My friend Susan Pollay and I find ourselves on oposite sides of an important question: where should the new Ann Arbor railroad station be located?
I used to favor the Depot Street site, or more precisely a site just a little west of Depot Street on North Main. A few years ago, I reluctantly admitted that wasn't practical, and acknowledged that Fuller Road by the U of M Medical Center made the most sense. Since then, I've put quite a bit of thought into the matter, and advocated publicly for the Medical Center site.
Last night, Susan and I were at a public meeting regarding the station location, at which the announcement was made that the Medical Center location was recommended. Susan voiced her strong disagreement with that decision, requesting more study focused on the development possibilities at Depot Street and the potential impact of connected and autonomous vehicles, ride-hailing services, and other changes in the way automobiles are used. She also left several copies of written comment backing up her (necessarily) brief statement. I am responding to this statement in the open letter which follows:
It was good seeing you briefly last night at the Public Meeting on station location. We find ourselves (unusually!) on different sides of this issue, and I'd like to comment in response to some of the points you made in your written statement.
You begin very clearly opposing the location: "I STRONGLY believe that the train station should remain on Depot Street. The City's choice is not sound for many reasons." You dive into the issues discussing the parking recommendation.
The City's study used Amtrak's formula for computing the number of spaces needed. It's good to question that formula: quite possibly it is not appropriate for emerging transportation modalities. And I agree that Amtrak's total lack of parking management is partly responsible for the overcrowding of their lot. Your comparison with the AirRide parking arrangement is insightful and helpful. (Though I have used the free Amtrak parking lot for many long trips, and have often been thankful for whoever is responsible for keeping it free!)
But I have to take exception to this bald assertion: "Fuller Road is an unwalkable location..." Unwalkable? How do you figure that? I've walked there many times, and I'm reasonably confident that hundreds of people walk and bike there every day. Perhaps you mean that it's too far to walk there? Well, that depends on where you expect people to walk to and from. If you're one of the 20,000 or so people who works at the medical complex, it's very walkable. Or perhaps you mean the traffic is so congested on Fuller that it's difficult to cross? With the current traffic signal at Fuller and Emergency Drive, crossing is safe and accomplished daily by hundreds of people - though the wait can be long. I'm a bit more concerned about the safety of pedestrians at the proposed roundabout, but without seeing the plans one can't be specific.
In the next section, you claim that "we learned last year the Connector isn't going happen...". Wait a minute - that's not what I learned! My understanding is that the Connector is being re-evaluated by the University. OK, the light rail plan is looking more ambitious than the City and University expected, but the option of doing nothing is looking just as bad as it did when the plan was first conceived. Something has to be done to better connect the northeast with main campus and downtown. We just don't know what it will look like, except that linking Depot Street with improved connectivity will be more expensive simply because of the geography.
"The report authors must not realize that it's an easy 10 minute walk to/from the Kerrytown District and the Old Fourth Ward and 5 minutes from Lowertown." First, it's not such an easy walk to Kerrytown and especially Old Fourth Ward if you're pulling any amount of luggage. It's uphill. I know. I've done it quite a few times. Try it in winter, with snow cleared imperfectly. It's not for the faint of heart, let alone those with difficulty walking or outright disabilities. Lowertown is a much easier walk, but it's actually just as close to Fuller Road as to Depot Street.
Kerrytown and Old Fourth Ward are popular, quaint neighborhoods, but compared with the number of people employed at the Medical Center and the number of people who visit it daily, they don't have anywhere close to the number of potential passengers. Lowertown is certainly a potential source of station users, but we don't know what will actually emerge there, and as I mentioned, Lowertown is practically equidistant from both sites.
"Yet, there are virtually no humans living within the same radius of the proposed Fuller location." People living near a station may occasionally use the train. People working near a station or visiting near it are far more likely to use the train, especially when regional/commuter service begins. That medical complex is the 800-pound gorilla in Washtenaw County: nowhere else is there such a large number of jobs and visitors in such a compact area.
"Only a very small percentage of UM hospital employees live convenient to the Amtrak rail corridor, so the likelihood of many using the train to commute is slim." Here again you speak with a certainty that that's difficult to support. You also speak as if the future is static, and will look like the present. But you know as well as I do that transportation options shape the development of communities. When Southeast Michigan finally wakes up and gets commuter rail going, the real estate landscape will change, just as it has in regions like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Portland.
My own public comment at the meeting focused on housing disparity between eastern and central Washtenaw County. I want to expand on that elsewhere, but I will point out that several thousand University employees commute daily from eastern Washtenaw to the U of M Medical and Central campuses. This creates a flow of cars and buses that the road system is already incapbable of handling effectively. Ten years ago, the SEMCOG study of the Detroit-Ann Arbor corridor predicted that the Ypsilanti-to-Ann Arbor segment would see the heaviest ridership on the corridor. Today's traffic congestion and bus ridership are demonstrating the validity of that prediction and the need to provide better alternatives.
In short, while the Depot Street options provide potential, the Fuller Road site provides actual riders who seriously need alternatives. That's why I reluctantly had to change my own preference for the Depot Street/North Main location to Fuller Road. I think you'll see the need for locating at Fuller if you step back and look at the needs more holistically.