The Visionary’s Case for a Depot Street Station

Proponents of economic development in Ann Arbor have undervalued the long-term, livability benefits of a Depot Street station. A well-planned two-station arrangement could address livability, mobility, and community interests.

The City of Ann Arbor has determined that a new train station is necessary to handle increasing intercity rail ridership, which is projected to increase over the next few decades. It has narrowed the two final site options to Depot Street, located at the site of the current station in Kerrytown, and Fuller Road, located on Fuller Park near the University of Michigan (UM) Medical Campus. Three design alternatives are being considered for the Depot St site, and one design alternative for the Fuller Road site. The study now awaits a preferred alternative decision by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Information about the train station study is available on the city’s website.

Politics

The debate between the two sites has in many ways been a proxy debate between, as local blogger Vivienne Armentrout coined it, so-called Townies and so-called Economic Development Visionaries. The former supposedly resists more intense development in the city to preserve its once small-town charm, and the latter supposedly wants to densify Ann Arbor into a big city. Indeed, the idea for a station at Fuller was championed in 2009 by then-Mayor John Hieftje, a Visionary, who attempted work with UM to build a parking structure and train station at Fuller Park. The plan was halted in 2012 when UM decided to build their structure at another nearby location, diverting their financial contribution for the station project, but the vision for a station at Fuller, shared by some other Visionaries, still lingered. The Townies, on the other hand, have resisted a Fuller station, largely on the argument that the City would have to repurpose parkland to build a station. It should be noted that the the parkland in question has been used as a parking lot by UM since 1993

In general, I tend to side with the Visionaries on issues related to transportation and development in the city. If we want to prepare Ann Arbor for the future in the face of rising housing costs and demand for alternative transportation options, a forward-looking approach that, among other things, looks critically at the current state of our transportation infrastructure and zoning regulations and allows for constant incremental change is imperative.

However, we should be wary to take ideological sides in this debate, as reflexive as this may be for some of us. Indeed, I fell into this trap and was supportive of a Fuller Road station when Hieftje proposed it in back in 2009. Current mayor Christopher Taylor, also a Visionary, has stated his preference for the Fuller Road site, but would accept an FRA recommendation of Depot. Other City Council Visionaries have stated similar opinions. From what I can tell, none of the City Council Visionaries have publicly come out to support the Depot site. I wonder if this battle had not originally been fought in the ideological domain how the Visionaries might talk about it today. At any rate, rather than this polarizing discussion, we should focus on what truly builds wealth in the community over the long run. Transportation is just a means to an end. The end is a city that is resilient, accommodates growth, and allows its residents to thrive socially and economically over the long term – goals the Visionaries would support.

Locations

One of the best characteristics of the railroad between Ann Arbor and Detroit, currently owned mostly by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), is that it travels through high-activity areas of the main cities along the corridor. These areas include Kerrytown Ann Arbor, New Center in Detroit, and Depot Town in Ypsilanti. In this corridor, investments in the cores of our cities have been increasing over the years. Ongoing residential development in downtown Ann Arbor and construction of the Q-Line on Woodward Ave in Detroit are just a couple notable examples. A common thread through these areas is the gentle urban street grid where it is safe or even pleasant to walk and where there is a diversity of uses (shops, homes, business, churches, etc) that more or less bring people out throughout the day. In short, they are places, and they rock!

The Depot Street site, located at the edge of the Kerrytown neighborhood and home of the existing station, is integrated relatively well, though not perfectly, with its surroundings. Crosswalks, calm traffic, and proximity to residential areas allow many passengers to walk fairly comfortably to their final destination. 

Detroit Street in Kerrytown, a short walk from the Depot Street station

Stairs to a protected walk on the Broadway Bridge provides access for those heading northeast, but accessing the Amtrak parking lot on the opposite side of the tracks is still burdensome.

A walkshed map around the Depot Street site shows all of downtown, Kerrytown, Lower Town, most of UM Central and Medical Campuses, and even much of the Old West Side and Water Hill neighborhoods within a 20-minute walk. Most importantly, the development pattern between Depot Street and these destinations is pedestrian-friendly.

20-minute walkshed around the Depot Street station

Contrast this to the Fuller site, where a 20-minute walkshed includes less of UM Central campus, downtown, and adjacent neighborhoods.

20-minute walkshed around the Fuller Road station location

Moreover, pedestrian access to the station is inconvenient and uninviting. The area is already a pedestrian-unfriendly environment, as the built environment is configured to prioritize cars and lacks a street network or architecture style that could facilitate pleasant access to any nearby residential areas and amenities.

The large number of transit routes along the Fuller Road corridor is often used to describe the potential for multi-modal connectivity, but this seems to ignore the practical constraint that the railroad is located approximately 100 yards from the street (Fuller).

If existing transit routes were to serve the station, tough choices appear likely:

  • Buses would have to “detour” to loop in and out of the station, causing delays for passengers already on those busy routes. (This is especially inconvenient for westbound buses, which must make multiple turns from and onto Fuller Road.)
  • Buses don’t pull into the station, forcing rail passengers from the station to walk all the way to Fuller Road, which is both inconvenient and unsafe, especially for westbound bus riders.
  • Only a subset of buses access the station, reducing the frequency for the “direct-route” bus riders, decreasing the quality of service on those routes. This seems problematic for those high-ridership UM bus routes.
  • New routes originating from the station are added, which could be done at the Depot Street site anyway.

It’s quite hard for me to see how planners and engineers can get around this geometric challenge. Unless, of course…

The Connector!

Lest we forget the pet project of many officials in this city! I should admit, I like the Connector project, too. In my mind, the Connector, a planned light rail route between UM’s campuses along their high-ridership bus routes, is the one argument that makes the Fuller Road site even competitive with Depot Street.  The strongest point is that the Connector would travel on an elevated guideway above the railroad right-of-way (not on Fuller Road like the buses), share a station with the intercity service, and thus allow for intercity rail passengers to make seamless connections to the rest of the UM campuses. Case closed, right?

But are intercity rail passengers really coming to Ann Arbor to access campus? If they are, they are likely students returning to campus housing. According to the parking requirements analysis done for the city by URS, approximately half of Ann Arbor Amtrak riders are students, and about 30% of students live in campus housing, much of which is close to the planned Connector stops. With Ann Arbor intercity rail ridership projected to be 485,000 annually in 2035, we can roughly calculate a high-end estimate of the number of intercity passengers transferring the Connector for their last mile as follows:

485,000 riders/year x 50% students x 30% campus residents =
72,750 transfers to the Connector per year, OR
200 daily transfers (on average)

The average daily estimated Connector ridership in 2040 is 31,600. Thus, the number of transfers to the Connector would be less than 1% of the total ridership on the Connector on the high end. The transfers would tend to peak during holidays and weekends (though increased service would probably spread them out throughout the day), but on average the percentage of trips would be small.

The point here is that, while the ability to transfer from intercity rail to the Connector would be a nice feature, it likely will not be used much compared to the overall demand of the Connector within the campus/city. Therefore, if we’re planning to spend millions of dollars on a station, we should place the importance of this connection in the context of how many people for whom it truly improves mobility. Should it supersede integration with the downtown and potential adjacent development? Could 200 people complete their first/last mile everyday on foot, bicycle, or well-planned bus routes if the station were located at Depot? At ten daily round trips, an average of 20 passengers per train doing so seems entirely possible.

A similar argument is made for transfers from commuter rail to the Connector. While the core purpose of the city’s evaluation is for a station to serve intercity rail passengers, it does seem prudent to consider potential commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Detroit when deciding the station location, even though the narrow failure of the vote in November 2016 to fund the Southeast Michigan Regional Transit Authority makes the prospect of commuter rail more uncertain for now. The argument of high employment on UM campuses is often brought up, and we can try digging a little deeper with some simplified calculations.

According to commuting data from SEMCOG, Ann Arbor had 100,914 workers in 2010, with 62,744 (62%) commuting from outside of the city and 38,170 from within (38%).  The commuting data also showed 11,085 workers commute from communities along the rail line (considered here as Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Romulus, Dearborn, and Detroit). The Connector study estimates 9% growth in residents and 20% growth in jobs in Ann Arbor from 2010 to 2040. Under these assumptions, out-of-town commuters would grow by approximately 27%, resulting in 14,043 commuters from the commuter rail line communities out of 121,096 total workers. The Connector would be useful for UM campus (non-Medical Center) workers, which account for about 19% of total jobs in Ann Arbor. If 15% of these commuters choose to take commuter rail (this is aggressive, given that even the Chicago area, which has a mature commuter rail network, has a transit mode share under 15%.), then:

14,043 workers from rail line communities x 19% at UM campus x 15% commuter rail mode share =
400 daily transfers to the Connector

Like with intercity rail transfers, we see that the number of transfers from commuter rail to the Connector is a relatively small percentage (under 2%) of the total estimated Connector ridership. This is also likely on the high end; my simplified calculations are actually more aggressive than RTA’s own commuter rail ridership estimates (for eight daily round trips). And many of these campus jobs would already be within walking distance from Depot Street. Local bus connections and cycling/bikeshare could also be employed effectively there.

Of course, a Fuller Road station would also be useful for commuters to the UM Medical Center, who could simply walk to their jobs from the station. Using the same method as above, assuming that approximately 25% of total workers in Ann Arbor work at UM Medical Center:

14,043 workers from rail line communities x 25% at UM Medical Center x 15% commuter rail mode share =
527 daily passengers to the Medical Center

This is a small fraction of the tens of thousands of UM Medical Center workers. But while this decent number of commuters into Ann Arbor from the rail line communities could indeed benefit from a Fuller station, most (56%, or 1,180 daily passengers under the same mode share) would get no added benefit from being dropped off at Fuller versus Depot. Furthermore, the SEMCOG data also show that in 2010, 3,750 people commuted from Ann Arbor to the rail line communities. An (aggressive) 15-percent commuter rail mode share would bring the number of commuter rail riders from Ann Arbor to 613 (in 2040). I suspect the larger walkshed, downtown and neighborhood accessibility, and potentially well-planned transit connections at Depot would make Depot a more attractive location for most people in these groups. Fuller may still be more convenient for others for other reasons, including the Connector.

Although these numbers are admittedly back-of-the-envelope, the relative magnitudes indicate to me that a station at Fuller, though useful for some, isn’t a slam dunk for mobility in the overall transportation picture, especially for intercity passengers.

And what if the Connector doesn’t get built? It is, after all, an expensive project for a city our size. The challenges related to proximity, walkability, and geometry mentioned earlier would still exist at Fuller without any simple solutions. Is it a good idea to fund and build a station at Fuller without this being a certainty? 

Aesthetics

With a substantial infrastructure project that would be prominently in the public eye, it’s important to consider how it interacts with the city. How does it look? Will it make us proud? Currently, there are no plans for a Fuller Road station to incorporate any further development that would increase interaction with the station. It would not encounter many passersby who are not driving. There are no plans for housing or retail or even University buildings. Add to this the substantial distance from the street mentioned earlier, and you get a design where the station is set back from the main access point (Fuller Road) and where the structure that is most visible from this main access point is a huge parking deck. Indeed, the design alternative being considered for the Fuller Road site is just that!

Fuller Road design alternative advanced for Environmental Assessment

An early rendering of a hypothetical Fuller Road station back from 2012 showed something similar from the street level. Is this what we should expect? Is this attractive? Is this what a train station should even look like? Nothing says trains like…parked cars!

The design alternatives for Depot Street include repurposing of the historic Michigan Central Railroad depot (now the Gandy Dancer restaurant) as well as the station building above and just north of the railroad tracks. I personally have a modest preference for the look of Design Alternative 2A, where the station above the tracks allows for pedestrian and transit access from both the Broadway Bridge and Depot Street.

Depot Street Alternative 2A

Mayor Taylor has indicated that the level of service (i.e. traffic delay) with increased rail service at the Depot Street location would be unacceptable without adding lanes to the Broadway Bridge and Depot Street. These findings have not been released to the public. I’m sure there are engineering challenges at both locations. Moreover, a progressive, environmentally conscious city like Ann Arbor should be eschewing the car-centric LOS as a determinative metric for what makes a good or bad project and instead emphasizing other long-lasting community benefits.

A Two-Station Solution?

With the urban activity of downtown and Kerrytown and potential developments under consideration at the nearby DTE and Lower Town sites, a Depot Street station with increased rail service can serve as an anchor or binding agent to this chain of highly productive, transit-friendly areas of the city.

A comprehensive solution could involve a well-planned two-station arrangement:

  • A “gateway” rail station at Depot – a new station based on the design alternatives in the city’s study if funds are available, or planned incremental improvements over time to the current station to accommodate increased rail service. This would serve intercity service and future commuter rail service.
  • A simple commuter rail platform at Fuller, with limited or no parking, and minimal or no intrusion into parkland. Integrate with the planned Connector station at that location to enhance direct access to UM Medical Center and connections to other campus areas, with construction taking place ideally if and when the Connector station is built and after start of commuter rail service. Multiple closely located commuter rail stations are used in other cities, including Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Orlando, and Fort Worth, to serve different markets and connections.
  • Revamping Fuller Park into an actual park in coordination with Connector station construction. This could help build community support for the rail projects, especially among Townies who object to repurposing parkland(-in-name-only) at Fuller. Alternatively, development could be considered here, though I suspect it would be difficult to get community support for it. Surely, either of these options is a better use for the community than a huge parking lot.
  • Developments in Lower Town and the DTE site that are integrated well with the Depot station and the adjacent street network to invigorate the area and make it friendly for all users, not just motorists.

Funding all of this – the construction and the long-term maintenance – remains an open question and an issue I hope to get to in a future post. In the meantime, Vivienne has started to pose a few questions. We now (still) wait for the FRA’s decision.

13 thoughts on “The Visionary’s Case for a Depot Street Station

  1. This is a thoughtful and even-handed look at the different options for Ann Arbor’s rail station. I hope it will be widely read (I expect it will be). Thanks for your contribution to informed civic dialogue! I’m excited at the prospect of more.

  2. Truly excellent first post! I literally had a nearly identical post planned for TreeDownTown but you have covered off on virtually all my points. Well done and welcome to local blogosphere. We’re small but mighty.

    1. Didn’t mean to steal your thunder! Would love to hear any additional points you have. Thanks for reading…and blogging!

  3. Prashanth,

    This is an interesting blog post. Alas, it is based on what I believe are several flawed assumptions and relies on more than a few fallacies.

    First, the term “visionary” implies having wisdom and imagination. While you may qualify as a visionary (and I hope you do, as the world needs visionaries), I’m not sure journalists who practice the same kind of data driven analyses you attempt to do here would agree that our city and state transit/economic development planners, their plans and measurable results would qualify those individuals as visionaries. In fact, Detroit newspapers have been very clear in their assessments that many of the economic development “thinkers” in Ann Arbor and Michigan created little more than a system of crony capitalism, produced spurious or invented data (concerning job creation, for example) then shared it with the public (Chris Taylor’s “over-stated” 1 million train riders).

    You may agree with John Hieftje’s vision, but The Ann Arbor News pointedly editorialized that John Hieftje had no vision for our city and that he sprinted to accept praise rather than responsibility. It was he, after all, who helped convince the state to rent train cars for a connector train that didn’t exist. That cost Michigan taxpayers $10M and earned the journalist who uncovered the MDOT waste of money a reporting award. Ann Arbor has spent millions on consultants, studies, etc…for that same non-existent connector.

    As opposed to a treatise on *where* the train station should go, instead there needs to be a detailed examination done by BY AMTRAK about whether Ann Arbor needs a new train station. Rather than ask ourselves in Ann Arbor where a new station should go, shouldn’t Ann Arbor taxpayers ask rather why we should pay for a new station as opposed to Amtrak paying? Amtrak, after all, customarily pays to build its own train stations, not the taxpayers of the cities served by those Amtrak stations. Amtrak has steadfastly refused to do this in Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor applied for a TIGER grant, as did Dearborn, for federal funding to build a new station. Dearborn received the money ($35M), a lovely new station was built on Michigan Ave. and it was named after Rep. John Dingell; Ann Arbor did not receive any grant money for a new station.

    You have to ask yourself why Amtrak refuses to put a new station here despite the “visionaries” in Ann Arbor who tell us our present station will, very soon, be wholly inadequate for the enormous anticipated increase in ridership, right?

    Finally, you seem to imply that transit will lower our taxes. I suggest you visit the City’s website and study the millage rate data. The taxes are high for other reasons you would find. For instance, because the city’s debt is high and requires over 2 mills alone in assessment.

    Transit won’t lower our taxes. Has the expansion of AAATA lowered our taxes? Would the RTA plan have lowered our taxes?

    I would suggest that this fine blog entry has put the horse about 100 miles before the cart. If you find that study by Amtrak that shows Ann Arbor is in desperate need of a new train station, let me know.

    1. Thanks for your comments. You’ve constructed some straw men here that aren’t relevant to this post. I’ll attempt to address what is relevant.

      If you think it’s a fallacy that the city needs a new train station, that’s fine. What’s not a fallacy, however, is that the City has concluded that it needs a new train station and is going through the process with the FRA to determine the best location, with a decision supposedly coming soon. The location decision is what this post is about.

      The words Visionary and Townie are terms of art I borrowed from a fellow blogger that I thought were apt for describing the political environment around this issue. Notice the stylized capitalization. The terms, used somewhat tongue-in-cheek, are meant to neither praise nor condemn. I thought this was pretty apparent.

      Where did I say or imply transit would lower taxes? Not sure what you’re referring to.

      That Amtrak, instead of the City, must be the builder and owner of any new station seems dogmatic. Wouldn’t return on investment be a better metric for the City? Of course it takes money to build and maintain civic infrastructure, but if revenue streams (e.g. parking/access fees), capital assistance, and/or financing provide a way to do so in a fiscally solvent way, why shouldn’t that be considered? At the end of the day, if there isn’t funding for a new station, then there won’t (and shouldn’t) be a new station. Indeed, I alluded to funding in the last section of the post.

  4. Prashanth, great entry into the blog scene and the debate! As you know, I disagree about the best location for a new station, and I’ll get into why in just a moment. I have to agree with you that need to better public transportation, and especially rail-based, is beyond need for debate. At the same time, Mr. Lesko’s comment above about whether a new station is needed expresses some widely-held views, and should be answered thoughtfully.

    One point should be made clear, though. Amtrak does not fund stations generally, though I believe it did fund the current Ann Arbor station. And the reason Dearborn got the funding for its station is that the plans were “shovel-ready” when the stimulus fund was new and generously supplied with cash. Also, Amtrak is essentially a contractor for the State of Michigan, thanks to a 2008 law requiring states to fund passenger service of less than 750 miles length. Michigan owns the tracks Kalamazoo to Dearborn and contracts operation to Amtrak, including station agents, even in stations owned by Amtrak like that in Ann Arbor. One thing is clear: Amtrak has neither incentive nor money allocated to build stations serving state-sponsored routes. Neither has the State of Michigan. So Ann Arbor will get a new station only if the community wants it and puts up a significant amount of the money.

    Now, the location! (Very briefly.) I have to take issue with the “impartiality” of your blog, Prashanth. You compute the number of people who would work near the Fuller Road site, but not the number working downtown, which according to DDA is about 11,000 – call it roughly 11% of those who work in Ann Arbor. The Medical Center alone has over 20,000. That alone should weigh heavily. You’ve plotted a 20-minute walkshed (from uncited sources), blithely ignoring the fact that both locations are at the bottom of the river valley, and quite a steep walk for those with luggage to tow. I’ve done it many times, and I know that few people over 40 are likely to repeat that walk more than once. Thus connecting public transportation is crucial to the use of the station, whether it’s bus or light rail.

    You’ve overstated the difficulty of access to the Fuller Road site, and ignored the considerable geometric difficulties with the Depot Street site, faulting Mr. Taylor for lack of vision because he points out that traffic is an intractable problem at that location. BTW, are people aware that a roundabout at Fuller and Maiden Lane is scheduled for construction is 2020? Total cost $4.4M, shared by the city ($3.1M) and federal government ($1.3M) [approved March 15 at the WATS county-wide level for submission to SEMCOG].

    I also find your choice of words biased when you refer to the “Connector” as a “pet project”. Granted, it’s had an uphill struggle. But it is important to the University as an ecological and cost-effective alternative to running vast fleets of big blue buses, the the U has expressed willingness to fund the lion’s share of it. Did you mention that it will connect to downtown? Hence a single station at Fuller would be connected more conveniently to the downtown than a station at Depot.

    Hmmm. I’m getting long-winded! So *really* briefly: I don’t buy your calculations of potential riders transferring to the Connector because they are based on estimates made without any connection to long-distance or regional transportation. Convenient connections are synergistic!

    I agree: when a station is built at Fuller Road, it *must* be a gateway, not a parking deck! And the ground in front of it must be a true park – a place of beauty, not just a pickup-and-dropoff with short-term parking. Alas, parking will be needed – but it must be tastefully – even artfully – incorporated into a welcoming design.

    Also, with the degree of reluctance we can expect to fund a station (see Mr. Lesko again), nobody is going to pay for two stations, even if one is very minimal.

    Finally, forget the Gandy Dancer. It’s private property, very lucrative, and would need to be expropriated and practically gutted to make it ADA compliant.

    I rest my case. (For now!)

    1. Larry, thanks for reading and for your thoughtful comments! A few rebuttals…

      You’re certainly correct that the Connector’s preferred alternative goes downtown. The Connector Alternatives Analysis report states that the travel time from North Campus to Central Campus would be about 16 minutes (Alternative F). I assume that this would be roughly the same as the travel time between Fuller Station and downtown (i.e. the travel time between North Campus and Fuller is approximately the same as the travel time between Central Campus and downtown). Add an average wait time of 4 minutes, and you have a total travel time from Fuller to downtown of about 20 minutes. The walk from Depot to downtown is less than that, and commuters are not going to be carrying much luggage (and many people are fine walking in much steeper cities like Seattle and San Francisco). Other options, such as bikeshare and local bus, could be also be available for people to use for their first/last mile. I used ISO4App to make the walkshed. It seems pretty accurate compared to my extensive experience walking around Ann Arbor!

      No need to infer my bias about the Connector. I explicitly stated that I like the Connector project. It has everything to do with replacing heavily used bus service with high-frequency dedicated right-of-way transit (in this case, light rail). There are a lot of good things to say about the Connector project without even mentioning the train station. Indeed, my rough estimates in the post indicate that the number of commuter rail passengers that may transfer to the Connector is a very small percentage of the Connector’s projected ridership. If we incorporate the 11,000 downtown employees you mentioned, you still have to consider that only a portion of them (~12% in 2040) would come from commuter rail communities. Assuming the 27% growth in workers from out of town by 2040 and the 15% commuter rail mode share, you still get only about 250 people transferring to the Connector to get downtown, which is less than 1% of the Connector’s projected daily ridership. (Note: I DID calculate this in the post for UM employees, which include the many who work on Central Campus.) You can quibble over assumptions, but the magnitudes are clear.

      So yes, I didn’t include downtown commuters in the post, but they aren’t crucial to the success of the Connector, and moreover, they could walk, bike, or take the bus to downtown in less time if the station were at Depot. In essence, the Connector driving the discussion on the train station location is the tail wagging the dog. And all of this assumes commuter rail service, which isn’t even a reality yet (while intercity service is), and also that the Connector will be built. Is the Connector guaranteed? I’m not sure. This is why I suggested a simple commuter rail platform at Fuller when the Connector gets built.

      Traffic is an intractable problem at Depot? Maybe during modest windows of time during peak rush periods and after football games, which should be expected. Not really a big deal any other time from what I can tell from living in the neighborhood, and I suspect it’s mostly caused by non-residents. I’m not so bothered because I have the option of walking to the current station and other destinations, as would many other residents in nearby neighborhoods. Plus, a couple Amtrak trains already stop at Ann Arbor station at peak-ish times of the day. Are people pleading for relief from all of the traffic they cause? Somehow I doubt. Even still, sometimes vehicle congestion is a tradeoff to have something worthwhile (so maybe let’s not dwell on the Level of Service metric?). It’s hard to comment on all this without any data being available.

      Thanks for the info about the roundabout at Fuller & Maiden. So maybe $4.4M improves traffic flow, but what will be the roundabout’s effect on pedestrian and cyclist safety in an already pedestrian-unfriendly environment?

      If you’re going to say that “nobody is going to pay for two stations,” you must also follow that up by saying that full funding has not yet been figured out for even the first train station, the Connector, commuter rail service, or increased Amtrak service. These are all plans that are in some level of flux, so as long as we’re talking hypothetically, let’s consider my ideas!

      I don’t think a Fuller station is a horrible idea, and obviously there will be some engineering challenges for a new Depot station. But not having a station within the urban fabric of a small-but-vibrant city because of concerns related to congestion, parking, and a small number of transfers to a light rail line misplaces priorities related to the city’s long-term livability.

  5. I should thank you for your nod to my blog. I hadn’t read that Townie post for quite a while.

    I think you make a number of good points here. I especially resonated to your walkshed formulation. A very strong argument can be made for Depot from the walkable access to downtown angle. Also, it is moving toward being a multimodal transit node. Greyhound is using that location now for departures. As you note, Fuller is not very accessible by foot, unless you happen to work at the UM hospitals.

    Something you leave out of your analysis is reference to the possibilities of a cooperative relationship with DTE. They have been signaling for over a year that they are just waiting for Ann Arbor to make up its mind so they can do some co-development of their property in coordination with the station. Parking issues could be resolved, among other things. Possibilities abound.

    Re the commuter vision: here is a contrary viewpoint using figures from the UM 2010 employee zip code study. http://allaboardondepotstreet.com/2016/03/commuter-service-at-the-ann-arbor-amtrak-station/ As it notes, many of those commuters listed in statistics would never use this commuter train because they live in different directions.

    OK, let’s have another post!

    1. Thanks for your comments. I found your Townie/Visionary concept helpful in describing the background.

      The link you posted seems to generally align with the trends in the SEMCOG data. This should NOT, however, be interpreted to mean that commuter rail is a bad idea. Connecting important and active places in the region through high-quality transit is critical to providing mobility options to people in addition to accommodating future growth. I suspect many who would use the service wouldn’t be your daily commuters that show up in these statistics and surveys.

      I actually did briefly mention to the potential of development at the DTE lot. Coordination with the riverfront could make it exciting. Seems like a great place for well-planned infill development.

  6. Its still unclear to me what the benefits of keeping the station on Depot are. While you claim the Depot Station would be more walkable, heavy rail stations aren’t generally pedestrian friendly environments. TheRide’s own Blake Transit Center is hostile to pedestrians, with buses obscuring views of turning vehicles on both 4th and 5th, and encircling the lot to the south with a wall of bus wrap advertisements. Its the city property that could be sold easily (in terms of process), but can’t be because of Blake.

    Picture the station on Depot, and the simple geometry required to allow a bus to turn around. Blake has literally commandeered a whole city block to allow for turning movements. How would that feel in front of Casey’s Tavern? While we’re busy kicking out the Gandy Dancer, why don’t we just replace Casey’s with an Applebee’s? Also, say goodbye to the nice brick pavers on Depot, buses making slow sharp turns will tear them out. When Larry says traffic problems, what I think he means are geometric traffic problems. Depot/Main, State/Depot, Main/Summit, and the area in front of the station would all need to be widened, not to accommodate traffic volume, but bus turning movements.

    Its not that we shouldn’t make a goal for the space to be pedestrian friendly, but these stations aren’t built at the human scale. Its wrong to think about Chicago’s MTA System, instead, think Chicago’s Metra system. Instead of a small Metro Station in Minneapolis, replace with that with the city’s Union station. Examples of successful multi-modal stations accomplish pedestrian friendly not through small, intimate, urban spaces; but grand buildings built a large scale. The design challenge isn’t how to fit large buildings into small spaces, but how to make large spaces feel smaller.

    Admittedly, the initial renderings for Fuller Station are horrible. Hopefully, we’ll take this opportunity to make the space more attractive than it currently is, and maybe make connections to Arb. But this is the only space in the city that can accommodate the needs of a regional station.

    1. Oh man, you got me putting out Casey’s AND the Gandy Dancer?!! I’m happy to report that I don’t envision such a bleak scenario :). First, I don’t think repurposing the Gandy Dancer (Alt 2C) is a great idea. Why kick out a successful business? All of the Depot alternatives would have buses making turns on the asphalt (not brick pavers) on Depot into the current short-term lot. This is evident in the rendering and a Google street view.

      If the current short-term lot is used to house buses, then I’m not sure why the area in front of the station needs to be expanded. Buses should be able to make that turn as is. Any data to the contrary should be made available. Also, intercity (e.g. Greyhound) buses would be the major occupant of those spots. Currently, there are nine daily Greyhound departures from the Depot station, and they seem to be using the station, parking only on the street, without too much hassle. Even in the future, let’s say we tripled the Greyhound departures to 27. That’s only a little over one bus per hour on average turning into the current short-term lot. This is a LOT FEWER buses than the Blake Transit Center sees, and they wouldn’t really peak in rush periods either. Not sure you can really make a nuisance argument there. As for transit buses, I’d imagine Blake Transit Center would still continue to be the local transit hub for the A2-Ypsi region. Just because the new train station would see increased passenger rail service doesn’t mean it needs to be the local transit hub, though it would need some service based on rail passengers’ first/last-mile needs. An auxiliary station at Fuller would probably help some. Transit buses turn in tight intersections all throughout the downtown, and it’s mostly fine.

      I’d hardly call BTC hostile to pedestrians. Sure, buses have to turn and improvements can be made, but is that really a reason to not have a transit hub within walking distance to things? I’d guess much of any pedestrian unfriendliness is due to fast-moving traffic on 5th Ave, which is primarily designed to keep car traffic moving through the downtown. Why should we take for granted that 5th Ave (and Division St) must be one-way and have traffic signals timed for the cars?

      If you don’t think we should site the station with pedestrian access and development in the urban setting as a priority, then we’ll just have to agree to disagree. The (downtown) Chicago Metra station examples you mentioned are all within convenient walking distance to the central business district (Loop). In general, the scale of the new Ann Arbor station should consider not only the transportation needs but also how it fits into the rest of the city.

      Thanks!

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