County-wide perspectiveHousing in Washtenaw County is becoming increasingly disparate in value. Seeing the signs of this clearly reflected in contrasting communities like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County commissioned a study by czb which produced a report in 2015 titled, "Housing Affordability and Economic Equity - Analysis". The headline conclusion:
The imbalance in income, education and opportunity between the jurisdictions along with the segregation that goes with it will hamper the regional economic growth potential of the area. Regions that experience strong and more stable growth are typically more equitable, have less segregation and better balanced workforce skills within them. (All links at end of this post)This is very relevant to the Ann Arbor station's location. The University of Michigan Medical Center, with approximately 20,000 employees and growing by 700 jobs per year, is the largest job center in the county. This is nearly double the number of jobs available in downtown Ann Arbor. If this center is within a five-minute walk of the station, many people will benefit. On the other hand, if the station is located at Depot Street and Broadway, there is a very real possibility that the housing disparity will be worsened.
Ann Arbor is a victim of its own success. Housing prices are rising steeply as traffic congestion worsens. The largest contributor to this problem is the University of Michigan, especially its Medical Center.
Employees come from all points of the compass, but the largest number come from Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Together with those arriving from north and south on U.S. 23, they fill all east-west arteries leading to the Medical Center every morning, and again every afternoon. Every artery, with the exception of one: the state-owned east-west railroad.
Meanwhile, communities on the eastern edge of Washtenaw County are experiencing fiscal distress. Those who work as support staff at the University Hospital and Central Campus can't afford to live in Ann Arbor, so many live in the Ypsilanti area. But their commute - whether by car or by bus - is growing longer and more arduous as congestion increases. No relief is in sight for these struggling communities or their residents, because roads cannot be expanded, and even bus rapid transit, which has been proposed by the Regional Transit Authority, cannot be given any dedicated lanes due to space and capacity constraints.
The University of Michigan is actively seeking to take more land near the Medical Center for parking.
Because of the growth that we've been able to enjoy at the medical center, bringing about additional jobs and employment opportunities, as well as expanded service that comes with that growth, obviously we have a demand from the university employees to be able to provide more parking to address their needs as well, [Jim Kosteva, quoted in The Ann Arbor News, October 10, 2017] said.Even with robust area and university bus systems, automobiles still flood the area, causing concern to residents, according to interviews in The Ann Arbor News, October 10, 2017. The University could have located a medical facility on the land in question. Instead, every new parking facility not only takes land off the City of Ann Arbor tax rolls, but also out of productive use, forcing the University to decentralize medical services to multiple sites. Sharing expert medical staff between dispersed facilities reduces the productivity of highly specialized staff whose time is extremely valuable.
Wouldn't this work just as well if the station is at Depot Street?No.
First because the Depot Street location is within a five-minute walk of well under 5,000 jobs. A station within five minutes walk of 20,000 existing jobs attracts many more riders than a station within 20 minutes walk of those jobs. True, Depot Street is within 10-15 minutes walk of 11,000 jobs in downtown Ann Arbor, and 15-20 minutes of the University's Central Campus. On a beautiful spring or autumn day, it would be a pleasant way to get to work, but there's also summer and winter, rain, snow, and ice. Traffic and parking problems would be right back to haunt everyone during bad weather. Capacity to handle bad weather would be the determining factor for transportation capacity.
Of course, a fleet of buses could be run to take people from Depot Street to Medical and Central Campus, but it would be much quicker and less expensive to take people where most of them need to go in the first place. And buses would need to run from Depot Street to downtown as well, since it's uphill, and in bad weather most people will not want to walk there either.
What about Transit Oriented Development Potential?Depot Street has greater potential for TOD than the Hospital site, and I'm all in favor of TOD. But as Clark Charnetsky points out, "Why not Development-Oriented Transit?" In other words, the development has already taken place at the Medical Center, so let's bring transportation to it.
Does Ann Arbor really want more intensive development of the Depot/Broadway area? Will further development not raise land values and housing costs even more? It would seem to exacerbate the existing housing disparity rather than resolve it.
But it's a Park!Some Ann Arborites are very focused on the parkland issue, to the exclusion of many other relevant considerations. As I have pointed out before, there is already plenty of parkland in the vicinity of the Medical Center. The proposed station would reduce the amount of parkland within 3/4 of a mile by about 1.8%. (See calculations of this in the Wake Up Washtenaw White Paper. Ann Arbor Station Location, linked below.)
While those with the means to live in the City of Ann Arbor are concerned about their parks, those in surrounding communities are concerned about their livelihood. People and communities are being financially squeezed by the growing prosperity of Ann Arbor. As is so often the case, one city's prosperity depends on the labor of people who cannot afford to live in a prosperous community.
I'd like to suggest that 1.8% of a prosperous community's parkland is a small sacrifice for the prosperity brought, in part, by the labor of less fortunate neighbors.
But it's not just to help out the neighbors, either. Which is Ann Arbor’s bigger environmental problem: lack of parkland, or too much parking land? According to The Ann Arbor News (October 10, 2017),
UM currently has more than 27,000 spaces in Ann Arbor spread out among 16 parking structures and more than 200 parking over approximately 253 acres of land.
- Ann Arbor, City. Train Station Alternatives Analysis Phase II Report Now Available.
- Ann Arbor News, October 10, 2017. University of Michigan seeks input on parking garage planned near hospital.
- Krieg, L. Analysis of Commuter Data in the RTA District.
- Wake Up Washtenaw. White Paper. Ann Arbor Station Location. (PDF)
- Washtenaw County, Office of Economic and Community Development. Housing Affordability and Economic Equity.