City releases master plan for new urban trail

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Emma Richter/Daily
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 7:01pm

Ann Arbor City Council has revealed the  master plan for a new state-of-the-art urban trail through the city.

The trail, which will be known as The Treeline: Allen Creek Urban Trail, began as a citizens’ initiative and has garnered wide support from City Council in the last two years. The current draft of the trail’s route spans 2.75 miles and aims to connect the Huron River area of the city with downtown. It is expected to cost around $55 million to complete.

Although trail routes are still tentative, the city hopes it will be able to connect the trail to the Border-to-Border trail, which runs alongside the Huron River and connects much of Washtenaw County by bike path. They also hope to make the trail adjacent to the University of Michigan campus.

City Administrator Howard Lazarus said the city is excited about the opportunities this new trail could bring, and thinks the creation of the trail will accomplish many goals Ann Arbor has set for itself.  

“It provides connections, ways for people to get around, opportunities for family recreations,” Lazarus said. “It can also be a nice development tool because in many cases it’s been proven that access to high quality bicycle and pedestrian facilities raise property values and make properties more attractive.”

While $55 million dollars may seem like a hefty price tag for a bike-and-pedestrian trail, Lazarus explained the costs are all in the name of safety.

“The master plan has a lot of great separated crossings, so that pedestrians don’t have to compete with cars to cross intersections,” he said. “I think that’s what gives some of the cost. Particularly when you get to the North Bank, the connection to the Border-to-Border trail, there’s some pretty heavy infrastructure required.”

Furthermore, the city is exploring options of private funding so that the trail will not have to be funded entirely by taxpayers.

“We would find a way to set funding aside,” Lazarus said. “We want to look for grant opportunities as well. The city also does bring some property along the Border-to-Border trail that we could leverage for some secure funding.”

Ann Arbor residents are excited about the new recreation and transportation opportunities the trail will bring them. According to Councilmember Jason Frenzel, D-Ward 1, who represents a large part of the city that the trail is slated to run through, citizens like the master plan because it ensures the trail will line up with the core values the city holds.

“The response kept getting more and more positive over time,” Frenzel said. “When I talk to the residents who have not been involved in that planning and they see it for the first time, they’re generally really, really positive. It’s shiny and cool-looking, and it’s an innovative idea that holds Ann Arbor’s value sets with stewardship and active recreation and placemaking all to standard. I hear people excited because of those components.” 

On the other hand, the University is not quite as on board with the master plan as Ann Arbor residents. Lazarus said the school has some concerns about the trail interfering with its own master plan.

“We’re going to continue to work with them on that,” Lazarus said. “They are first and foremost an educational institution, so they need to be concerned with how to support their educational mission. But they do realize that the connection to the community is important to students, faculty, and visitors. … It’ll run along the periphery of campus. Having a facility students can use is important. At some point in the future it may cross through different parts of campus.” 

For his part, Kinesiology senior Connor Mora is excited for the trail. Though Mora will graduate before the trail is completed, as a member of the men’s cross country team, he is enthusiastic the opportunities it opens for the future team.

“Some of our routes can get pretty monotonous, so new routes are always very exciting,” Mora said. “The new track is being built right now, and it would be really convenient for the teams located in the South Campus area to be able to use the trail, too.”

Frenzel said the trail still has to undergo many stages before it can be used by citizens. City Council has accepted it for public comment, and staff will be seeking additional input from future stakeholders of the trail. Then the council will review the revised plan again, look for funding and then begin construction.

“I think it’s really important for people to recognize that a lot of the really big and important things that we have in our community have taken decades to implement,” Frenzel said. “We can do really big things on moderate time horizons. This is one of those things that will take a few years, but when we get it done it will be a treasure for this community.”