Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

City Council/DDA Joint Work Session: Parking

11. February 2007 • Juliew
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Monday, February 12 at 7:00 pm in the DTE Community Room, DTE Building, 425 S. Main Street and televised on CTN channel 16

Ann Arbor City HallJoint City Council/DDA Work Session Agenda (8 MB .pdf with Attachments)

1) DDA Mid-Winter Retreat Report:

  • Existing off-street monthly parking permit shortage
  • Create new parking spaces, preferably by adding onto existing structures and implementing the Fifth & Division project. Leave large open lots (S. Fifth Avenue lot, S. Ashley lot) available for future development
  • Alter parking management, including discouraging employee parking subsidies
  • Develop new alternative transportation options and incentives, including explorations into a new city trolley and additional downtown circulator

2) Immediate Projects

  • Fifth & Division (brief presentation)
  • Downtown parking study (brief presentation)
  • Adding levels to Liberty Square and/or Ann Ashley

3) Other Topics for City Council Input

  • Evening parking enforcement
  • Removing City parking subsidies for City employees
  • Developing a trolley system and/or commuter rail system

  1. Apparently, the DDA was not happy with the Fifth and Division proposal and voted against it at their February 7 meeting.

    As an aside, in this article, the author quoted Renee Gref as saying the Fourth and William parking structure was the “least desirable” parking structure. Which is interesting to me as she was the strongest proponent of the First and William parking structure, which would have been even less desirable as it would have been three blocks more removed from downtown. Hmmm.

       —Juliew    Feb. 11 '07 - 11:33PM    #
  2. Juliew, neither of these items are as clear-cut as they’re presented.

    I’ll note that the Fifth/Division plan was voted 6-4 in favor, so it’s not that they didn’t like it. They just didn’t like it quite enough. The DDA Board has 12 people on it, so 4 votes against is not much of a message; Roger Hewitt’s quote in the paper notes that the vote was one week too early, considering the expected timeframe for the results of the parking study to come in.

    Also, I can point out from having sat in on plenty of past discussions about parking structures that pushing Fourth/William up really does have marginal benefit. Go park on the top floor of Fouth/William and try to leave at ten after 5. Desirability of structures, based on user feedback, is not just about how far it is from work. How many times you have to circle to get to/from your parking space, and how long you have to sit in line to get out are also significant factors.

    If you’ve got an afternoon free, the DDA retreats are fun, in a geeky sort of way.

       —Murph.    Feb. 12 '07 - 03:38AM    #
  3. For the record, I hate the 4th and William structure for all the reasons Murph says. Even though it is very well located.

       —JennyD    Feb. 12 '07 - 05:35AM    #
  4. > pushing Fourth/William up really does have marginal benefit. Go
    > park on the top floor of Fouth/William and try to leave at ten
    > after 5. Desirability of structures, based on user feedback, is not
    > just about how far it is from work. How many times you have to
    > circle to get to/from your parking space, and how long you have
    > to sit in line to get out are also significant factors.

    however, isn’t the dda already fixing this (so the banners proclaim), by adding the ‘speed ramp’ to the structure in this construction project? seems like they’re already obviating this argument that getting out is slow due to circling.

    also, for the record, i happen to be working with a client who has the most excellent view of the side of this lot, on the exit ramp. it does get busy around 5, but not ridiculously so – a few cars in line, and that’s about it.

    and for interest, you see a lot of curious behaviours looking at the side of a parking lot. i saw some guy sleeping in his car the other day. yes, it was an suv, but worse still, he was sleeping with the engine-on. i’ve seen the a variety of body-function over the edge, and the clandestine makeout. people need better situational awareness, i think.

       —bob kuehne    Feb. 12 '07 - 07:00AM    #
  5. This could be an important working session, for the tone as well as the content.

    There have been some serious changes of circumstances since the giddy days of a couple of years ago. With Pfizer abandoning us, AA will be lucky to maintain its existing population level over the next few years. The premise of hordes of folks moving here, and a resulting demand for new construction downtown and elsewhere, is no longer valid. Also, the City’s budget is still serously out of balance. Roger Fraser is talking about further police/fire staff reductions.

    The problem that the DDA is having over the Fifth/Division plan, with the likelihood that this plan will be either abandoned or cut back, should not be viewed in isolation. The DDA has also put the RFP for the Kline’s lot on the shelf. One DDA Board member told me that it’s “not the time to be pursuing new development.”

    Further reduction of police/fire staff means further reduction in the “load” on the police station. Since Council has already put the police/fire facility initial budget on hold, maybe Council is thinking of not going ahead with that project as well.

    If the City can’t afford to build a new court facility, then I expect the County will extend the District Court’s lease. After all, the concept of the County suing the City to evict the court, while it does have its amusing points, is nonetheless not calculated to inspire good feelings between these governmental units.

       —David Cahill    Feb. 12 '07 - 08:40PM    #
  6. bob k –

    When I was paying attention, the speed ramp at Fourth/William was replacing 10 parking spaces on each of the first and second levels, eliminating 1/7 of the benefit gained by adding the extra level; this was seen as a necessary step to maintain the level at which people (as JennyD illustrates) hate the structure, rather than worsening it. Speed ramp from level 2 to level 1 will shorten exit time with no congestion by one circuit, so the new top level will still have the same number of circuits.

    Can’t help myself: 140-20 = 120 spaces, $5m = $41,666/space. Bob, you’ve previously stated $44k/space to be simply outrageous ; where’s the line between outrageous and fine idea? :)

    2-year-old snarking aside, though, I think the real point is that the Fifth/Division plan really ought be moved forward. Creating parking spaces, providing better bike and pedestrian facilities, and generally making those streets more multi-functional (and more cheaply than simply building parking decks) ought to be an easy choice. I hope that the votes-required technicality can be cleared up when they get a full Board to the table and when their parking study comes back.

       —Murph    Feb. 12 '07 - 10:41PM    #
  7. > Can’t help myself: 140-20 = 120 spaces, $5m = $41,666/
    > space. Bob, you’ve previously stated $44k/space to be simply
    > outrageous ; where’s the line between outrageous and fine idea? :)

    i’m hardly advocating for the dda’s position on blowing huge wads of cash on parking. especially poorly designed solutions, like what they’re augmenting at 4th/william. so, we agree – why do we keep paying the dda to make these great decisions on our behalf?

    > 2-year-old snarking aside, though, I think the real point is
    > that the Fifth/Division plan really ought be moved forward.
    > Creating parking spaces, providing better bike and pedestrian
    > facilities, and generally making those streets more multi

    you’re absoultely right here. more walkable streets, more friendly streets, more street-level parking that those merchants keep clamoring for, and trees to keep us anti-asphalt-grumps at bay.

    again, why is this a hard decision for the dda? yes, $, i know. but what else are they saving our parking revenues for?

       —bob kuehne    Feb. 13 '07 - 12:13AM    #
  8. At last week’s DDA Board meeting, Mayor Hieftje mentioned “other priorities”. I don’t know if this was a reference to the hole in the City’s budget or not.

       —David Cahill    Feb. 13 '07 - 03:37AM    #
  9. I believe the DDA can (or maybe will) only spend parking dollars on parking, not street – sidewalk improvements. For those they spend TIF dollars. This explains why they spend parking money on structure spaces. Where else would they spend it?

    Actually I remember hearing that underground spaces run from $45,000 and up (but you would still have the real estate) that makes $40,000 spaces look a lot better. It also sheds light on the proposed spaces at 1st and William, those were very expensive above ground spaces and not in the best of locations.

       —LauraB    Feb. 13 '07 - 10:03AM    #
  10. By “new city trolley”, do they mean expanding the service times or route of the Link Bus? I ride that reasonably frequently – it’s my backup bus if I’m running late for the #5 – and during the school year it’s jam-packed on campus at the end of the day.

    I’d be interested in what kinds of route suggestions they have for this. Right now the State St / Packard / Washtenaw corridors have much better bus service than say Liberty or Miller or Plymouth, and I do know that when you get frequent bus service in hailing distance of campus people will take it (witness a very busy #6 or #36 every cold winter morning with people getting on for an 8 block trip).

       —Edward Vielmetti    Feb. 13 '07 - 11:37AM    #
  11. In the part of the working session I saw on CTN, a ‘new city trolley’ was discussed in this context: let’s say we’ve got an east-west commuter rail with terminus near 415 W. Washington; and a north-south commuter rail option from Howell or wherever down to somewhere near the UM Med Center. A route hooking up these two points would be the initial spine of a ‘new city trolly’: a street-car running on rails on a dedicated right-of-way for most of its distance, using electricity from overhead wires. Construction techniques for the rails were portrayed as simple, allowing for progress of something like a block a day (maybe two … there was other stuff on TV last night I was toggling between).

       —HD    Feb. 13 '07 - 06:37PM    #
  12. “a street-car running on rails on a dedicated right-of-way for most of its distance, using electricity from overhead wires. Construction techniques for the rails were portrayed as simple, allowing for progress of something like a block a day”

    Huh – that will be interesting to see where the power comes from and how it’s run down the streets as overhanging limbs make way for the overhead wire. Laying track probably isn’t as difficult but putting a street car system into place seems like more than a matter of throwing down some tracks. Think control systems and signals and all of those good things that keep street cars from running into each other.

       —John Q.    Feb. 14 '07 - 12:20AM    #
  13. Re: street cars

    In addition to the challenges of throwing down some track and stringing some wires, the ‘dedicated right-of-way’ bit strikes me as a pretty hard piece. This was discussed in the context of the street cars not having to interact with car traffic for most of their journey.

    But given that this was cast as a ‘futuristic’ sort of possibility, I’m hopeful that these challenges could eventually be met.

       —HD    Feb. 14 '07 - 01:05AM    #
  14. That seems really unrealistic especially in Ann Arbor. Taking away road ROW not only impacts traffic, it impacts parking. Now we’ll really have a fight on our hands!

    I’ve said before that I’m a big fan of rail. But I’ve never understood the fixation on trolleys and other fixed route rail lines within the city proper. If we’re being realistic, how are those options and the costs involved better than the traditional city bus?

    I think commuter rail and light rail make sense in certain situations. For example, rail options that would link Chelsea, Dexter, Ann Arbor and Ypsi or Ann Arbor to the Airport to Detroit or Howell to Ann Arbor make sense. But running street cars on routes that can just as well be served by a bus doesn’t make sense financially or operationally. Transit has a hard enough row to hoe, why go for the options that are the hardest/more expensive to implement? We might as well propose a subway!

       —John Q.    Feb. 14 '07 - 03:29AM    #
  15. I didn’t catch all of the meeting either, but one of the Council Members said they had already had meetings with the University on the trolley and “the University was very enthusiastic” about it and wanted to proceed soon so a city/University partnership is being pursued. There are still a fair number of streets in Ann Arbor where you can see the old trolley tracks, although not on Main Street. This article is a pretty funny illustration of the problems in the early 1900s with the streetcars and interurbans. I imagine many of the same issues and complaints would be true today.

    As an aside, I would like to see the City give a couple spaces in one of the City lots on the west side of downtown to Zipcars. So far, the six cars in Ann Arbor are all on University property and Zipcars says it is looking for spaces. Since the University has done all the work, this would be an easy win for the City.

       —Juliew    Feb. 14 '07 - 03:30AM    #
  16. Even though the old trolly tracks might have completely disappeared from Main Street, the Ann Arbor District Library has a bunch of online research tools — among them The Making of Ann Arbor, which includes some historical photographs of the city … even one of the trolley on Main Street

       —HD    Feb. 14 '07 - 03:59AM    #
  17. No doubt that they worked in their day. But I don’t see any cars in that photo, just horses and buggies!

       —John Q.    Feb. 14 '07 - 04:15AM    #
  18. John Q.,

    Okay, okay, just for you, here’s one from the Making of Ann Arbor demonstrating the peaceful coexistence of motor cars and trolleys ;-)== To be fair, that vehicle looks like a fire truck (not a personal car), and that would actually fit given that it’s a parade. Cool sign on the trolley though … apparently there was a Packard to Huron line.

       —HD    Feb. 14 '07 - 04:50AM    #
  19. Okay, last one, I promise. From the same series Juliew linked to above, there’s this one

    and this other one

       —HD    Feb. 14 '07 - 05:05AM    #
  20. I’m sorry, but light rail for this area at this time is quite unnecessarily expensive and silly (and this is coming from someone who works in transit).

    There are a multitude of interim modal options that can be constructed at much more effective cost than light rail and will more than meet this area’s needs.

    If light rail is so necessary at this time (or anytime in the near future), why don’t we have any articulated buses running on any routes in the area (university included)?

    Why aren’t there any express routes?

    Why don’t we have any dedicated lanes for buses anywhere in the county? (even toledo has managed to accomplish that)

    When are we finally going to see preemptive stoplight signaling for buses in this city?

    I already know the answers to these questions, and i find it absurd that the city and DDA are even entertaining the light rail option without having put up any money to help fund express routes, bus ROW, commuter rail, or bus rapid transit.

    Light rail in Ann Arbor is fiscally irresponsible at this time. The way most cities handle rapid transit is by building up incrementally through less expensive modes. This gives the ridership base a chance to build up and demonstrates the need to the feds for increased funding (unless some transit angel is going to fund this project).

    For some reason Ann Arbor doesn’t seem to understand that there are more options for transit than circuitous bus routes and heavy-infrastructure streetcars. You don’t jump directly from 35 and 40-foot buses to trams.

    The only corridors in Washtenaw county which really warrant light rail would be Fuller Rd. between the UM campuses and Washtenaw Ave. Everywhere else just doesn’t currently have the ridership (or potential).

    I’d be more than willing to support this circulator idea if we’d have a little more realistic discussion of the options. BRT is the way to go for this thing…not light rail.

       —kena    Feb. 14 '07 - 09:58AM    #
  21. Before i’m slammed for not being visionary enough or not understanding how rail relates to Ann Arbor, here’s a link to a map of interurban, streetcar and rail lines in Arbor circa 1922.

    This area once had great rail service while it had much less population than today.

    Unfortunately the culture of the area has changed to an auto-centric one. It’s not that we don’t have the density in certain areas to support light rail…we just currently don’t have the cultural mindset to support that level of transit investment. Current transit ridership levels and levels of financial investment (on both the state and local levels) show that.

    It would be most effective in the long run to incrementally increase what we currently have to build up to a light rail system.

       —kena    Feb. 14 '07 - 10:37AM    #
  22. Also, I think one would be challenged to find any short distance light rail routes in the US that service areas of relatively low-density like Ann Arbor. Light rail exists where the density is high enough to:

    1) Provide a potential base of riders

    2) Discourage the use of automobiles due to congestion, lack of parking or high price of parking or all 3.

    Transit can drive development and many cities are encouraging higher density near transit stops. But in Ann Arbor’s case, you would have to see significant increases in density and population to even contemplace light rail for short distance travel.

       —John Q.    Feb. 14 '07 - 11:23AM    #
  23. There used to be an interurban line going down Packard from AA to Ypsi. The tracks were dug up fairly recently when they redid the intersection (about ten years ago – they had been buried by layers of asphalat, of course). Think how convenient that would be today.

    I agree that the infrastructure would be expensive, but this project is future thinking. And, one would hope, there would be a lot of outside money to help, but not just now, giving what is happening in Lansing and D.C. But there is nothing wrong with a strong vision for a transportation plan. If we don’t plan now, we will be gridlocked in 20 years.

       —Leah    Feb. 14 '07 - 05:38PM    #
  24. I’m with kena – there are intermediate steps we ought to be taking before we go all ga-ga over light rail down Liberty or wherever. The commuter rail lines are much higher priority, signal preemption for existing buses would be be a neglible cost compared to light rail, express routes would help attract riders of choice and make park-n-ride more attractive…And then we can look at light rail within the city. We need to work our way up, and get “using transit” and “living in compact communities” worked (back) into people’s comfort zones in steps.

    That news report from a few weeks back about expectations that gasoline will hit $4/gallon by 2020 and $5 by 2030 will help these steps. I just hope we realize exactly what’s wrong with the car, yes, even in Michigan, before we doom our State’s economy to more of this forever.

    (Maybe Ford can start making buses in their Ypsi Visteon plant?)

       —Murph.    Feb. 14 '07 - 06:11PM    #
  25. Murph – if you recall, it was GM who ruined the streetcars, by persuaing municipalities to switch over to buses. Bad idea! (And long ago history.)

    Signal manipulation would require cooperation between the AATA and the City – I hope it might happen – and of course it has been discissed.

       —Leah    Feb. 14 '07 - 06:54PM    #
  26. I am impressed at how well the Council – DDA working session went! People were working toward consensus views on a variety of issues. They were “playing well with others” – a somewhat different perspective from the one given by the AA News’ coverage of these groups meeting separately.

    I like the idea of adding some levels to the Ann-Ashley and Liberty Square structures. It is great that one of the “tables” at the DDA’s winter retreat was in favor of DDA and Library partnering on possibly building the replacement downtown library on the Library Lot.

    But the highlight of the meeting, for me, was the Fifth/Division plan. It is a fine plan which accomplishes a lot of our goals. Now that Council is more familiar with it, the money can be found to start work immediately.

       —David Cahill    Feb. 14 '07 - 08:04PM    #
  27. Echoing kena’s comments, Murph wrote: “The commuter rail lines are much higher priority, ... “

    It’s worth (re-)pointing out that the context of the speculative city trolley discussion at the DDA/City working session was as a connection between the terminus of an east-west commuter rail and the terminus of a north-south commuter rail (basically a single line running through downtown), which very much reflects an understanding on the part of the DDA that a light-rail implementation presupposes other key mass transit elements. So I don’t think it’s fair to characterize the DDA or the city as going ‘all ga-ga’ about it.

    Building a more robust mass transit system incrementally by first maximizing the use of buses, as Murph and kena suggest, is plenty rational. But I don’t think the psychology of ridership is necessarily rational. I think the difference between the ride comfort of a regular city bus and a vehicle on rails is, for many potential riders, the difference between a willingness to try mass transit and not. I mean, I like the bus, I ride it sometimes just to prove to people that it can be done, etc., but many times I feel pretty beat to hell when I get off that lurching, shuddering beast. Motor coaches for longer ‘express’ hauls could address some of that discomfort, I suppose. But for the across town journey, deploying a super-plush coach seems unlikely.

    So to the extent that buses in dedicated lanes with the power to preempt stoplights can reduce the ride time, and perhaps make it possible to offer more frequent service, that’s certainly not going to hurt ridership and might entice some folks to try it out. But for seducing new riders to a permanent mass-transit lifestyle commitment, I would contend there’s nothing sexier than a streetcar.

       —HD    Feb. 14 '07 - 09:20PM    #
  28. HD –

    But for the across town journey, deploying a super-plush coach seems unlikely.

    Why is a plush coach more unlikely than laying rails, stringing electrical lines, etc?

    Leah –

    In as much as GM hastened the fairly foregone conclusion of the streetcars, consider this their chance for penance. (Not to mention their chance to branch out usefully from their current product line.)

       —Murph    Feb. 14 '07 - 10:25PM    #
  29. Murph,

    ‘Unlikely’ was a poor choice as a lazy one-word summary.

    I think (perhaps unfairly … not having been on one in forever) of those plush motor coaches as involving a more boarding/unboarding time than your basic city bus with multiple doors and sideways seating and grab bars everywhere. So if we restrict focus to just passenger perception of comfort, the additional getting-on/getting-off waiting and doinking around might diminish the benefit of the just-as-comfortable-as-your-car type ride—when that ride lasts only 10 minutes … 8 if it’s travelling in a dedicated bus lane with preemptive power over traffic lights.

    So ‘unlikely to give the intended benefit of maximizing passenger comfort’ is more what I meant.

       —HD    Feb. 14 '07 - 10:40PM    #
  30. Penance, Murph? hahahahaha

       —Leah    Feb. 14 '07 - 11:48PM    #
  31. Almost all of the benefits that in-right-of-way light rail offers can be achieved using bus rapid transit at substantially less cost.

    This includes: *limited stops at rail-style stops *plush, subway-esque, smooth-riding vehicles, *signal preemption *dedicated lanes *in-traffic integration

    All of this without the expense of an overhead traction system and rail installation.

    BRT is subways on the street (or streetcars with rubber tires). One can even use regular bus rolling stock in BRT ROWs if desired.

    If we’re really interested in attracting those people who won’t get on regular buses…why would we not use this option first before installing a traction system and rails? It works really well on the silver line in boston.

    The comfortable ride in on-street light rail is somewhat overrated. Granted, it’s not anywhere close to being as jerky as a bus, but they still lurch down the street in response to traffic, uneven pavement, and bent rails. Truly smooth rides really only exist on dedicated-ROW rail such as subways, light rail on its own tracks, etc.

       —kena    Feb. 15 '07 - 06:19AM    #
  32. Really successful rail systems like San Diego light rail or Metro (D.C.)undergrounds are so frequent that one doesn’t need to look at a schedule. During the working day you simply go stand at the stop. How about having bus service more often than once an hour during the day for the spokes? And of course, extended hours at night.

    I think people would use the bus even without luxury touches if they could depend on just hopping aboard without worrying about it. Maybe Ann Arbor should offer a grant program to AATA for enhanced service instead of contemplating a new infrastructure and system.

       —anonymous too    Feb. 15 '07 - 06:55AM    #
  33. Oooh…The DDA’s new parking study report is online! I’m excited to see what it says…As soon as its 27MB finish downloading.

       —Murph    Feb. 20 '07 - 10:32PM    #