Column: Rules, Parking, Transportation

New city council rules could highlight board and commission appointments, as appointees to AAATA and DDA boards face significant policy issues

At its July 1, 2013 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council will consider and likely adopt a new set of rules affecting meeting mechanics.

Flags flying over Pittsfield Township Hall on June 27, 2013: Political winds were also blowing – but indoors.

Flags flying over Pittsfield Township Hall on June 27, 2013. Political winds were also blowing (indoors, and not quite as hard) at a meeting also attended by representatives of Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, Saline and Ypsilanti Township – on “urban core” transportation.

Easiest to quantify are rule changes affecting speaking time limits. For the public, the time per speaking turn will drop across the board – from three minutes to two minutes. For each councilmember, the total speaking time per item of debate will drop from eight minutes to five minutes.

Whether those quantitative changes will have a qualitative impact on the city council’s meetings is an open question. More likely to have a positive qualitative effect, I think, is a rules change that adds an opportunity for public commentary at the council’s work sessions.

The exchange of viewpoints among councilmembers during those work sessions is currently tentative and spare, often in the guise of merely asking a question. That’s because Michigan’s Open Meetings Act does not allow a gathering of councilmembers to include deliberations, unless an opportunity is provided for the public to address the council. By giving the public an opportunity to comment during those sessions, councilmembers will be free to engage in unfettered exchanges of viewpoint. And that will be a benefit to the public and to the city staff.

However, in this column I’d like to focus on a different proposed amendment to the rules – one that could potentially improve local governance, not just change what happens at city council meetings.

Among the rules changes is one that would move the mayor’s communications from a slot on the meeting agenda after all regular business to one that precedes all regular business. That’s important because the mayor’s communications include nominations to boards and commissions. That agenda slot also includes the council’s vote to confirm those appointments – typically at the following council meeting. This rule change will ensure that interested residents will not need to stay up until midnight or 3 a.m. – or whenever the council finishes its voting business – to find out who the mayor has nominated.

And that bit of extra spotlight on the nominations could lead to an interest on the part of the mayor – whoever might hold that position – in offering a better explanation of each nomination. It’s reasonable, I think, to get a better explanation than the kind we typically hear – generally a brief comment at the end of a meeting, when everyone is barely awake.

For example: What is it about the nominee’s philosophical orientation to the board’s subject matter that makes this person a good fit for the position? How was it that this person came to be chosen? Who is this person? To the extent that residents are given a clearer idea of how and why nominations are made to boards and commissions, that might increase the inclination of other qualified residents to offer their service.

In the near future, nominations to two significant boards will be made by mayor John Hieftje. One nomination is needed due to the expansion of the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s board – from seven to nine members. Of the two additional seats, the city of Ypsilanti will make one appointment. For that seat, Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber will be nominating Gillian Ream at the Ypsilanti council’s July 2 meeting. Hieftje will be making the nomination for the other new AAATA seat. He will also need to make nominations to replace two departing members from the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority – Leah Gunn and Newcombe Clark.

The public policy areas of the two boards overlap – not just because transportation is related to land use and development. The overlap also stems from the fact that the DDA manages the city’s public parking system, and the availability of parking is integral to the area’s transportation system.

So in this column, I’d like to sketch out some current policy issues to be faced by new appointees to the boards of these organizations. For the AAATA board, a pressing question will be: Should we ask voters to approve an additional transportation millage in November 2013? For the DDA board, an ongoing question will be: What’s an appropriate balance among users of the parking system – downtown residents, retail customers, and employees of downtown businesses?

But first, a little history.

Some Recent History on Appointments

The confirmation vote on Eric Mahler’s appointment to the AATA board this spring was 7-4. It was the most dramatic recent signal that the council seems to be taking a keener interest in mayoral appointments. Usually, confirmation votes are unanimous. But in the last three years, other nominees have also been met with dissenting votes. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) opposed Anya Dale’s appointment to the AATA board. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) opposed Eli Cooper’s appointment to the AATA board. And Jane Lumm (Ward 2) opposed Tony Derezinski’s appointment to the planning commission.

Mahler’s nomination to the AATA board was made on April 15, 2013 – at around 3 a.m. In making the nomination, Hieftje’s remarks consisted of clarifying that Mahler would serve out the remainder of his planning commission term through June, but would not seek another term on that body. By way of explanation for Mahler’s nomination, Hieftje said only that he thought Mahler would serve the community on the AATA board as well as he had on the city planning commission.

The lack of any specific rationale offered by Hieftje for Mahler’s nomination opened the door for some dysfunctional deliberations on his confirmation by the council on May 13. I think that’s a fair characterization, because the conversation went off into the weeds – as councilmembers struggled to find the appropriate vocabulary to describe members of the disability community. They needed that vocabulary because councilmembers opposed to Mahler’s appointment cited a preferred alternate candidate – who would, they thought, be in a better position than Mahler to represent the disability community. Though not mentioned by name, the alternate candidate was LuAnne Bullington.

It’s worth pausing a moment to think about the AATA board member that Mahler replaced – David Nacht. At more than one board meeting since I started covering the AATA for The Chronicle, Nacht clearly stated that he felt he had been appointed to the AATA board specifically be a champion for regionalism. And Nacht cited that perspective in pushing for last year’s general countywide transit initiative (now demised), as well as the more specific AirRide service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport (thriving after a year).

If Hieftje had nominated Mahler to the AATA board by saying that Mahler would be expected to lift the regional banner that had previously been carried by Nacht, then the council’s confirmation deliberations might have focused on actual transportation policy – instead of identity politics. For example, Mahler could have been discussed as a candidate with a regional perspective – one informed by an appreciation for the impact of transportation on land use and future planning. Bullington could have been discussed as a candidate who’s more focused on the transportation needs of Ann Arbor residents who need to get around within the city.

The difference between those perspectives is a policy difference that is worth taking more time to grind through. I think it’s less important to talk about who’s a minority or is a person with a visual impairment.

AATA: Millage

Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber’s nominee to the expanded board of the local transit authority – now called the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority – will be put forward at the Ypsilanti city council’s July 2 meeting. Gillian Ream was most recently communications coordinator at the Michigan Suburbs Alliance & Regional Energy Office. She has a new position as communications and development coordinator for the Ypsilanti District Library.

Gillian Ream and Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber

Gillian Ream and Ypsilanti mayor Paul Schreiber.

Ream was among those in attendance at a June 27 meeting of “urban core” communities held at Pittsfield Township Hall. It was the third in a series of such meetings this year on the topic of improvement and expansion of transportation services in the immediate area of Ann Arbor. And it was these “urban core” meetings that formed the most recent impetus toward expansion of the AATA board. The meetings have been attended by Ann Arbor city councilmembers, Ypsilanti city councilmembers, as well as representatives from the townships of Pittsfield and Ypsilanti and the city of Saline.

The effort to focus on improved transportation within a narrower geographic footprint near Ann Arbor – instead of the whole of Washtenaw County – came after an attempt to establish a countywide transit authority unraveled in the fall of 2012. And of the communities in the more narrowly focused urban core, Ypsilanti has been the most assertive in pushing for action. On April 23, 2013, the Ypsilanti city council requested membership for the city in the AATA. The final step in that process was completed with a June 20 vote by the AATA board to adopt revisions to its articles of incorporation. Those revisions had earlier been approved by the city councils of Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

While the change to the articles will affect the governance of the AAATA, the goal of the governance change is to provide a way to generate additional funding for transportation. The AAATA could, with voter approval, levy a uniform property tax on the entire geographic area of its membership – something the AATA never did. The cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti now levy their own millages, which are transmitted to the AATA. However, Ypsilanti is currently at its 20-mill state constitutional limit. A millage levied by the AAATA would not count against that 20-mill cap.

Ann Arbor’s perpetual charter millage was approved at a rate of 2.5 mills, but is levied at a rate of just over 2 mills due to the Headlee rollback. Based on information provided to Ann Arbor city councilmembers for their June 3 meeting, the local share of Ypsilanti’s transportation services – the part for which Ypsilanti is responsible – would come to $325,983 for FY 2014. Ypsilanti’s dedicated millage, which is levied at a rate of 0.9789 mills, generated about $308,000 in FY 2012. So there’s some interest in establishing an additional funding source, just to maintain existing levels of service.

However, current discussions indicate that the intent is to increase levels of service – both frequency and the hours of operation – within the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city boundaries. The additional amount of local funding for the planned increases in service would be the equivalent of around 0.6-0.7 mills. One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

An AAATA millage proposal would require voter approval. There’s an outside chance for the AAATA to place a millage on the November 2013 ballot, but that decision would need to be made by late August. [Ballot language must be certified to the county clerk by Aug. 27, 2013.] The practicalities of mounting a successful millage campaign mean that a decision to make a millage request would likely need to come sooner than late August, however.

At the June 27 “urban core” meeting, the question of floating a millage was discussed, along with the challenges a millage campaign might bring.

AATA staff noted that extending hours of service is one of the easiest kinds of service change to implement. But that kind of change, as well as increased frequency of service, is hard to portray to voters, because the lines on the map don’t change. The people who ride the service notice the difference, but the public at large likely won’t. When a new route is introduced in an area where no service was available before, that’s easier to explain to voters: Here’s the additional service that will be provided. And once it’s implemented buses running where they didn’t previously run are more easily noticed.

Ward 3 councilmember Stephen Kunselman said he wouldn’t oppose a millage proposal, but wondered what the argument was against asking Ann Arbor voters for a Headlee override on the existing millage. He allowed that it wouldn’t generate as much revenue as a uniform extra 0.7 mills levied in both Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, but the additional 0.5 mills from an Ann Arbor Headlee override would still generate over $2 million.

The fact that Kunselman framed his current position on a possible millage request in terms of “not opposing” as contrasted to “fully supporting” is not the best endorsement a millage proponent could hope for. But Kunselman might come around to a more (but also less) enthusiastic position – as more details of a specific proposal are put forward.

On a possible millage question, staff and board members are currently having “feeler” discussions with some members of the community who have strong interests in transportation. One of those community members was Jack Eaton, who’s competing this year with incumbent Marcia Higgins for the Democratic nomination to city council in Ward 4.

Eaton reported the sentiments he’d conveyed during the “feeler” conversation in a comment written on The Chronicle’s website. Overall, Eaton stressed the importance that AAATA be able to make the case that it was currently providing high value for local tax dollars – something about which he indicated some skepticism.

The AAATA board will decide whether to put a millage proposal on the ballot. That’s not a decision of the Ann Arbor city council. But if Ann Arbor’s nomination to the additional seat on the expanded AAATA board were made in a timely way, it could provide the mayor and city council with a mechanism for conveying their view to the community and the AAATA board about a possible millage question.

If a high-profile nominee with “dollars-and-cents” credentials were willing to endorse the AAATA as providing high transportation value for local taxpayer dollars, then a city council confirmation would provide implicit support for the AAATA board to place a millage on the ballot. And if the AAATA were to float a millage with the support of a new, additional board member who has a reputation for financial acumen, that would increase the likelihood of success.

But if this kind of a nominee says the AAATA first needs to show better financial performance before asking voters for additional funding, then a city council confirmation would provide implicit direction for the AAATA to delay placing a millage on the ballot. And that would provide the AAATA with a reason to delay that’s different from: “We got scared into thinking it wouldn’t pass.”

In any event, it’s clear that a main policy issue the AAATA board will face – whether a millage is floated and if so, whether it passes or fails – will involve fiscal problem solving.

DDA: Parking

The DDA board faces its own need for problem solving and policy making based on hard numbers.

The total inventory of parking spaces in downtown Ann Arbor includes around 7,800 public parking spaces and about 3,200 privately owned spaces. The 7,800 public spaces are managed by the Ann Arbor DDA under a contract with the city of Ann Arbor. The DDA contracts with Republic Parking to provide the day-to-day operating oversight. Of the 7,800 public spaces, about 2,000 are on-street metered spaces. The rest are located in surface lots or parking structures.

For those off-street spaces, motorists can pay by the hour, or they can purchase a monthly parking permit. The DDA makes monthly permits available at prices that yield less revenue per space than the DDA would otherwise receive, if all spaces were paid at the standard hourly rate. For example, the standard hourly rate for a parking structure is $1.20 per hour. A standard monthly permit in some structures costs $145 per month. So a downtown worker who used a permit for eight hours daily would break just about even after three weeks, compared to paying hourly. [145/(1.2*8)]

The number of hourly patrons in the system has shown relatively flat performance over the last four years (See Chart 1 below). However, in the most recent month for which data is available (May 2013), the number of hourly patrons was up about 4% compared to May 2012.

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Hourly Patrons

Chart 1: Ann Arbor Public Parking System – Hourly Patrons. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

The amount of revenue generated by the system has consistently shown year-over-year increases for the last two years as shown in Chart 2 below. That’s attributable at least in part to the rate increases that have been implemented over that period. But when DDA board member Roger Hewitt reports out the revenue increases each month at DDA board meetings, he typically notes that the amount of the revenue increase exceeds the amount expected based just on the rate increase.

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Revenue

Chart 2: Ann Arbor Public Parking System – Revenue. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

When the number of hourly patrons is flat or shows a decrease compared to the previous year, a common speculation put forward by board members at monthly board or committee meetings is this: The revenue increase should be interpreted as an indication that hourly patrons are staying longer. Fewer hourly patrons, who stay longer, could theoretically generate more revenue. However, the DDA does not on a routine basis make publicly available any hourly usage data that Republic Parking might be extracting for analysis. So it’s an open question whether hourly patrons are, in fact, staying longer.

The theory of longer-staying hourly patrons depends in part on an assumption that revenues from monthly parking permit sales are constant. And it was portrayed as recently as the May 29, 2013 DDA operations committee meeting that monthly parking permit numbers were being kept essentially unchanged. That’s a factor the DDA can regulate, by limiting the number of permits sold in each structure and maintaining wait lists.

But in response to a request from The Chronicle, the DDA just recently produced monthly parking permit data by month and by parking facility, dating back to September 2011. And that dataset shows a steadily increasing upward trend for total monthly permits: 3,122 in September 2011 compared to 3,901 in April 2013 – an increase of 779 permits.

Chart 3 shows that upward trend (red line), plotted against the total system inventory (blue line), which saw a 738-space increase from July to August of 2012 when the new Library Lane underground garage opened:

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Monthly Permits

Chart 3: Ann Arbor Public Parking System – Monthly Permits. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

So the number of additional monthly parking permits that have been sold systemwide since September 2011 exceeds the capacity of the Library Lane garage.

If the data is broken down by facility (as in Chart 4 below), it’s easy to see graphically the strategy that the DDA has deployed in order to free up spaces for hourly patrons in some structures: Offering permit holders in those structures a discount to shift their permits to the new Library Lane structure.

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Permits by Facility

Chart 4: Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Permits by Facility. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

After the initial decrease in monthly permits sold in some structures, the upward trend resumed – across all facilities in the structure. That trend is even clearer when the number of monthly permits is plotted as a percentage of the total spaces in a parking facility, as in Chart 5:

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Permit Percentage by Facility

Chart 5: Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Permit Percentage by Facility. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

What Chart 5 also makes clear is that monthly permits are sold in the same way airplane seats are sold – by managing the “oversell” margin. In some structures, more monthly permits are sold than a structure has spaces – because not every permit holder parks every day at the same time. From the dataset it appears that Republic Parking has been increasingly optimizing this margin.

Measured as a percentage of total inventory, the total number of permits has also increased from September 2011 to April 2013, illustrated in Charts 6 and 7.

Ann Arbor Public Parking System Permits: September 2011 Pie Chart

Chart 6: Ann Arbor Public Parking System Permits: September 2011. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

Ann Arbor Public Parking System Permits: April 2013 Pie Chart

Chart 7: Ann Arbor Public Parking System Permits: April 2013. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

In balancing the use of the parking system by downtown residents and workers (monthly permit holders) and by retail customers and other visitors (hourly patrons) and determining policies that are fair, equitable and that achieve community goals, I think it’s important to have a firmer handle on the way the parking system currently functions.

So in thinking about new appointments to the DDA board, it would be useful to recruit additional DDA board members who are interested in understanding the parking system through actual hourly usage data. That is, the DDA board would be well-served by new appointees who want to see usage data broken down by hours parked – by monthly permit holders and hourly patrons – instead of being content to look at usage only through the proxies of revenue and the number of hourly patrons.

I think it’s important to recruit board members who are also interested in the patterns of revenue per space by parking facility, as shown in Charts 8 and 9 below. For example, it’s striking how lucrative the Huron/Ashley/First (Brown Block) surface lot is on a per-space basis, compared to other facilities:

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Revenue per Space – Focus on Surface Lots

Chart 8: Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Revenue per Space – Focus on Structures. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Revenue by Space – Focus on Surface Lots

Chart 9: Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Revenue by Space – Focus on Surface Lots. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

But in terms of the parking system’s overall financial health, the Huron/Ashley/First surface lot is not that crucial – because its total revenue doesn’t stack up to that of many other facilities, as shown in Chart 10 below.

Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Total Revenue by Facility

Chart 10: Ann Arbor Public Parking System: Total Revenue by Facility. (Chart by The Chronicle from data provided by the Ann Arbor DDA.)

And you have to add to the mix the fact that the DDA incurs additional costs for that facility – because the Huron/Ashley/First lot is leased from First Martin Corp. That means the DDA’s approach to that lot could be a function of longer-term policy goals as opposed to shorter-term financial needs. So the DDA board would be well-served by new appointees who are interested in taking a different approach to Huron/First/Ashley – one that would increase the likelihood that First Martin would explore a greater and better use for that land than a surface parking lot.

Coda: July 1, 2013 Meeting Appointments

Even if the council adopts the rule changes at Monday’s meeting, the nominations and appointments will – for that meeting – still be slotted onto the agenda after all the other voting business. The new regime won’t be implemented until the council’s July 15 meeting.

And on July 1 there won’t be any nominations put forward by Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje for the new seat on the AAATA board or the open seats that will be left by Leah Gunn and Newcombe Clark on the DDA board. In response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, Hieftje indicated that there was “no rush” on those appointments.

But he did expect to be nominating Michigan Theater executive director Russ Collins for a reappointment to the DDA board. I can think of many good reasons that could be offered to explain that re-appointment. For example: Collins knows the difference between a suburb and a downtown. Or if you’re looking for something more technical: When you hand Collins a page filled with numbers, he only needs a quick glance to spot those that are out of line or possibly just a mistake.

When the other nominations are announced, I hope we’ll hear a rationale that reflects a thoughtful consideration of the policy roles that the new appointees are expected to play on these boards.

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of local government. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!


  1. By Leah Gunn
    June 30, 2013 at 8:54 pm | permalink

    “possibly” just a mistake

  2. June 30, 2013 at 9:42 pm | permalink

    Re: “‘possibly’ just a mistake” I’ve traded in “possible” for “possibly” in the next to last paragraph. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. By Mark Koroi
    July 1, 2013 at 12:23 am | permalink

    “When the other nominations are announced, I hope we will hear a rationale that reflects a thoughtful consideration of the policy roles That new appointees are expected to play on these boards.”


    The last-minute jam-job Agenda amendments for mayoral board and commission nominations need to end.

    The Mayor should be interviewing prospective appointees and publicly announcing to City Council the underlying rationale for the nomination. The public needs to know who the nominees are and have a real opportunity to add input. For instance, I do not know any real qualifications or background that Jeremy Peters has to sit as a Planning Commissioner other than being a cheerleader for the Mayor and a perennial volunteer and contributor to Democratic Party interests.

    The Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council convened on June th, according to minutes filed with City Council, despite the fact it is not duly constituted nor did it have any quorum – since the City Council had not filled any of the expired seats until its June 17th meeting when eight of the fifteen vacant seats were filled by Council, approving all of the mayoral nominations. The fact that this public body met without being duly constituted represents an operational failure of the Mayor, who is the general administrator of City Hall government under the City Charter.

    The Mixed-Use Party convened for their monthly meeting Sunday evening and discussed proposed noise ordinances and, also, zoning and building code issues with special emphasis on the 413 E. Huron controversy. Jaclyn Vresics was present; she has been collecting petition signatures for a First Ward run against Sabra Briere this November as an independent. Another Mixed-Use Party member named Conrad has already completed gathering the 100 required signatures and is expected to file his completed petition forms to run against incumbent Jane Lumm and co-challenger Kirk Westphal in November. Sam DeVarti, a Mixed-Use Party adherent, is expected to file against the Democratic Party nominee in the Third Ward this November.

    The Mixed-Use Party has its own website:

  4. By Mark Koroi
    July 1, 2013 at 12:42 am | permalink

    The date of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council meeting referenced above was June 5th – 12 days prior to appointments of seat vacancies on that public body.

  5. July 1, 2013 at 11:33 am | permalink

    Standard distrust of DDA of comment here.

  6. July 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm | permalink

    Why should DDA board members micromanage the parking system that’s so ably taken care of by professional staff and an experienced contractor? They shouldn’t need to pore through pages of numbers in order to answer a few simple questions. I’d hate to imagine that appointed officials would need to have hands-on detailed knowledge – that’s for the professionals to handle.

    And oh, by the way: “Parking data is temporarily unavailable. Sorry for the inconvenience.” reads the DDA web site, still. [link]

  7. July 1, 2013 at 5:40 pm | permalink

    Re: “Why should DDA board members micromanage the parking system …”

    What’s advocated in this column does not, I believe, amount to micromanagement. Rather it’s a call for board members to take a greater interest in asking for the reporting of the kind of information that would allow them to consciously and deliberately enact basic policies that affect the balance of users of the system – from downtown employees, to downtown residents, to retail customers and other visitors to downtown. Continuing to look at proxy data (revenue) – instead of actual hourly usage data – allows us to develop entertaining folk theories about how the parking system might be working. But I think our time would be better spent looking at hourly usage data that appointed officials might eventually insist that Republic Parking produce on a routine basis.

    And extracting hourly usage data for the kind of routine analysis and reporting I’ve advocated for here isn’t an idea that’s orginal to me. It’s the recommendation of the 2007 Nelson/Nygaard study commissioned by the DDA. That study further recommends “windshield surveys” to find out why people are parking where.

    Understanding the basic patterns of the parking system doesn’t amount to micromanaging it.

  8. July 2, 2013 at 1:16 pm | permalink

    Dave -

    Far be it from me to defend the DDA, but I don’t think they are looking at the wrong data when it comes to evaluating the parking system.

    Revenue is the primary indicator of success, and it’s completely correct to measure that number first. It’s not “proxy data” – it’s the real thing. You could mess up all sorts of things with the parking system, but as long as the revenue numbers are strong, there’s no arguing with results.

    The secondary indicator of success is the ability of anyone, at any time, to have a parking space free in a structure that is convenient to their destination. To get to that point you need to have a delicate balance of pricing, permit issuance, signage to alternate structures, and enough demand for downtown activities to also keep the structures busy. The number of people who successfully were able to find an hourly place to park is exactly that measure of success.

    The problem with any analysis of why people are parking where they are is that you’re looking in the wrong place for the wrong data. The more important question is, what do people decide to do instead of parking downtown, and why? Is it because they don’t think they can find a space, or because they think it’s too expensive, or because there’s some compelling alternative that has free parking, or because they walked or took the bus and didn’t need to park? You’re not going to get any of that info from windshield surveys because the cars you want to survey are not downtown.

    You know that I’d love to have public data with all of the minutiae of the parking system, because it would make for entertaining journalism. But I don’t see a compelling reason to think that it would turn into better governance, because most of the important decisions in parking management are administrative, not policy. The last think I really want is some political appointee second-guessing the professionals about what policies are going to maximize revenue.

  9. July 2, 2013 at 2:50 pm | permalink

    Re (8) Ed, I disagree with your assertion that: “Revenue is the primary indicator of success, and it’s completely correct to measure that number first.”

    The question of what should be the primary indicator of success is the ultimate policy decision. I think the remainder of comment (8) explores some of the other goals a parking policy might want to address. Revenue need not be the top priority.

    I have heard others say that one goal for downtown parking is to ensure that convenient parking spaces turn over in short periods. That makes the space in front of your favorite chocolate shop available when you want to make a quick stop to pick up something sweet. One method for encouraging frequent turnover is to have a premium price. In an affluent town, that is unlikely to work. Whether you charge $1.00 or $2.00 per hour really doesn’t impact a high income shopper’s decision where to park.

    In Kalamazoo, the meters for the row of parking spaces in front of the City Hall each provide one half hour of free parking initially, with subsequent time charged like any parking meter (their meters are not solar powered, just mechanical). I imagine that free time encourages rapid turnover in a manner similar or superior to high hourly rates. The policy that led to the free 1/2 hour put a higher value on turnover than on revenue.

    If the data we collect and disseminate focuses on revenue, it will make our parking policy focus on revenues. I think our parking policy should focus on ample, convenient parking, not on generating ever increasing revenues.

  10. July 2, 2013 at 3:17 pm | permalink

    “The number of people who successfully were able to find an hourly place to park is exactly that measure of success.”

    I don’t think that’s true.

    To see this, if the number of hourly parkers is going down due to the fact that previously hourly parkers are now using a monthly permit – then by the narrow metric of “number of hourly patrons”, the system would be considered less successful. But on that scenario, the parking system could actually be more successful – because those people who were using the structures on a systematic and regular basis are now using a monthly permit to park, which is by design how things are supposed to work.

    Based on the monthly permit data, which the DDA finally produced, I think it’s clear that the flattish-to-lower number of hourly patrons could be attributed to the increased parking activity by monthly permit holders. It could be, but unless you extract hourly usage data, separated by monthly permit parking activity versus hourly parking, you’re not going to know that. In this regard, I’m content to follow the advice of parking professionals at Nelson/Nygaard who think it’s a good idea to extract hourly usage data.

    If your point is that you don’t really care how the balance among different types of uses is resolving itself – as long as the system is financially solvent and that fiscal solvency means success, then I just disagree.

    I disagree because I think you’re flat wrong when you say: “… the important decisions in parking management are administrative, not policy.” I think the two most important decisions related to the parking system are capacity and price – and those are policy decisions.

    So one major ongoing public parking policy question is this: Do we have too much, too little, or just the right amount of parking inventory?” In order to make informed decisions about parking capacity – for example, whether it’s appropriate to build another 500 spaces, or to reduce Fourth & William by 500 spaces in favor of developing large-floor-plate office space there – I think it’s worth it for policy makers to understand the impact on different types of users of the parking system.

    A second ongoing parking policy question is this: Are the rates set at the right level? There’s a difference between saying, “Revenues are strong, and our bottom line of revenues against expense is looking good,” and “Parking demand continues to be strong or increasing based on the sum of monthly permit and hourly patron revenue numbers.” Once you say “parking demand” you’ve opened the door to the world of policy as it relates to rates. Do you mean demand from monthly permit holders? Do you mean demand from people who park hourly but would benefit from a monthly permit? Do you mean demand as measured by super-efficient meter kiosks? I think it’s fair to expect that before changing rates, the policy-making body with that authority can explain why the rate change is fair. To explain why it’s fair, I think you need to have some notion of how many hours are being parked by what kind of person so we understand a bit more clearly who that rate change will affect.

    As a specific example of a pricing issue, consider how monthly permits are currently priced – flat rate. There was some discussion a couple of years ago of the possibility that the AVI cards that were rolled out in connection with monthly permits could be integrated with a billing system. The DDA even piloted the billing component with same staff and board members. So it would be possible to implement some kind of hourly-based monthly permit system – charge a base flat rate (likely lower than current cost) with additional charges to the person’s credit card based on actual usage. Or some other scheme. That’s one example of the kind of transportation demand management (TDM) approach the DDA board talks about eventually implementing. When and if the DDA implements various transportation demand management TDM strategies, the success of those policies will depend in part on whether the DDA is achieving the non-revenue goals of the system – moving people out of on-street spaces and into structures, out of monthly permit structure parking and into buses or their carpool buddy’s car, or just optimizing the actual usage of the parking spaces we do have. So far, the DDA board has always discussed TDM as a revenue-neutral proposal, so I think it’s clear that it won’t be enough to ask only the revenue question, in evaluating TDM success. And unless we have a solid benchmark of current hourly usage data – broken down by user types – the DDA board, as the policy-making body, won’t have a way of judging the success or failure of its TDM initiatives.

    It’s certainly possible to implement inventory and pricing policy without having a very in-depth understanding of the basic usage patterns in the parking system. I just think policy makers would have a much easier time of explaining to the public what they’re doing, if they have a narrative that’s backed up with clearer picture of how the parking system is currently serving the community’s current needs, and how that might be different in the future as a result of any policy change.

  11. By Steve Bean
    July 2, 2013 at 5:39 pm | permalink

    Ed, what Jack and Dave said. Also, to the extent that revenue is a goal, it would be preferable to try to maximize that to the extent possible within the overall range of goals (in addition to those mentioned above, land use, equity, and environmental impact come to mind), rather than being satisfied with “it’s positive, so that’s good enough”. The data Dave referenced could help with that.

  12. July 2, 2013 at 8:35 pm | permalink

    It was only recently that the DDA and the city made revenue the driving factor. I think it has warped the system. Originally, the parking utility was created in order to make it possible for customers to come downtown and patronize the businesses. At the time, businesses included a wide variety of retail and service establishments that met a variety of needs of the Ann Arbor populace. We seem to have moved through a period where restaurants are the major businesses, to an office campus where the major interest is in attracting businesses that offer no services, but have employees who would like to park. And of course there are those student renters.

    It would be nice to have a functioning downtown again. On the positive side, W. Stadium is coming along and E. Washtenaw is developing a lot of services too.

  13. By Tom Brandt
    July 3, 2013 at 7:27 pm | permalink

    I’m not sure what Vivienne means by “it would be nice to have a functioning downtown again.” Downtown seems to function, perhaps not perfectly, but fairly well.

  14. July 3, 2013 at 9:35 pm | permalink

    I mean a downtown that serves the residents of Ann Arbor with services and retail. Happy to say there are a few remnants. And new things. I’m glad to see Literati, for example.

    I guess that “function” is defined in terms of your priorities and objectives. But we seem to be moving toward an office park. (Not offices geared toward services, like insurance and medical services, but toward “tech”.) I don’t consider that to be of much use to residents. We’ll have to go to the edges.

  15. By Tom Brandt
    July 4, 2013 at 12:27 am | permalink

    The tech companies moving into downtown offices provide well-paid jobs to Ann Arbor residents, especially compared to retail stores and restaurants. And by locating downtown, instead of office parks out in the townships, they allow their employees to walk or bike to work, or take the bus. This is really useful to residents.

  16. July 4, 2013 at 8:40 am | permalink

    So the rest of the city should subsidize the DDA with taxes needed for all citywide priorities in order that a few people have nicer situations? And are you sure that they are current residents? I thought the whole idea was to bring in “new talent”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with people having good jobs and a happy life. But benefits should be distributed.

  17. July 4, 2013 at 9:53 am | permalink

    The current downtown primarily serves tourists, not residents. That’s way better than a dead downtown, which is what you’ll find in most Michigan cities. But I miss the days when I lived downtown and could get all my goods and services there.

  18. July 4, 2013 at 10:10 am | permalink

    Actually, the demise of our downtown lies in its success. What forced out many local businesses was the increased rents demanded because the higher rents could be supported by tourist- and student-oriented businesses.

    This was good for property owners, of course. But it decreased the downtown’s diversity and serviceability.

  19. By Steve Bean
    July 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm | permalink

    A more accurate, general (less derogatory?) term to use in place of “tourist” is “visitor”. Do either of you use “tourist” as an intentionally negative term?

    i like your questions in #16, Vivienne. Let’s add to that (looking back to #14), functional for which residents? That is, while it might be less functional for 50- and 60-somethings, it’s probably more functional for 20- and 30-somethings. In this case, I think that the more specific and ‘speaking for myself’ we can be, the better for the discussion.

  20. By Chai
    July 5, 2013 at 11:35 am | permalink

    I read your coverage of AAATA regularly, and very much appreciate the detail and care in your writing. This is just to say, thanks for your work.

  21. July 5, 2013 at 12:36 pm | permalink

    Is “tourist” a derogatory term now? I didn’t intend it that way. I often describe myself as a tourist when I’m out of town. “Visitor” seems less precise to me.

  22. By Tom Brandt
    July 5, 2013 at 3:39 pm | permalink

    It’s a common observation that young people leave Ann Arbor right after college graduation and head especially for the tech centers on the coasts, because that’s where the jobs are. (A personal note: I’ve been working on-site for a Silicon Valley startup for the past few months. The presence of Michigan grads there is quite strong.) It seems to me that having tech companies open offices here is a good thing, because it gives people reasons to stay who would otherwise leave.

    It is better to have them locate in the city rather than some office park in the townships for all kinds of self-evident reasons. Downtown is a good place for them to locate because the infrastructure to support them is there, and the transit system is geared to bring people in from Ann Arbor’s residential areas to downtown.

    My vision of a functioning downtown includes a good mix of residential, retail, food service, and business, coupled with a strong transit system. Other people may have a different vision of a functional downtown.

  23. July 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm | permalink

    I can agree with that vision (22). But it should also include parking for “visitors” from outside the downtown as well as transit, since we don’t have a system in service for many of the hours downtown is in heavy use.

    On a personal note, I tried to go to the Farmers’ Market on Wednesday about 10 a.m. but couldn’t find a place to park, though I drove all the way to Wheeler Park. Admittedly, I didn’t circle back to Ann-Ashley, because by then I was too discouraged. Taking the bus would not have been very convenient, because my route is only served hourly and I might have been waiting with bags of fresh produce as long as an hour. I had also hoped to buy some things at Kerrytown.

  24. July 5, 2013 at 9:19 pm | permalink

    A friend pointed out the vapidity of my previous comment. My personal story was not intended to indicate any particular solution or outcome. I confess that I’ve gotten accustomed to a conversational exchange on these comments. I’ll stop.

  25. By Tom Whitaker
    July 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm | permalink

    There’s been far too much blind emphasis placed on 20-somethings downtown. Since the current City administration set out to reinvent downtown as a place for “young professionals” to “live, work, and play” (cue gagging), we’ve seen only a proliferation of student rental housing, bars and chain restaurants. It is yet to be seen if young, non-students will move into the City Apartments, or the place on South Main (if it ever gets built).

    When the students in the high rises graduate, and the 20-somethings hit 30, partner up, start families, and move up the ladder at work, what will be left for them downtown? Where will they live if they want to stay in or near downtown? What public and private amenities will be there for them? Even working 20-somethings don’t want to live in buildings full of undergraduates.

    If you have a family or are over 30, the City, DDA, and other public entities have made it abundantly clear that you’re not particularly welcome in our near downtown. The only living situations for families within the DDA boundary are prohibitively expensive (although Sloan Plaza prices are likely to drop substantially thanks to yet another student building), and the City has not lifted a finger to improve the livability of the adjacent neighborhoods (in fact, the opposite). As demonstrated by the approval of 413 E. Huron, even a historic district is not enough to preserve the desirability of our existing downtown/near-downtown housing stock to families, working adults, and retirees.

    Historically, it has been the working adults, 30+, who have invested in the community, volunteered to serve, contributed to charities, voted in elections, participated in community planning, and paid the lion’s share of taxes. If the City doesn’t start looking at ways to make downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods more enticing to families, working adults, and retirees, then its future will not be as sustainable as some City officials would like to believe it is.

  26. By jcp2
    July 10, 2013 at 8:32 pm | permalink

    Housing prices in the downtown area and neighborhoods adjacent to downtown are market driven. It is precisely because these areas are attractive to live in that they are expensive. People with children in their families will move to areas where the intersection of acceptable schooling and cost of residence is at their comfort level. If you want to stay in walking distance of downtown, then Northside, with an average sq foot price of $155, is the least expensive. It goes up from there, all the way to Angell, with an average sq foot price of $240.