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; and (4) a review of pedestrian safety issues at crosswalks.

The AVL snow plow tracking system is supposed to provide residents with real-time information on the status of plowing activity, through GPS devices mounted on the trucks. The devices monitor not only a vehicle’s location, but also whether the plow is deployed, along with other vehicle performance information. The city’s snow plow status page currently requires manual updates and has not always been a top priority to keep updated during snowstorms. The city council authorized the $88,000 purchase last year at its Nov. 4, 2010 meeting. The system was then hoped to be deployed sometime during the winter of 2010-11. The software purchase was justified not based on the ability to track snow plows, but rather on the ability to monitor all of a vehicle’s various engine codes remotely, which is anticipated to save the city on maintenance costs in the longer term.

The local development finance authority is funded through a tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism for the same geographic district as the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti downtown development authorities. The LDFA currently receives no revenue from the Ypsilanti portion of its district. The taxes on which the increment is captured are local school taxes. The impact of the LDFA tax capture is spread across school districts statewide, due to the way that local school taxes are pooled by the state of Michigan and redistributed to local districts. Based on data available through A2OpenBook, in fiscal year 2011, the LDFA generated $1.475 million in tax capture. The LDFA contracts with Ann Arbor SPARK to operate a business accelerator.

The presentation by the AATA is likely to focus on a four-party agreement that the city will shortly be asked to sign with AATA, Washtenaw County, and the city of Ypsilanti. The agreement would be a step towards establishing a countywide transit authority under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986, because it would provide part of the mechanism for a transition from the AATA’s governance (under Act 55 of 1963) to a new countywide transit authority based on Act 196. The agreement would establish an arrangement for Washtenaw County to incorporate a new transit authority under Act 196 and for the two cities (Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti) to pledge their transit tax funds levied currently for use by the AATA to the new Act 196 organization, once its governance and basis for its funding is clear. [For background on the state of transportation initiatives, see recent Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Transit Talk in Flux"] [.pdf (annotated) of draft four-party agreement]

At its Nov. 10, 2011 meeting, the council gave initial approval to a further tweak to the city’s pedestrian safety law. The language given initial approval reads: “When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian stopped at the curb or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk, without regard to which portion of the roadway the pedestrian is using.” The council had agreed to hold a working session on the topic before taking a final vote.

The city council work session officially begins at 7 p.m., but sometimes are 10-15 minutes late in starting. The sessions are broadcast live on CTN Channel 16, and streamed online live.