ann arbor

What's this RTA thing I'm suddenly hearing about, and what does it mean for Washtenaw?

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Edited to add, Jan 7, 2013: The original framing of this post was inflammatory -- unnecessarily so -- towards the Ann Arbor City Council. I saw them on the brink of taking an action that I perceived to be itself pretty inflammatory towards some of our regional partners, potentially hurting our (Washtenaw County transit supporters') interests, whether the action had its intended effect or not. City Council, to their great credit, did modify their stance to more clearly focus on their actual interest and ask, and I specifically thank Mayor Hieftje and Councilman Warpehoski for their leadership here.

In turn, I'd like to turn off my flamethrower, and acknowledge that we are all in fact on the same side here: we're champions of our transit system, AATA, and want to see it continue to grow its ability to serve our residents; we want to see better connections into the rest of metro Detroit, especially in the form of the proposed commuter rail connecting Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to Dearborn, DTW, and Detroit; and we want to make sure that the transit system meeting our train on the far end is adequate to get our riders to their ultimate destinations.

We have had some differences on the best ways to reach those goals, but I'm looking forward to finding agreement on our shared interests that we can work together on. Specifically, I have been named as one of Washtenaw County's appointees to the RTA Board since I originally wrote this post, and am committed to using my background and knowledge of the situation to ensure the RTA is advancing, rather than hindering, our interests. I've struck-through the original, hostile framing text below, but leave it readable for the historical record.

This past week, the Michigan legislature passed bills to create a Regional Transit Authority for metro Detroit—Oakland, Wayne, Macomb and Washtenaw Counties. This long-overdue legislation has been under discussion and in the news for over a year, and received statewide, bipartisan support. While it’s not perfect, it will address many of the thorny issues that have held back transit in metro Detroit for years and years—and the remaining issues are generally best addressed by the communities sitting down at the table together, not mandated from Lansing.

As somebody who’s been working on this legislation for the past year and talking to all of the players involved, I’m hoping I can answer a few questions:

Concentrate

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By the way, I'm guest blogging over at Concentrate again this week.

They must be desperate for content, but I won't complain - if they want to read it, I'll write it.

I would have expected more fanfare. And by "fanfare", I mean "gloating".

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In reworking ArborWiki's page on the Ann Arbor Greenbelt, I came across an item from Concentrate that noted,

When Ann Arbor initially proposed its Greenbelt Program, local developers worried that it would create competition, scarcity and drive up the cost of building sprawl in Washtenaw County. Now developers are starting to sell land to the Greenbelt.

The Ann Arbor City Council approved spending $626,000 in city money to buy 139 acres of rural land in Superior Township from Biltmore, a residential development company. ... The land is in two parcels along either side of Prospect Road near Vreeland Road.

More on "University Village" project

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My post expressing skepticism at the 26-story, 1,700 resident University Village proposal for Ann Arbor's South University corridor has gotten a decent number of hits from this thread in the UrbanPlanet.org forums. One pseudonymous commenter completely misses my point:

So the person's objections about this project has to do with the large number of housing units it will provide in a soft housing market? From what I know even in a housing market like this there is still high demand for units near college campuses. If the developers didn't believe they could fill these buildings they wouldn't propose something at such a scale.

First of all, my objection to the project is not particularly an objection, nor is it specific to this project. What I'm concerned about is the general trend of a large quantity of campus-oriented housing being built all at once - along with a large quantity of general housing being built downtown at the same time . . . all in the worst housing market in 25 years. This particular project is 50% bigger than Bursley, UMich's largest on-campus dorm, and this is on top of the 3 other student-oriented projects underway. Even setting aside the large number of rental units already sitting vacant around town.

Oh please. (Or, South U gets a little over-excited.)

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In 2006, Ann Arbor loosened the zoning on the South University area, in the name of promoting some good, solid, mixed-use development. I'm fully in favor of this - South U's existing form, of strip malls at the sidewalk, has always seemed to me an underwhelming use of land, though I wasn't too happy about the first project that took advantage - the Zaragon Place replacement of the Anberay Apartments - what had been one of the best existing examples of compact urban housing in that area.

Arborwiki Industrial History Project

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I apologize for the silence in this venue. My idle interneting time has been otherwise occupied lately with digesting various sources from the Bentley and elsewhere into Arborwiki pages on (mostly Ypsilanti) past local industries.

Check out the Arborwiki Industrial History Project for a fledgling entry point, or pages like Ferrier Machine Works (now the Ypsi food co-op), Louis Z. Foerster (prominent German-Canadian Ypsilanti brewer), or Federal Screw Works (vacant and likely doomed plant in Chelsea) as example pages.

1500 pages of OCR goodness

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*swoon*. (warning: local geekery.)

I've been pleased in the past that UMich's library has a scanned, publicly-accessible version of Charles Chapman's History of Washtenaw County, Michigan : together with sketches of its cities, villages and townships...and biographies of representative citizens. This is a 1,500 page book published in 1881 covering the area's history to that date - a pretty impressive length, when you consider that the white man's history of Washtenaw County, aside from a Jesuit or two, only extended as far back as 1823,

Metro A2 transit inching closer!

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In one of the previous iterations of this blog - which Google can't seem to find - I laid out a 3 item wishlist for Ann Arbor area transit.

1. Arrange for free rides on all AATA routes for UMich students.
2. Transit service from some point in A2 to Metro Airport (my target price point: $10 one-way.)
3. Tragically, I can't remember. Sigh. But I think it was a regional express service linking A2, Ypsi, and Detroit?

At any rate, #1 was implemented about 4 years back (showing how long I've been at this). And now, #2 was announced the day before I left for Montana! For, yep, $10 one-way. Check the Michigan Flyer website for details, and ArborUpdate for discussion.

This just in!

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Ann Arbor's City Council has been accused in the past of holding secret deliberations, with decisions made the day before the meeting or in smoke-filled bars after the meetings. Well, now we've got proof - we know what goes on in these secret backroom discussions.

I've just received evidence from an anonymous source, smuggled out of Ann Arbor and across the Carpenter DMZ no doubt at great personal risk. The attached note gives the sense that the source was perhaps tortured to the point of madness in recovering this footage:

on this disk is what you need to post because you are the very good blogger and the world whole of it must see...for everyone who are read the blog of common monk flower so it is important you complete the mission as you are the choice out of many others like mark mayfred and arbor dates did not receive it, so you must do it the only one.

Praying for structural change

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About 18 months back, Ann Arbor's Mayor Hieftje held a session of his public policy class entitled "Is Ann Arbor overrated?", with various blogger guest discussants. He commented that the cities of Michigan are lined up and running towards a cliff of fiscal crisis. Yes, all of them - Ann Arbor's more or less bringing up the rear, but it's running the same direction as all the rest. Some cities have already gone over - Flint, Highland Park, Hamtramck - and have survived the fall with various degrees of injury. Detroit's just a matter of time, and not much of it. But many people are hoping that Ypsilanti will serve as a bellwhether of Michigan's fiscal problems and a catalyst to change, as Ypsi is recognized across the state as being much more well-run than its predecessor's into crisis. When well-run cities start going over the brink, this theory states, people will finally realize that something's broken, and that it's not just Flint. I've since heard basically this same view echoed by a number of other regional and State leaders - when Ypsi goes, that's when our State can be expected to decide there might be a problem with our municipal structure. Thanks, guys. We love you too.

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