Transit report finds Ann Arbor needs more travel options

Hannah Chin/Daily
Jim Kosteva, the University's director of community relations attends a City Council work session on Monday, Oct. 10. The council discussed the Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility Study. Buy this photo

By Adam Rubenfire, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 10, 2011

Students who often find themselves squished between backpacks and benches on the buses from North Campus to Central Campus may soon be relieved of their transportation woes.

In a presentation to the Ann Arbor City Council yesterday, Rick Nau, vice president of the San Francisco-based engineering services firm URS Corporation, presented the results of the Ann Arbor Connector Feasibility study, which concluded that Ann Arbor is in need of a more advanced transit system.

The study — a collaboration between the University, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor Transit Authority — found an area in the shape of a boomerang that encompasses North Campus, Central Campus and downtown Ann Arbor could benefit from alternate transit options since the area is often congested with traffic.

The report recommends that Ann Arbor introduce options like light rail, bus rapid transit — large buses with their own lane — or an elevated train system in a high-frequency ridership area between North Campus, the main Medical Campus and Central Campus. It also suggests that “end-to-end” services such as buses, streetcars or light rail be installed from the University’s East Medical Campus to North Campus as well as from Central Campus and downtown to Briarwood to complement the core service.

The researchers found that Fuller Road — a major road that connects North Campus to Central Campus and leads to the University Hospital — has the same number of people using public transit as the number of people driving vehicles.

Nau said University buses traveling between North and Central campuses are a significant part of the traffic on Fuller Road. The corridor has a substantial amount of traffic because it includes what Nau called “key places” in Ann Arbor like the University Hospital.

Buses run frequently along that route — on average, one bus every two to three minutes — and have more than 30,700 riders per day, according to Nau. He added that many passengers have to stand on the buses at peak times.

The University and several government entities are currently working on plans for the Fuller Road Station — a transit project separate from the connector study — which is proposed to have links to future commuter rail lines and parking for University of Michigan Health System employees.

The cost of the plan for the busy route depends on the type of system the city chooses, but Nau’s estimates range from $15 million to $200 million. Annual operating costs could range from $500,000 to $1.5 million per mile, according to Nau. The project could receive 50 percent of its total funding from the federal government because of the number of travelers along the corridor.

In an interview after the meeting, Jim Kosteva, the University’s director of community relations, said the University is aware it is not satisfying peak transportation demands and is very interested in being involved in the project.

“There’s little question that we’re going to be a player in this activity, and this needs to be not only a University community consideration, (but) this needs to be a University and Ann Arbor consideration because this impact is on the entire community,” Kosteva said.

Kosteva added that the city and the University have similar motivations to participate in the project.

“Both the city and University combined share the goals of (a) more sustainable future, increased utilization of mass transportation, reduced dependence on single occupancy vehicles and reduced dependence on carbon footprint,” he said.

‘U’ doctor presents study on accessibility

Earlier in the meeting, Dr. Els Nieuwenhuijsen, a research investigator in the UMHS Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, presented the results of a study she conducted on accessibility for people with disabilities in Ann Arbor.

Nieuwenhuijsen said some areas in the city are accessible to residents with vision, hearing, or mobility impairments, but other areas could use improvement. She said she experienced difficulty while navigating the city with her late husband who was visually impaired.

It is important that Ann Arbor addresses its accessibility issues promptly, because the baby boomer population is aging, and the number of people with disabilities is increasing, Nieuwenhuijsen said. She added that returning veterans might also contribute to an increase in residents with disabilities.

Beside the benefit to residents, Nieuwenhuijsen noted that an increase in accessibility within the city would contribute to an increase in economic growth and tourism, as disabled members of the community and other visitors would have better access to shops, restaurants and other amenities. She added that increased accessibility can also improve the standard of living in the community, which could attract more people with disabilities to live in Ann Arbor.

“People want to stay in the community when it is accessible and when it is friendly,” Nieuwenhuijsen said.

Addressing council members, Nieuwenhuijsen said voting booths are “all accessible,” and disabled voters are part of the voting population who elect the members.

Kosteva said in an interview after the presentation that accessibility at the University is an area “where there is always room for improvement.” He added that the University is particularly cognizant of its need to improve the proximity of paratransit and accessible parking to University buildings.

He also referenced a current University project to make PDF files more accessible to people who are visually impaired as an example of the University’s efforts to make the lives of students, staff and visitors with disabilities easier.

“We do make a concerted conscientious effort to make the campus (as) accessibility friendly and appropriate as we can,” Kosteva said.

— Charlene Lerner and Andreea Mosincat contributed to this article.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly described Dr. Els Nieuwenhuijsen's late husband. A previous version of this article also used incorrect terminology for accessible parking.