Monday, January 18, 2010

Updates, Updates!

It's been a month since I blogged, so there's a lot to update you on! I'll be as brief as I can while still being informative.

WCC Parking Lot

You may recall my blog entry in December opposing Washtenaw Community College's proposal to build a parking structure. Phil Geyer and I independently presented suggestions to the WCC Board of Trustees at their December meeting with alternatives to the planned construction. According to the Washtenaw Voice (student paper), shortly after we left the meeting, WCC President Larry Whitworth said, "OK, we've got to get engineers started on the project." I'm not surprised.

But wait! meanwhile, Whitworth is doing a lot of good things: authorizing all-day shuttle service from EMU's huge, underutilized Rynearson Stadium parking lot and encouraging students and staff alike to use it. And the arrangement with AATA to provide four-month bus passes for a $10 fee to the WCC community has been rescued from near-failure with a $30K subsidy from the College.

The 208 Group

I recently discovered (or was discovered by) a group that's been meeting for 2-3 years with almost exactly the same goals as Wake Up Washtenaw. They, like me, started focusing on the Ann Arbor / Great Lakes Central Railroad corridor as a potential "green corridor", and they have a lot of dynamic, talented folks in their group. It's been a pleasure and inspiration for me to sit in on a couple of their meetings.

Their current push has been planning for a visit by Christopher Leinberger, the real estate / urban planning guru whose work as brought awareness of the fundamental shift in real estate patterns, from suburbia to urban re-growth. He has also worked with developers and financiers to craft a practical system for funding transit-oriented development. He'll be teaching at the University of Michigan, where he is listed as being on the faculty, though his time is spent primarily doing research at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. He will be giving an open lecture at the University at about 1 PM on Monday, February 15 - details have yet to be finalized. (I'll be out of town then, but hope to pass along news for you.)

Commuter Rail

Both Ann Arbor commuter rail projects are making good progress.

  • East-West: Ann Arbor to Detroit stations are being planned and preliminary site engineering is proceeding; Michigan Department of Transportation has authorized Great Lakes Central Railroad to refurbish some of the bi-level gallery cars it has in storage. These cars were purchased from Chicago's Metra commuter railroad when Metra purchased newer cars. A contract to acquire locomotives (probably by lease) is also in the works. The plan is to contract with Amtrak to operate the trains - a service which Amtrak provides for several state and regional rail services. $3.5M has been approved in the federal budget to fund operation. Needed track improvements, especially to East Detroit Junction, are awaiting funding as part of the Chicago-Pontiac high-speed rail corridor. SEMCOG will still be "passing the hat" for the local 20% match required for operating funds.
  • North-South: The WALLY (WAshenaw-LIvingston) line is also making progress. Stations are being planned, with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority still maintaining overall supervision of the project. The set of gallery cars being refurbished includes cars for WALLY. Great Lakes Central Railroad will operate the line (and provide the locomotives, I believe). Funding is still an issue. Also an issue is connecting with the Ann Arbor Railroad, without whose cooperation service will stop at a concrete slab on Plymouth Road. The "Annie's" owners are reluctant to enter into negotiations with anyone until they're confident WALLY will really happen. (It's a very small company, and has little time to spend on "maybes".)

Ann Arbor north-south signature service

The city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan continue to work toward a "signature" rapid transit line connecting the Plymouth Road corridor, U of M's Pfizer campus, North Campus, Medical Campus, Central Campus, downtown Ann Arbor, the Athletic Campus and South State Street (Briarwood). The name "signature" is used to avoid reference to any particular mode of transit, though the most widely discussed is light rail. The first step, soon to come, is contracting with a consulting firm to study the possible options, ridership, and impacts. A recent announcement by the University indicated they are eager to move this forward, and as one of the best-funded organizations in the state, their eagerness is a big factor in its success. If no federal funds are needed, it might be completed in about 5 years - or at least, the University portion might - according to Eli Cooper, Transportation Program Manager for the City. Since federal funds will probably be needed for major portions of the line, a lengthy review and approval process would stretch completion of the entire line out to 10 or 15 years.

Re-Imagine Washtenaw Avenue

I've been working with a dynamic team of planners on revitalizing Washtenaw Avenue between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. We're about to go public, engaging the citizens and businesses along Washtenaw to get their input on what needs to be done, as well as inform them about possibilities. Coming soon: a new and better Web site. Meanwhile, link to the current site here.

Revitalizing East Michigan Avenue

It's my belief that East Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti Township has the greatest potential for dynamic infill development - in fact, for all future development - in the Township. It's also the area that has the greatest need for redevelopment, given the dilapidation, crime, danger to pedestrians, and general nuisance to residents and government alike. I'm about to kick off a community effort to get this redevelopment to happen! The over-all vision is on the Wake Up Washtenaw Web site; working out details with community input will be a high priority this coming year.

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