Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Schmerl, Morgan on greenway proposal

3. April 2005 • Murph
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The counter-point to Phil D’Anieri’s piece from a week ago, the Ann Arbor News ran Friday an Other Voices piece by Sonia Schmerl, Old West Side Neighborhood Association Board member and Historic District Commissioner, Greenways prove to be valuable investments for communities.

The greenway proposed for the Allen Creek valley, which would begin with the restoration of three public properties in the floodplain to green open space, has been promoted as a means of improving the livability of the city core and an amenity for downtown residents, amid proposals for dramatically increasing their numbers.

Ann Arbor’s downtown could also realize substantial economic benefits as a result of the establishment of a greenway within the city, as is shown by the experience of municipal leaders in communities across the country.

Greenway corridors (linear open spaces connecting recreational, cultural and natural areas) are traditionally recognized for their environmental protection, recreation values and aesthetic appearance. These corridors also have the potential to create jobs, enhance property values, expand local businesses, attract new or relocating businesses, increase local tax revenues, decrease local government expenditures and promote a local community.
. . .
Use of environmentally sensitive areas for open space or recreation can reduce costs of property damage due to flooding, which accounts for larger annual property losses than any other single geophysical hazard.

Leaders in Johnson County, Kan., were expected to spend $120 million on stormwater control projects. Instead, voters passed a $600,000 levy to develop a county-wide streamway park system. The greenways network will address the county’s flooding problems, while providing a valuable recreation resource.

Additionally, News columnist Mary Morgan today writes on the greenway/DDA dust-up, saying For the city’s sake, meet in the middle:

This issue of neighborhood impact is at the forefront of any new development, or should be, whether it’s a new high school, a Wal-Mart or an apartment complex. The best recent example is the Downtown Development Authority’s plan for new retail, residential and parking on three sites just a few blocks from the new Y.

The DDA plan drew instant criticism from well-organized residents who’ve turned out in force at public meetings to oppose it. The DDA – charged with supporting the downtown business districts – has proposed building a much-needed parking garage at a city-owned lot by First and William streets, as well as a residential/retail building on the site of a current parking garage at First and Washington. The plan also calls for another residential/retail complex on a surface lot on South Ashley. (More details are online at
. . .
Depending on who’s talking, a city greenway is either a visionary concept or a knuckle-headed scheme. I’ve talked with people on both sides of the issue, and aside from those who hate any kind of change, both sides have reasonable arguments.

I’m heartened that the motivation for most comes from the same desire: to make the city a better place to live and work. And while people disagree about exactly what that means and how to get there, I still see common ground.

  1. While it was a nice change of pace to see that Sonia Schmerl’s article did not make any attempt to demonize the DDA or to spread the lie of parking structure=no greenway, it was disappointing in the fact that it was pretty much only about property values.

    As for Mary Morgan’s article, the current DDA plan sure seems to already meet the needs of all. It has market rate and workforce housing, parking, greenway, park AND artist space. However, the greenway-and-parks-only plan leaves no room for compromise and as far as I know, no one from that perspective has offered any.

    So, has anyone heard of a compromise offer from any of the movers and shakers of the greenway?
       —Kurt Maier    Apr. 3 '05 - 03:47PM    #
  2. Schmerl’s op-ed piece lauds the value of greenways in general. Hardly anyone, including the DDA, has claimed otherwise. I’m still perplexed at the Greenway crowd’s assertion that the entire site needs to be a park for a greenway to exist! She does not address the specifics of the Ann Arbor situation, and I still have yet to really hear the Greenway backers’ plan for dealing with the railroad. Why not a greenway along a real, railroad-less, above-ground creek like they have in Boulder. Traver Creek, for instance? Even if you don’t find the Allen Creek Greenway, or Ann Arbor Railroad Greenway, as I like to call it, scheme problematic, the DDA includes provision for this supposed future greenway in its three-site plan.
       —Brandon    Apr. 3 '05 - 04:20PM    #
  3. “These corridors also have the potential to create jobs, enhance property values, expand local businesses, attract new or relocating businesses, increase local tax revenues, decrease local government expenditures and promote a local community. ”

    The only accurate statement in the above quote is that it will enhance property values. The rest are so patently false, that it doesn’t bear discussion.

    The entire essay wants to pretend that we are going to somehow line the outside of the greenway with businesses….a la Kansas City or San Antonio. It is very, very misleading to promise those things, or even to infer that this may happen in Ann Arbor.

    The one thing that I got from my conversation with Doug re: the specifics of his plan, is that he plans to run a fence on either side of the railroad tracks along the entire greenway. I don’t see how this could possibly be a pretty area….although I openly admit that I have a hard time conceptualizing in 3D.

    Putting a greenway along the Huron sounds more and more appealing to me…..this downtown plan doesn’t make any sense to me.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 3 '05 - 05:16PM    #
  4. The AARR ROW is barely big enough for the train in several places (literally about 6 feet on either side of the train when it’s running). Any fence would have to have several feet between it and the tracks, meaning about a 2-4 foot walkway, meaning it would be totally useless as either a greenway or a bikeway. These claims about the beauty or freedom of a greenway DEMAND an open space with clear views and a sense of sanctuary, not the narrow fenced in corridors that are the practical reality of situation. Ergo, the proposal cannot provide the benefits claimed on its behalf.
       —Dale    Apr. 3 '05 - 06:26PM    #
  5. Todd and Dale are right on it!

    Why can’t we take all this energy for a downtown greenway and apply it to the process of building a Huron River Greenway… where the multiple benefits of connectivity, recreation, and open space preservation can ALL be acheived for the good of Ann Arbor and Ypsi and the county.
       —Kurt Maier    Apr. 3 '05 - 08:04PM    #
  6. Oops, IMPLY, not infer.

       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:03PM    #
  7. Todd, Did you get the e-mail I sent you last night?
       —Bob Dascola    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:08PM    #
  8. Yes, I did. Thanks.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:22PM    #
  9. A greenway along the Huron River is, and always has been, the long term plan for this community. There is a group called the Washtenaw Metro Alliance, made up of the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the surrounding townships of Pittsfield, Scio, Ann Arbor, Superior and Ypsilanti. The WMA was the brain-child of Mayor Hieftje, and is co-chaired by him and the Chair of the Washtenaw Co. Board of Commissioners. I held that position in 2003-04, and contunue to serve on the Alliance. The other members include the twp. supervisors as well as the top administrators from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and the county.

    Go to the county web site: and key in “Metro Alliance” in the box at the top right. Then click on Search. You will be referred to the WMA’s plan. Click on No. 1, and then scroll down to “scope of work”. There is a pdf file that will explain the work that has been done, and the vision for the future. It is a cooperative effort among the members of the alliance as well as the county Parks and Rec. Dept. and the Huron Clinton Metroplitan Parks Authority.

    The Huron River is our most important asset in terms of parks and open space, and the work that has been done here features the cooperation among the various governmental jurisdictions in Washtenaw County. Connectivity has to go beyond the City limits, and this is what the Washtenaw Metro Alliance is trying to achieve.
       —Leah    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:34PM    #
  10. And this is where our effort should be expended, not on a downtown greenway.

    It’s funny, I was reading Jim Kunstler’s weekly rant, and when he railed about the stupidity and impotence of the Democratic Party for not promoting a more ecologically friendly (less oil-dependent) society, I thought of the Friends of the Greenway and their city supporters. Usually I shake my head and think, what are you talking about, Jim? Today I realized the irresponsibility of the party on the national level is linked to that on the local level.
       —Dale    Apr. 4 '05 - 02:42PM    #
  11. Why either/or, Dale? I don’t necessarily disagree, I’m just wondering what your thinking is.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 4 '05 - 03:21PM    #
  12. “There is a group called the Washtenaw Metro Alliance, made up of the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the surrounding townships of Pittsfield, Scio, Ann Arbor, Superior and Ypsilanti. The WMA was the brain-child of Mayor Hieftje, and is co-chaired by him and the Chair of the Washtenaw Co. Board of Commissioners.”

    Regional planning initiated by an Ann Arbor Mayor? Boy; big, big, points for Hieftje. This is great, and I hope to see the cities mentioned above together more and more.

    Am I the only one who thinks that the Council and the DDA is really starting to get Ann Arbor’s act together in terms of Urban Planning? So cool. Makes me very happy to see posts like Leah’s.

    BTW, Leah…thank you for helping to make Wash. County a better place to live in.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 4 '05 - 03:37PM    #
  13. Hey, thanks, Todd! We try to do our best!
       —Leah    Apr. 4 '05 - 06:37PM    #
  14. Steve—for me it’s not “either/or,” it’s “not one, rather the other.” One greenway plan is compatible with downtown development, builds on existing resources, and is practical (as demonstrated by the greenspace already established). The other doesn’t. Why would we want a nonfunctioning 2 foot wide “greenway” on either side of the railroad tracks again?
       —Dale    Apr. 4 '05 - 06:47PM    #
  15. Dale,

    Thanks. I can’t remember now what it was about your initial remarks that led to my question. Maybe I was actually responding to Kurt’s followup to yours.

    In any case, the talk about the greenway along the river (thanks for covering that, Leah, you saved me the trouble) got me thinking along a different track (NPI).

    I’m thinking of sending a letter to the News with my thoughts, just to get them out there more widely. Then we can discuss them here. I think you’ll all be interested.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 4 '05 - 07:13PM    #
  16. There’s actually more or less a Huron River greenway running most of the way through town. Start in Bandemer up at M14 and Barton Drive, come down across Argo dam, along the spillway to Lower Town, under the Broadway Bridges to Riverside Park (? between the Kellogg Eye Institute and the river, not the one on the Gandy Dancer’s side), across Maiden Lane and head into Island Park, cross the river, traverse the soccer fields, cross Fuller, traverse the other soccer fields, touch the edge of the Arb, and hop on the path to. . .the big park I can never remember the name of, which will take you out of the city under US23.

    Obviously there’s some handwaving involved in there, and a solid greenway plan would clean up the links between places, but it’s definitely the case that cleaning up the Huron riverfront is both a much easier and much more rewarding project than any form of an Allen Creek Greenway.

    That doesn’t completely exclude an Allen Creek Greenway from discussion, but it does mean that Allen Creek isn’t where we should be talking about a Central Park, or a Jewel in Ann Arbor’s Crown, or any of that.
       —Murph    Apr. 4 '05 - 08:17PM    #
  17. Murph – that’s Gallup Park.
       —Leah    Apr. 5 '05 - 12:18AM    #
  18. Yes, that one. (Mental note: add heuristic “geese -> gallup”. I can always remember that park is full of geese (and goose poop), but never the name. . .)
       —Murph    Apr. 5 '05 - 01:20AM    #
  19. I was just now struck at the ridiculousness of this entire “controversy.”

    We citizens are at each others’ throats, booing one another at meetings, threatening the jobs of our councilmembers, filling up 3 pages of letters to the editor, wearing green ribbons, losing our tempers, organizing community meetings for “understanding and discussion,” spending hours and hours in cyberspace, networking with our friends and neighbors and hatching tactics and political spin…

    ...about whether the city should spend heaven knows how much money in buying a linear park alongside a working railroad?

    THIS is the most pressing civic issue at hand?

    [of course, knowing both the practical and symbolic nature of this issue, and that it is merely part of a larger pattern, and that it is actually intimitely tied to the REAL problems of the city and region, it isn’t so easy to discount]

    Other cities must look at us dumbfounded.
       —Brandon    Apr. 5 '05 - 01:36AM    #
  20. Well Said Brandon! It’s so important that will all get along, because if that doesn’t happen we all lose. It’s kind of like the war over in Iraq, when one person is killed we all lose . Just think how many greenways, parks,parking garage’s,affordable housing in Downtown Ann Arbor and no homeless people if the Federal Govenment wasn’t wasting it over in Iraq.

    When is this meeting suppose to be at Todds place any way. I think I missed it some where along the way. Any help please.Thanks.
       —Bob Dascola    Apr. 5 '05 - 01:57AM    #
  21. For lack of a better place to share this, here’s what I was referring to earlier. I’m planning on emailing this out to some folks.

    1. A greenway along the Allens Creek floodplain would not be a very direct route downtown. It would also require a crossing of both Main St. and Huron. I wonder how many people would use it to access downtown rather than taking Fourth Ave. or State St., for example, unless they were just extending their exercise. Even then, it doesn’t seem likely for someone to take that route instead of continuing along the river.

    I can imagine city residents using an Allens Creek route to access the river. However, parks on the current city-owned sites wouldn’t likely be magnets. In addition, the train tracks act as a barrier to the downtown, both visually and physically. Parks on those sites might be desirable – and they make complete sense in the floodway, but I think they’d serve visitors to the new Y and neighbors more than visitors to downtown or greenway travelers (whose destination would more likely be the greenway along the river.) And to the extent that downtown residents or workers use them, great.

    2. I think that maintaining the rail line will be important in the future for shipping and potentially commuter uses. So I don’t think I can support removing it for use as a greenway trail. The difficulties of siting a trail next to the tracks have come up in discussions; I don’t have anything else to add on that matter.

    3. Our existing greenway is along the river. Our city could benefit from finding a way to get people from there to downtown and back (and vice versa.) If people prefer not to walk or ride their bikes (up the considerable hill), we could supply bike parking (at the Amtrak station?) and a shuttle service to downtown. Maybe a connecting loop for the Link? Cyclists would also have the option of loading their bikes on the rack on the front/back of the bus/trolley. It could also double as a shuttle for the train station, which would connect to the bus system at the transit center.

    4. Fourth Ave. is the most direct route downtown from the river. Alternatively, or even in tandem with a shuttle, Fourth Ave. could be promoted and improved to be the route of choice between the downtown and the greenway. That street goes past or to: Wheeler Park, Kerrytown and the Farmers Market, as well as the little park between Fourth and Main just north of Beakes and the Sculpture Plaza at Catherine. The Washtenaw County Historical Museum is just a block away on Main. The Hands-On Museum is even closer, on Ann. The visitor’s center on Ashley could eventually be moved, similar to the Greyhound station. Less than ten blocks from the river, it reaches the transit center, within a block of the library. (Keep going south and you can get to Elbel Field with a jog over to Fifth around Fingerle’s.) Along the way are numerous restaurants and retail stores.

    Going a step further, we could consider making the three blocks from Kingsley to Huron (or even just one of them) a car-free zone, and while it wouldn’t qualify as a “Central Park”, it would be more central than the Allens Creek route and perhaps a more appropriate amenity along the lines of Boulder, CO’s pedestrian mall for a city of Ann Arbor’s size. (Several street fairs have been held along that stretch in the past, including the original Green Fair.)

    Fourth Ave. is close to both Main St. (one block) and State St. (four blocks) (whereas the First & William site, while less than two blocks west of Main, is almost eight blocks from State & Liberty.) Also, the crossing at Huron has probably the least vehicle traffic to contend with relative to Main, Division, Fifth Ave., or even Ashley or First St., in part because it’s a two-way street. (So no left turns on red, for example. It’s also a block from the fire station at Fifth and the heavy traffic – and the attendant noise and exhaust – at Main.)

    I’d appreciate feedback before I send this out.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 5 '05 - 05:09AM    #
  22. Steve, I like your ideas. A few of them might be written off out-of-hand by the city, like closing a block of Fourth – considering the number of people who were upset by the prospect of closing Detroit in the proposed Farmers’ Market plan, I think closing any street would be a hard sell.

    Fourth Ave. makes sense as a major non-car corridor, though I’m iffy on getting enough traffic on it to justify a trolley. Maybe if the A2-Detroit commuter line ends up happening (in which case, I believe Hieftje has already been talking to the Mayor of Dearborn, in an “I’ll provide shuttles on my end if you’ll provide shuttles on yours,” fashion, so this would fit right in). Perhaps the trolley could run as far as Lower Town, providing a quick/direct route downtown for those folks? (Looping up from Depot onto the bridge – I’ve seen a UM blue bus do it.) I’d want also to see some of the gaps on Fourth filled in. Lots of surface parking along Fourth on the Kerrytown side, but the Y (+Blake?) redevelopment on the south end of the route will help increase activity.

    Personally, I don’t think that Fourth needs to be made ped only to be a nice ped route – as you point out, it’s already the nicest way to go from Washington north. Maybe revise some of the intersections (does Catherine really need to be four traffic lanes where it hits Fourth?) and encourage ped-friendly uses to fill in the gaps, and I think it can still support cars.

    Don’t know if that was helpful . . .
       —Murph    Apr. 5 '05 - 01:21PM    #
  23. Thanks, Murph. I’ve had the same thoughts about Catherine.

    Yeah, closing a block would be tough. The parking in front of the Co-op is ‘necessary’, for example. Too bad, though.

    I hadn’t followed the Farmers Market issue closely, so I hadn’t heard about the proposal to close Detroit St.

    I should probably have pointed out that I’m trying to look at least ten years down the road. You know, when gas will cost $6/gallon. ;-)
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 5 '05 - 02:18PM    #
  24. I would like to see some pedestrian-only streets downtown. Good ideas, Steve. They might not be “green” but they would get a lot more use than a narrow right of way along a railroad. When this idea for closing a couple streets to cars is floated, it tends to be the downtown merchants who seem to take the unimaginative stance with unwarranted fears that no cars driving by means no customers. I wish we had a few more streets where you could sit outside without sucking fumes.
       —SG    Apr. 6 '05 - 02:12AM    #
  25. ...and more parking within a few blocks to make that happen.
       —Kurt    Apr. 6 '05 - 02:53AM    #
  26. “When this idea for closing a couple streets to cars is floated, it tends to be the downtown merchants who seem to take the unimaginative stance with unwarranted fears that no cars driving by means no customers.”

    SG, let me ask you this: why don’t we close down all of Jefferson St. and Madison running from 7th down to first? Do you think that the residents who lived on these streets would be happy about this? They would now have to find a monthly parking pass at a parking garage since they would no longer be able to use their own driveways.

    How about Jefferson Market? What would that do to their business? Or the elementary school across the street? What happens when it’s time to pick up the kids?

    The route from M14 through to I-94 is critical to this city, and its local merchants…..not to mention what that would do to traffic patterns. How many OFW’s would like to have delivery trucks rumbling through their neighborhoods?

    Now, SG, if you gave me what I would have liked to have seen…..20 story apartment buildings all through downtown built through the 80’s and 90’s together with tall parking garages, and this city could have actually been able to support the closing down part of Main Street as there would be more people living downtown who could actually support local merchants. The city would be more walkable, and people would be able to leave their cars in the parking garages where they belong…..

    I can tell you from personal experience that on days when Main St. is closed down that our business suffers. Our nights are still great, but the daytime happy hour crowd (who travel by car) usually shrinks or disappears entirely. Not that I’m complaining. Oktoberfest and the Green fair are terrific for our town.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 8 '05 - 05:52PM    #
  27. I’m mostly with Todd on this. Closing streets means fewer choices of routes, which means more cogestion on the routes that are left. Look, for example, at the Huron River, which has only a few crossings (or most of the northeast side in general, with very few main roads); traffic is concentrated onto the few routes that exists, rather than being spread over a larger number of less-intensively used routes. So, purely from a logistical point of view, it would be negative – making car/truck traffic more congested, and thereby making those routes worse for pedestrians as well.

    There is, also, the concern with business traffic. When I was interning at WATS, before we got the web-based traffic count database up, I would take phone calls from people who were looking at vacant business space and wanted to know daily vehicle traffic volumes past each: more traffic = more business (up to a point…). Except for State Street and South University, I don’t think any street could imaginably be closed to cars without negative effects on business, and neither of those could be closed without negative effects on through movement.
       —Murph    Apr. 8 '05 - 06:53PM    #
  28. Todd, just to clarify, I was referring to the possibility of closing a block or three on Fourth Ave., not Main St. I don’t think SG was talking about Main either.
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 8 '05 - 07:12PM    #
  29. He wasn’t? Where did I screw up this time?

    Geez, I need to pay attention.

    I guess I got confused because the idea of making Main St. pedestrian-only comes up pretty frequently.

    Sorry guys.

    You will have many of the same problems, however, no matter which streets you want to close. You have to think long and hard before you close a street in a downtown area….this can kill a small business in a big hurry.
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 8 '05 - 07:49PM    #
  30. Todd, I agree. By the way, I don’t remember if I mentioned it before, but my wife owns Sixteen Hands on Main.

    An intermediate option would be to not permanently close any section, but to tailor the street over time to discourage through traffic so that it’s primarily used by people visiting those businesses. Then it would be more pedestrian and cyclist friendly and could function better for temporary closures for fairs and other events. (The success of such an intermediate stage would be necessary for determining the viability of any permanent closure.)

    Murph mentioned brick pavers. There are probably other approaches. Could deliveries and recycling pickup for the co-op be done on Catherine, for example? Could the alleys be more effectively used? Would signage help?
       —Steve Bean    Apr. 8 '05 - 08:10PM    #
  31. Steve,

    If you mentioned it, I missed it (big surprise, right?). :)
       —Todd Leopold    Apr. 8 '05 - 09:03PM    #
  32. Steve, Your said you wife owns 16 hands. As a locally independent business she qualifies to join the LIVING ECONOMY NETWORK. I am a board member and we are looking for people that want to be part of a locally owner business network. We are in the prosess of putting a directory together with all the members listed in it. Please mention this to your wife and see if she is interested in joining. If so, Let me know at my e-mail address Thanks.

    Vice President LEN.
       —Bob Dascola    Apr. 9 '05 - 03:15AM    #