Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Public Comment on Proposed Detroit-Ann Arbor Commuter Express Bus

Summary

The proposed plan is good, and the region has been waiting for such a service for many years. However, by limiting stops in Washtenaw County to Ann Arbor, it overlooks demographic factors that could raise serious environmental justice issues.
Specifically, the goal of providing rapid service between the business and population centers of Ann Arbor and Detroit, while laudable in itself, fails to provide much needed access to jobs and opportunity to the eastern part of Washtenaw County: the region within Washtenaw County with the lowest Opportunity Index, the highest percentage of individuals below the poverty level, the highest percent of the workforce unemployed, and the lowest number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes by fixed route transit. As often happens, whether intentionally or not, there is service for the fortunate, but not for the less-fortunate.

Express Bus Proposal

The proposal is outlined online at https://rtamichigan.org/introducing-d2a2/ with details in the FAQ at https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.44/tng.f93.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/D2A2_FAQ_updates.pdf.
In the FAQ, under the heading “Bus Stop Information”:
Q. Where are the bus stops located?
A. In Ann Arbor, the bus stop is located on 4th Ave at William St. In Detroit, the bus stop will be located at Grand Circus Park, a short walk to DDOT, SMART, PeopleMover, and QLine stops.
Q. Where can I park? How much is parking?
A. We will not be providing parking; however, there are parking options in downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit.
Several members of the public commented in the Public Meeting in Ann Arbor on January 8 that a stop at the Central Campus Transit Terminal would be a great advantage. I concur. I will pass over the fact that while these stops give good access to jobs, they give poor access to residents in general, which is likely to negatively impact ridership.

Trip Time

The limited number of stops has been explained as an effort to decrease trip time between Detroit and Ann Arbor. Not only does it limit the time each bus spends diverting and stopping to pick up riders, but it allows flexibility in the routes between end-points. This is an important factor given congestion and frequent highway closures due to crashes. However, I believe trip time is secondary to the accessibility of the service to residents in general, and specifically to those for whom public transportation to jobs is critical.
As described in the FAQ, the service is designed primarily for access to connecting local bus services in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Parking is not provided, and available parking facilities would be costly to use on a daily basis. It is easy to foresee that residents who can’t afford to park every day in downtown Ann Arbor or Detroit will find it impractical as well as time consuming to take a local bus from their residence to the express bus, and a third bus from either Grand Circus Park or the Blake Transit Center to their destination.
However, this is especially true for the residents of eastern Washtenaw County. While Ann Arbor residents can take AAATA bus to the express bus stop in 15 to 20 minutes, those in the eastern part of the county leaving from the Ypsilanti Transit Center would need 35 to 45 minutes to reach the express. Thus, Ann Arbor residents can get from their homes to Detroit by bus in roughly 75 or 80 minutes, but those who leave from downtown Ypsilanti face an impractical 95 to 105 minute journey. This time increases significantly if the eastern county resident must first take another bus to get to the Ypsilanti Transit Center.
This could easily be remedied by an express stop at I-94 and Huron Avenue in Ypsilanti near the MDOT ride-sharing parking lot.
The time-cost of adding this stop would be no more than a five minute increase in the express trip time and a slight reduction in route options (M-14 would not be practical, though US-12 to I-275 and I-96 would be an option if I-94 is congested or closed east of Ypsilanti.)

Economic Reality

The income and opportunity disparity between Ann Arbor and the eastern part of Washtenaw County has been widely documented. Reference these recent studies:
  • County studies
    • Disparities in Access to Opportunity (2017) (https://www.washtenaw.org/DocumentCenter/View/2340/Disparities-in-Access-to-Opportunities-PDF?bidId=)
    • Housing Affordability and Economic Equity - Analysis Washtenaw County, Michigan (https://www.washtenaw.org/DocumentCenter/View/2313/Housing-Affordability-and-Economic-Equity-Analysis-PDF)
  • Coordinated Public Transit – Human Services Transportation Plan for Washtenaw County. Updated September 2018. Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (2018) (https://static1.squarespace.com/static/524e0929e4b093015db69c07/t/5be087764ae237a3b86fa62e/1541441419576/2018+Coordinated+Plan+Reduced.pdf)
  • Bloomfield Hill’s Median Income Ranks Top in Southeastern Michigan. June 13, 2017 by Drawing Detroit. Wayne State University Center for Urban Studies. (http://www.drawingdetroit.com/bloomfield-hills-median-income-ranks-top-in-southeastern-michigan/)
These disparities, and the importance of better regional public transportation are best visualized with maps. The following are displayed below:
  1. Washtenaw Opportunity and Change Index
  2. Total Jobs Accessible within 30 Minutes by Fixed Route Transit
  3. Percent of Individuals Below Poverty Level
  4. Percent of Workforce that is Unemployed
  5. Median Household Income in Southeast Michigan in 2015

  1. Washtenaw Opportunity and Change Index. Express bus stops in an area surrounded by “High” and “Very High” Opportunity Index. The stop is distant from the large area of “Low” and “Very Low” opportunity along the eastern edge of the county. Residents of these low opportunity areas are often dependent on public transportation.
    From “Coordinated Public Transit – Human Services Transportation Plan for Washtenaw County. Updated September 2018. Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (2018)”
  2. Total Jobs Accessible within 30 Minutes by Fixed Route Transit. Express bus stop is in an area (orange color) within 30 minutes of may thousands of jobs (which is appropriate) but not in residential areas to the east with relatively few nearby jobs (green), which is regrettable.
    From “Coordinated Public Transit – Human Services Transportation Plan for Washtenaw County. Updated September 2018. Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (2018)”
  3. Percent of Individuals Below Poverty Level. The express bus stop in Ann Arbor is near several high poverty zones, which is fortunate. However, these areas provide housing primarily for University of Michigan students who, though technically impoverished, are by no means without opportunity. To the east, the areas of poverty provide housing primarily for racial minorities. From “Coordinated Public Transit – Human Services Transportation Plan for Washtenaw County. Updated September 2018. Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (2018)”

  4. Percent of Workforce that is Unemployed. Again, the express bus stops in the University of Michigan area, where many students are “unemployed” but not lacking in opportunity. In contrast, areas in the eastern part of the county are home to many former manufacturing workers, unemployed due to the closure several major plants in the Ypsilanti area since 2000.
    From “Coordinated Public Transit – Human Services Transportation Plan for Washtenaw County. Updated September 2018. Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (2018)”

  5. Median Household Income in Southeast Michigan in 2015. Here it becomes clear that the express bus stop is located in a relatively high income area, but in the interest of trip speed it runs through low income areas without stopping. From “Bloomfield Hill’s Median Income Ranks Top in Southeastern Michigan. June 13, 2017” by Drawing Detroit. Wayne State University Center for Urban Studies.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Climate Action at AAATA


Comments to AAATA Board 2019-09-19
Greta Thunberg...have you seen her on the news? Only 16 years old, and she has galvanized youth around the world into striking for climate action tomorrow. She has met with top US lawmakers and chided them firmly about their inaction on a matter that will critically impact people her age for the rest of their lives.

I'm happy that AAATA's Board has already acted. You have a strong policy statement about sustainability in ENDS:
1.2. The Area's natural environment is enhanced.
1.2.1. The Area's overall transportation system minimizes energy use and pollution.

In March 2019, the CEO's Interpretation and Rationale stated:
"I interpret this policy to mean that the AAATA should be working to reduce the prevalence of automobile trips with only a single occupant (the driver) in favor of any alternative transportation option that is more energy efficient and creates less pollution, including reducing demand for travel entirely. This is best measured by overall mode share trends."

So far, so good. But then the CEO's interpretation continues:

"We can assume that most modes produce less GHG emissions per passenger trip than single-occupant vehicles."

As Greta Thunberg said to a House Joint Committe yesterday, September 18, "Look at the science!"

The CEO's assumption can easily be fact-checked with reference to sources like the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Transportation Energy Data Book. By their calculations, single-occupant vehicles (or SOVs) are near the bottom of fuel economy (and hence pollution). With the most efficient mode calculated to be intercity passenger rail at 57 miles per gallon-equivalent, SOV's average is about 38 MPG. But there is one travel mode less efficient on average: TRANSIT BUSES, at 30 MPG.

Why? Quoting the 2018 Transportation Energy Data Book: "Transit buses are not very efficient at their current ridership rates, where, on average, a given bus is less than 25% full."
AAATA can easily calculate the overall fuel efficiency. There are precise records for miles buses traveled, passengers carried, and fuel used. The calculation can even be very closely estimated for each route.

Having mandated Policy End 1.2.1, this Board has both a right and an obligation to the community, to expect this kind of measure from the staff, and to expect concrete steps taken to improve, and keep improving, both ridership and fuel efficiency on our vehicles. Not just within the next 5-10 years. Now.

Greta is waiting. My grandchildren are waiting. They can't do anything about ridership and pollution from inefficient transit buses. And they're telling us they can't wait that long. But you, the AAATA Board, CAN do something about it. Please don't keep our kids and grandkids waiting any longer. Use the science.

To learn more:

Saturday, August 17, 2019

PUBLIC COMMENT, AAATA BOARD 2019-08-15


Please consider with me the dangers of complacency, or "business as usual".

AA News, front page, August 1, 2019. "U-M's growth sets stage for traffic problems city admin says" referring to City Hall meeting July 29. "The average travel delay in Ann Arbor is projected to increase by about 30% by 2045. The truth is unless we really address alternate means and methods of getting around, congestion will be a bigger part of our lives," he said, arguing congestion leads to aggressive behavior. "We are operating in a zone where we've increased our crashes by roughly 17% over the last 10 years," he said. "During that time, the population of the city of Ann Arbor has increased 7% and ...commutes into Ann Arbor have also increased."

Possible solutions mentioned at the meeting included sidewalks, bike lanes, scooters, road diets, red light cameras, and speed limits. Public transit was NOT mentioned as possible solution. Why not?

Could it be because AAATA is not seen as moving toward real transportation solutions, simply carrying on "business as usual" with, perhaps, a few modest "band-aids" for Washtenaw Avenue?

In today's Board packet, on p.3 of the Service Committee report, we read, "Mr. Hewitt asked about schedule adjustments to address traffic realities at busier times of the day. Mr. Sanderson explained that schedule adjustments are  being studied but may be too expensive and too disruptive to the current pulse system."

I find that response very discouraging. In effect, AAATA is saying, "We're looking into it, but please don't expect us to come up with anything that might disrupt Business As Usual. And certainly don't expect us to suggest solutions that might require budget. We'll just continue our pulse system. We're comfortable with it. After all, it has worked for the last 50 years."

And it has worked. Sort-of. Sure, the published schedule is guaranteed to be inaccurate and misleading during the times when most people need to commute. Ridership figures, also released in the Board Packet, indicate passengers may not be "highly satisfied with public transportation services". (AAATA Ends 1.1.4.) The majority of people with access to a personal car apparently do not find public transit to be an attractive alternative. (Ends 1.1.3) Local leaders may not be aware of the contribution public transportation could make to the community (Ends 1.3.6).

But we're comfortable with the pulse system, just as it is. And don't bug us about it: the pulse system is an operational matter, so the Board is out of bounds to question it. Just let the experts continue to study the problem in comfort.

Thank you,

Laurence Krieg / Wake Up Washtenaw

Monday, August 5, 2019

This year, I'm turning my focus on a phenomenon that has sometimes been called "Edge Cities", though I'm using the term somewhat differently than what was popularized by Joel Garreau in 1991. Why this focus?

All cities that are growing prosperously, no matter where they are in the world, are experiencing a similar set of problems. The value of land in their core is increasing so much that service personnel are unable to afford housing near the core, and those who were housed there until recently are being forced out ("gentrification" is the term usually applied); as buildings grow taller in the core, the demand for access increases, but the cost of providing that access becomes more and more unaffordable to the governments responsible for providing it.

Affordable housing, commercial, and office space is needed "near" the core city. The problem is to achieve functional proximity at a reasonable cost. My focus has turned to a 21st Century version of the "edge city" concept as a possible solution.

If achieving functional proximity seems to be the key, what does it look like? How has it been achieved - if at all - in cities around the world? What are the major hurdles? What variations on the theme have proved more successful, and why? And how does one measure all the factors?

My travels in 2019 will take me to Vancouver Canada, Seattle and Sacramento USA, and in Japan to several cities including Tokyo, Osaka, Sendai, and Sapporo. All these are cities that appear to be growing prosperously while functioning reasonably well. The visit to Vancouver includes my fourth EcoCities World Summit, where I hope to share my questions and potential answers with others from even more cities around the world.

My goal is to lay the groundwork during August and September, including more detailed articulation of the issues and preliminary measurement of the parameters in each of the cities I mentioned - plus others I'm familiar with like Toronto, Denver, and of course Detroit. I hope you'll follow along with me on this quest for the 21st Century Edge City.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Watch Your Wallet


With Southeast Michigan's RTA functionally destroyed because of Oakland and Macomb Counties' opposition, Wayne and Washtenaw have been seeking ways to pull something of value out of the wreckage.

One prominent Washtenaw County leader (who shall remain nameless) recently said, "It looks doubtful that the smallest county and the poorest county in the RTA can make anything worthwhile happen. And if Washtenaw tries to work with Wayne on this, we'd better watch our wallet." (Paraphrased)

How well this expressed two recurring themes that make Southeast Michigan the struggling region it has become. "We're poor! We're small! We can't trust our neighbors!"

Nonsense! Look around the world, and you'll see regions poorer and (in some cases) smaller than we are, doing far more. Their communities pull together. They have a can-do attitude. We have a can't-do attitude. This is not what made America great, folks.

Brisbane, Australia

Indulge me in a comparative example: Brisbane, Australia. Population about half that of Southeast Michigan's. GDP, both absolute and per capita, also much lower:
Brisbane Central Business District, flanked by expressway and busway.

Quick Facts Detroit Metro Brisbane Metro
Population 2016 4,313,002 2,360,241
Metro GDP $207.53 B $96.6 B
Per capita GDP $48,118 $40,928
Poverty rate 2016 14.9% 12.5%
I spent just three days in Brisbane last year, and was amazed at the quality and convenience of their transportation offerings. For a quick overview, let me quote Wikipedia's "Transport in Brisbane" introduction:
Transport in Brisbane, the capital and largest city of Queensland, Australia, is provided by road, rail, river and bay ferries, footpaths, bikepaths, sea and air.
Transport around Brisbane is managed by both the Brisbane City Council and the Government of Queensland.
Public transport in Brisbane is co-ordinated by TransLink. Rail services are operated by Queensland Rail, through its City network system. Bus services are operated by both the Brisbane City Council's Brisbane Transport subsidiary and private operators, and uses the road network as well as dedicated bus lanes and busways. Ferry services on the Brisbane River are operated by Transdev Brisbane Ferries. [Retrieved 2018-05-16]

These diverse services have shared a smartcard payment system since 2007, so nobody has to worry about exact change or whether their transfer is valid. Seventeen transit operators provide bus service throughout Southeast Queensland, with scheduling and payment coordinated by TransLink, which is a department of Queensland's equivalent of MDOT.

Roughly sixty bus routes share 17 miles of busways, built since 1996.


Brisbane's frequent bus network, most of which run on busways.
Victoria Bridge into central Brisbane is exclusively for buses, bikes, and pedestrians.
Brisbane's busways are not BRT lines, though they share some resemblance to them. They are exclusive bus-only highways, 2 lanes wide in most places, running through tunnels under the city much of the way, and crossing two sizeable bus-only bridges over the Brisbane River at different points. These busways connect north, east, and southeast parts of the city, and carry about 20,000 passengers per hour during morning and evening peaks.
Buses on the Northern Busway at Normanby Bus Station




Also of note are the commuter train lines - thirteen lines, including one to the airport, almost all electrified. The system has 152 stations on 468 route-miles, and served 52.44 million passengers in 2015/16.
Brisbane commuter rail network
Commuter train entering Roma Street Station during evening rush


Perhaps the most charming public transportation in Brisbane is CityCat, the fleet of high-speed catamaran water-buses plying the Brisbane river. (How about a rapid ferry service from near Mt. Clemens to Detroit's RenCen and Cobo Hall?)
Ferry network map, downtown portion


Brisbane didn't achieve this by skimping on expressways: there are seven in and around the city, including an underground tunnel expressway to ease downtown congestion.

Bowen Hills area of Brisbane. Busway (left) and commuter rail maintenance facility (right) flank major expressway intersection.(Google satellite image ©2018)

Theme 1: We're too small, too poor


The BTC (Brisbane Transit Center) Roma Street
OK, so we must be poorer than Brisbane, right? Wrong, Brisbane is not a wealthier metropolis than Detroit. While Detroit was going through that painful bankruptcy, the metro area in 2014 was estimated by the Brookings Institution to have a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $207.53 billion. At the same time, Brisbane's was pegged at $96.6 billion by the same Institution - again, about half the size of Detroit's. Per capita, Detroit's GDP is $48,118, Brisbane's $40,928.

So: Brisbane has half the population, half the GDP, and 85% of the productivity per capita as Detroit...a comparable freeway system, and incomparably better public transportation.
Why? Because they have a can-do attitude, and they're willing to work together as a region.

Prosperity is as much a state of mind as it is a a state of the economy. Brisbane thinks it can do great things, so they make great things happen. (They also have incredible parks and trails in the middle of the city.)
Brisbane River, bikeway, and highway

Theme 2: We don't trust our neighbors

In Southeast Michigan, we don't trust our neighbors. We won't work together. There are about 250 municipalities in Southeast Michigan. Each competes with its neighbors for industry, jobs, and commerce. We could be competing as a region with other metropolitan areas like Phoenix, Seattle, Minneapolis, and San Diego - all cities of roughly the same size - but instead, we squabble with each other.

We could be competing as a metro area with similar-size cities around the world: Hamburg and Stuttgart, Germany; Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

But in Southeast Michigan, as long as we perceive ourselves to be doing better than our nearby neighbors, we won't work with them because they might benefit at our expense. Or if we perceive ourselves as less well off that our neighbors, we suspect them of wanting to steamroller us somehow (and maybe they've tried).

By the way - it's not just the counties I mentioned at the start of this blog. Within Washtenaw County a few years back, Ann Arbor was unwilling to form a Corridor Improvement Authority with neighboring municipalities to improve Washtenaw Avenue, largely because they were suspicious that it was a plot to improve others' sections of Washtenaw Avenue by siphoning off Ann Arbor's money. I believe this is partly to blame for the lack of affordable housing in Ann Arbor, because taxable value drops off quickly going east on Washtenaw. If Washtenaw were being improved more quickly, its attractiveness could ease the pressure on housing in Ann Arbor.

Who benefits from this distrust? Phoenix, Seattle, and other U.S. cities. Southeast Michigan's population shrank by 0.07% between 2010 and 2016, while Seattle grew by 5.6% and Phoenix by 7.06%. How much of that growth is from talented, can-do Michigan millennials moving to places with better jobs and better living. These two, as well as Minneapolis, San Diego, and several cities of similar or smaller population, have all invested cooperatively in public transportation, including commuter trains and light rail.

To paraphrase the late Ursula LeGuin, "Southeast Michigan is not a metropolis, it's a family quarrel." We all know that "United we stand, divided we fall." So, let's cut out the squabbling!

Monday, February 12, 2018

RTA: Where Now?


L. Brooks Patterson
DETROIT NEWS PHOTO by José Juarez
Last Wednesday Feb. 7, the report went out in the Detroit News (among others) that Oakland County's Executive, L. Brooks Patterson, had publicly stated he was opposed to the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Administration (RTA). “I want you to know that as long as I’m county executive, I will respect the wishes of the voters of the select nine Oakland County opt-out communities,” he said, referring to municipalities whose leadership had refused to allow entry into the Suburban Mobility Association for Rapid Transit (SMART). He went on to say he would not allow them to be drawn against their will into the RTA. The majority of Oakland County voters approved the RTA millage, so Patterson's move is to defend the minority against the will of the majority. Such is Patterson's idea of democracy.


Actually, I am glad Brooks has finally removed the mask of "transit neutrality" he donned for the last five years. We knew he was against regional transit, but now he has acknowledged it. Now, we can move on without him.

We know he had a large hand in crafting the legislation that enabled the RTA, but he was obliged to compromise with leaders of the rest of the region, so the result was not 100% to his liking. Apparently, "compromise" and "will of the majority" are not in his vocabulary.

Four-county regional transit is necessary. It IS possible...but not now. Patterson, together with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, have been doing everything possible to slow down the process, limit the free flow of resources, tailor the RTA Board rules so as to make action as nearly impossible as they can, and tie down the RTA with unrealistic accounting requirements. The RTA legislation requires 85% of each county's RTA tax revenue be spent on service within that county. Rules demanded by Oakland County's Board representatives were intended to make sure that not as much as one penny more than 15% of Oakland's RTA tax revenue is spent beyond their borders at any time. It's clear that the closer we get to true regional transportation, the more obstacles they will put in the RTA's path.

Patterson's excuse about opt-out communities has some grounding in past policy, but if it's the real reason for shooting down the RTA, he has had six years to say so. At Thursday's Transportation Bonanza in Lansing (Michigan Association of Planning) I happened to speak to a planner from Livonia, one of the largest opt-out communities (though in Wayne County). Within the constraints  of loyalty to his employer, he indicated there is growing disappointment with opt-out strategy there. Likewise, a young planner from the other opt-out county was shame-faced at being revealed as an employee of that county.


Wayne County Executive Warren Evans at TRU
The suggestion has been made for some years that Wayne and Washtenaw counties should together form a separate alliance to improve transit between their communities. I believe the Wayne-Washtenaw option is the best we have now. At TRU's State of the Region's Transit on February 5, we heard an impassioned plea from Wayne County Executive Warren Evans for regional transit NOW. Four-county transit if at all possible...but Brooks has effectively put a stop to that. In one-on-one discussion with Al Haidous, Wayne County Commissioner and Chair of the SMART Board of Directors, I heard another Wayne County leader express a great sense of urgency about bringing regional public transportation to southeast Michigan. Most Washtenaw County leaders are also keen, especially for a strong rail connection with Wayne.


As in the other three counties, there is opposition to the RTA from the rural townships in Washtenaw. From their leaders, I have heard the sentiment that they are already taxed for services that go mainly to urban regions, and they don't want any more taxes without services for their region. Though there are enough votes in urban areas to overcome that opposition, I don't think it would be a smart plan. I believe any plan - whether in two counties or all four - needs to meaningfully serve low-density areas, or trim the transit district to leave out the edges. Yes, low-density areas are more expensive to serve, but I believe (subject to correction by contradictory survey results) that as a whole, the region would be willing to pay more to make that happen, at least in Wayne and Washtenaw.

Daniel Burnham's words over a hundred years ago are still true today: "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized." The RTA plan was highly constrained (by guess who) and had little or no magic to stir anyone's imagination. It came close, but perhaps we should have expected that it would not not be realized. Next time, let's strive for that element of magic!


In every US city that has experienced transit success, the first steps met with opposition. Once service began (typically on rails) the communities started clamoring for more. Voters stepped up and taxed themselves. So let's get Wayne-Washtenaw started, and move up from two-county success to four-county success.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ypsilanti Station News


In the mid-nineteenth century, Ypsilanti’s Michigan Central Railroad station was busier than Ann Arbor’s. Now, Ann Arbor’s is the busiest in the state, and Ypsi has no station at all. Since January 13, 1984, the last run of the Michigan Executive from Jackson to Detroit, no train has called at Ypsilanti for passengers. In fact, there is no longer any facility on which passengers can board or detrain.
Penn Central Railroad's Michigan Executive service schedule, October1974
The lack of commuter rail service between Washtenaw County and the Detroit area began to be missed in the early 2000s due to steadily growing automobile congestion. SEMCOG, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, commissioned a study of the corridor by the world-class transportation firm of Parsons-Brinckerhoff (now part of WSP Global). Their study, issued in 2006, compared commuter rail with light rail and bus rapid transit on several possible routes. The study’s conclusion was that commuter rail, with a stop in Ypsilanti, offered the most reasonable and economical option. Though the project advanced to the Federal level for funding, it was not approved due to lack of data comparing the new service with existing public commuter transportation; there is none to compare.

Ten years later, the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority (RTA) included a similar proposal in its Regional Transit Master Plan. This proposal included more than just “commuter service” the plan was for eight trains each way during the week, fewer on weekends. Unfortunately, when the proposal went to the voters for funding in November, 2016, it lost by less than 1 percent of the vote in the four-county Southeast Michigan RTA district.
RTA Transit Master Plan, with Wake Up Washtenaw proposed additions (see blogs of 2017-02-17 and 2017-03-10)

But Ypsilanti had already been discussing the need for a station platform. Amtrak officials agreed that some or all of the Wolverine Service trains would stop at Ypsi, in large part because of the presence of Eastern Michigan University and its more than 21,000 students. In March of 2016, state and local elected officials formally kicked off a two million dollar project to design, acquire permits, and construct a platform with transit-style shelters. Funds were raised from non-profits as well as the Ypsilanti City Council.
Bergmann/OHM  Ypsilanti Staion Plan 1a


In July of 2016, the two engineering firms contracted for the job, Bergman and OHM, had presented several possible station models, from a single platform with six shelters, to a two-platform layout with overhead crossover, elevators, and accessible ramps. But City Council had other problems to deal with, including massive debt for a contaminated property in the City. By October, Council put the project on hold, and it has remained on hold ever since.
Bergmann/OHM Ypsilanti Station Plan 3a

Many people ask, “Why not use the Freight House?” The Ypsilanti Freight House is a classic 19th century building that has been repaired and renovated by a dedicated group of Ypsi citizens, the Friends of the Ypsilanti Freight House. It’s a grand old building; noble, but nothing fancy. However, it is a Michigan Historic Building, and no alterations are permitted. This has ruled out using it for passengers, because it would require extending the existing platforms and substantially changing the shape and appearance of the building.
Ypsilanti Freight House historic building plaque.

Rep. Ronnie Peterson
54th District, Michigan House
Fortunately, there are many citizens in Ypsi who are well aware of the potential of a station to revive the economic prospects of Ypsilanti. The project has support from representatives in the Michigan House; initially, Rep. David Rutledge, of Michigan’s 54th State House district, and now his successor, Rep. Ronnie Peterson. Debbie Dingell, the U.S. Congressional representative for the 12th District of Michigan, is also a staunch supporter of the project. However, all these representatives are in the minority party, which constrains their ability to provide the needed financial support.

Nothing daunted, Rep. Peterson has undertaken to raise support in other ways. He has held discussions with Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Amtrak. He has requested staff support from the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority (AAATA). And he has organized a spectacular event to raise awareness and get the process moving again.

Derrick James, Amtrak
The event was held Friday, December 1, 2017. With the assistance of Derrick James, Director, Government Affairs at Amtrak, Rep. Peterson arranged for Amtrak 350 to stop in Ypsilanti to pick up about 35 community leaders. Since the platform is frozen in the planning stage, the train had to pick up people in the grade-crossing at Cross and River Streets.

Amtrak Wolverine Service 350, boarding passengers on Cross Street, Ypsilanti
So the first stop in almost 34 years to pick up passengers in Ypsilanti occurred in at the crossroads of Depot Town, about 1:45 PM.

Many of the group had never traveled by train, and were amazed at the comfort in Coachclass, at the quiet running, the smooth ride, and the apparent speed of the train. Most were surprised how quickly and easily the train brought them to Detroit, after a brief stop in Dearborn’s beautiful new Dingell Transportation Center. John O’Reilly, Mayor of Dearborn, was among the enthusiastic participants.

Sean Duval, President, Golden Limousine
In Detroit, Rep. Peterson had arranged for Golden Limousine to carry the group in two comfortable buses, thanks to Sean Duval, President, who is active in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce and a strong supporter of the Ypsi station project. The group went first down Woodward Avenue to enjoy the splendid art deco Guardian Building (also home of Transportation Riders United, a Wake Up Washtenaw partner). On the way, an enthusiastic tour guide gave Washtenaw County folks every reason to understand why Detroit is definitely worth coming to.

As if that was not enough, the group was treated to a beautiful tour of the Detroit Institute of Arts, including explanations of the unforgettable Diego Rivera Detroit Industry murals, and a special exhibit of Claude Monet and Frederick Church paintings.

Heading home, a lively duet was playing for the group and fellow passengers in the Detroit Amtrak station. Train 355 arrived pretty much on time, and again group members were impressed by the rapid comfort of the trip to Ypsilanti.
Some elected officials who participated. Left to right:
John "Jack" O'Riley, Mayor of Dearborn; Yousef Rabhi, 53rd District, Michigan House; Adam Zemke, 52nd District, Michigan House; Ronnie Peterson, 54th District, Michigan House; Brenda Stumbo, Supervisor, Charter Township of Ypsilanti; Beth Bashert, Ward 2, Ypsilanti City Council; Pete Murdock, Ward 3, Ypsilanti City Council.



Arriving in Ypsi, crowds of Friday night revelers were on hand. Normally unfazed by Amtrak blasting noisily through the middle of Depot Town, many were amazed to see the train stop, and a large group of passengers actually get off. One young woman danced around hugging her friends, shouting, “The train is coming! The train is coming!”
Amtrak Wolverine Service 355 stopping in Cross Street to let off tour group. Enthusiastic onlookers, hugs.

Impressive as the event was, there is clearly a great deal of work to be done. The first step is for Ypsilanti City Council to approve continuation of the station project. This should be somewhat easier, now that city voters have approved a debt retirement millage, freeing the city from the “albatross hanging around its neck” or at least giving it some breathing room to invest in its future. Many details need to be ironed out, but the enthusiasm generated by this event seems very likely to translate into action.

[A slightly different version of this blog post appeared in On Track, the bulletin of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers, Number 75, December 2017, page 2.]