Tuesday, March 27, 2007

public parking workshop

As part of the Ann Arbor Discover Downtown (A2D2) project, the City is hosting two public participation events on long-term parking strategy. Tonight (March 28), the project team will facilitate a work session to obtain input and direction on the parking study at the Ann Arbor Downtown Library 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. There will also be a public workshop on downtown access and parking issues Thursday, March 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, City Hall. More details at the A2D2 page.

So, why should you care? You either don't own a car or don't use one often. How is fixing downtown parking going to impact your life? If you aren't sure why you would attend these meetings or what you would say if you did, here are a few ways that parking affects carfree folks:

1) Community decisions are made by those who show up at the meetings. It is easy to blame the auto-centric design of cities on a Detroit conspiracy, but the fact is that decisions are being made at these meetings and the people who are most likely to show up are those who want more, better parking. If no one shows up to say, "hey, I ride my bike and take the bus. We need to include these options in this discussion," then those options won't be discussed.

2) Increased parking facilities reduce downtown density. Carfree life is always easier when parking lots are not spreading out the distance between destinations. We should be advocating for minimal increases in parking supply.

3) Parking is part of the larger transportation system. Increasing parking leads to a need for other changes to accomodate increased traffic (if more parking won't result in more traffic, why are we adding parking?). That means more competition between people and cars for public space.

4) Instead of more parking, we should be considering more convenient parking. Even when half of the spaces in town are empty, visitors end up circling the block looking for one of the few spaces on Main St. They do this because a) they want convenience, and b) they don't know about other options. We need to provide better information to drivers about where parking is available and make parking in a structure more convenient than parking on the street. Once they have parked their cars, we need to provide convenient ways to get around downtown without going back to the car. A good network of transit, sidewalks, and bike lanes, along with other facilities will help. Not coincidentally, these are the projects that the carfee community wants more of anyway. This is the perfect venue to explain that connection.

The workshop is an open house, so you won't get stuck sitting through a boring public policy lecture. Just stop in and let the leaders know that parking design is important to you and you want to know what alternatives they are considering.

Thanks to Nancy Shore for the heads-up!

Monday, March 26, 2007

transportation enhancements funding threatened & bike commute tax break considered

Every blike blogger and her brother have mentioned this recent threat to trail funding, but League of American Bicyclists has a good summary.

Basically, Congress told states to return some of their transportation budget (after checking on this, we found that "no take-backs" is not actually a constitutional right). Governors have to decide what programs will be cut in the next few weeks, and bike paths and lanes are an easy target. Follow the link above for more information on contacting the decision-makers with appropriate please and threats.

Fortunately, Ann Arbor sets aside city funds for cycling improvements. But massive cuts to State bike budgets will certainly have a regional impact.

At the same time, the Bicycle Commuter Act has been introduced in Congress. This act would allow employers to offer bike commuters commuting incentives similar to transit riders. Maintenance, bike gear and riding clothes would be not be taxed up to a monthly maximum ($105 ofr transit riders).
Dingel, Stabenaw and Levin are not currently supporting the bill, so drop them a note of encouragement via the above link.

cycm rumors: bike vs. car

That's right, as the weather gives us a Spring preview, it's time to start thinking about Curb Your Car Month. All through the month of May, the getDowntown program organizes events, lectures, parties, and give-aways to celebrate and promote the carfree lifestyle in Ann Arbor.

There is nothing that whips up the excitement for upcoming events like unsubstantiated rumors, so we'll pass on some info that a little bird whispered in our ear. It sounds like one of the events may involve a cross-town race between a bike and a car. Details are sketchy and the route is not set, but the race will involve a couple of check points in order to factor in Ann Arbor's infamous parking "problem."

We previously mentioned that Cranksgiving would be a great event to include in CYCM. According to the rumor mill, this race is not for general participation. But really, who would stop you from riding along?

We'll be posting a few more bright ideas that we'd like to see as part of Curb Your Car Month. If you have suggestions, post them in the comments or send an email. Also, remember that ideas are useless without action, so volunteer with getDowntown to help organize events!

amtrak wolverine service changes

As of April 2, Amtrak is adjusting the schedule of the Wolverine, the train that gets the good people of Ann Arbor to Chicago. The new departure times are:
Eastbound from Ann Arbor: 2:09pm 5:47pm 11:30pm
Westbound from Ann Arbor: 8:23am 12:56pm 6:51pm

According to the AANews, the Eastbound afternoon train was pushed back 40 minutes to allow Millwaukee riders to make a transfer in Chicago.
Benefits for Ann Arbor: none we can think of.

The second Eastbound train is bumped up an hour, for the benefits of Chicagoans who are already losing an hour coming to Michigan.
Benefits for Ann Arbor: get to Detroit in time for dinner before the show?

The final Westbound of the day will leave A2 about an hour later, a change with no explanation.
Benefits to Ann Arbor: more time after work to bike to the Amtrak station.

Overall, the change in departure times don't do much for Ann Arborites, unless they are returning from Milwaukee or Chicago. If Amtrak is taking requests, it sure would be nice to allow bikes on the Wolverine!

Friday, March 16, 2007

on vacation

Our apologies for the lack of posts recently. The cfa2 housekeeping staff is celebrating the arrival of a new family member, Leif Michael, and will be taking a few days off from updating the website. We should be back in a few days. In the mean time, please feel fee to add carfree announcements and tips as comments.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

ten ways to encourage a carfree commute to your downtown ann arbor business

Bicycle Colorado just posted 7 Steps to a Bicycle-Friendly Workplace. Their list of general tips on encouraging biking to work inspired us to write up a list of simple ways businesses in downtown Ann Arbor can encourage carfree commuting.

1. Sign up for the go!pass

2. Post locations and rental info on bike lockers

3. Hand out pedestrian maps, bike maps and bus schedules

4. Offer to ride (bus or bike) with other employees to get them started, or start a bike commute support group.

5. Support local biking and walking organizations and events (WBWC, AABTS, Eco-Ride, Crop Walk, Breast Cancer walk, etc.)

6. Update HR policies to encourage walking, biking and bus riding (parking policy, biking & walking incentives, Emergency Ride Home program, etc.)

7. Invite the getDowntown program to contribute to your company newsletter or talk to employees about their commuting options

8. Provide better biking facilities (covered bike parking, showers, lockers, etc.)

9. Invite a local bike shop to do a brown-bag seminar on bike maintenance.

10. Sign up for the Commuter Challenge and encourage employees to participate in other events throughout Curb Your Car Month

If you've got other ideas, add them to the list via a comment!

megabus to chicago

Ypsidixit got the scoop on the Megabus expansion to Ann Arbor. Megabus has been serving Detroit for a while now, and it has been a mystery to us how they could drive right past a town full of cheap-skate college students without picking up a few fares. They seem to have gotten wise to the potential jackpot and have added Ann Arbor to the 14 cities in their greater midwest service region.

But don't start packing your bags for Pittsburgh just yet. From our initial research, the Ann Arbor bus only goes to Chicago. Sure you can ride to Chicago and transfer from there (with potentially long lay-over), but there is no direct service from Ann Arbor to Toledo, Cleveland, or Columbus. In fact, even though the route map shows Ann Arbor as a stop on the way to Detroit, you can't book a seat from A2 to Detroit on the website!

Starting April 2, Megabus offers morning and afternoon service in both directions. The Ann Arbor stop is at the UofM Park and Ride lot on South State, so you can take a UofM commuter bus or AATA bus to the rendez-vous. The trips takes 4 hours and 40 minutes, and costs $15 O/W based on our queries, though the website says fares as low as $1 are possible for early bookings of low-demand seats.

Compared to Amtrak service, the Megabus fare is about $5 lower than even the weekly specials on the train, and the ride time is similar. But Megabus limits passengers to one bag and doesn't have power outlets seats. Compared to Greyhound service, the fare is about half and the trip takes two hours less on Megabus. Despite its unfortunate name, Megabus could offer carfree Ann Arborites a good Chicago-bound alternative to Amtrak, especially if you want to leave town in the morning.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

nancy shore on life on the aata board

Nancy already talked about carfree life of SOS consumers. Now she chats with us about her experience on the AATA board and her goals for AATA.

cfa2: what it is like to sit on the AATA board?

Nancy: Well, it’s really interesting. The Board definitely doesn’t speak with one voice, and we often have divergent opinions about the system. I really like sitting on the Board because I feel like I really get a sense of what is going on with the bus system in the community and also how that bus system fits with other types of transportation, including walking and possibly rail. We also talk a lot about financial matters (budget cuts, etc.) and how they are going to impact our service and it really gives me a perspective on the complexity of running a bus system, especially in a state that is not doing so well financially and is not putting mass transit and other forms of transportation in it’s funding priorities. I am still relatively new to the Board, but I do feel like it’s a really good group of people who would like to see the AATA grow and change to fit the needs of this community.

cfa2 What kinds of issues are being discussed right now?

Nancy: The kinds of issues that are being discussed are financial issues related to service. This includes how to deal with Ypsilanti (they are not going to be able to pay for service this fall, so what do we do about that?), as well as how to go about purchasing more hybrid busses. Other issues being discussed are if we should go countywide with bus service and what will that look like. We are also talking more and more about how the bus system fits with other forms of alternative transportation.

cfa2: So, the county-wide service sort of fell through, according to the News. I bitched about it a little on the website. What's do you think?

Nancy: I knew that article was going to case some misperceptions. Basically the issue is that if we put the county issue on the ballot tomorrow, the pollsters believe that we don't have enough "yesses" to win. But that in no way means we are not going to do a millage. I think right now the Board defintely sees a need for us to expand service, but is still not sure what that might look like. We might do a millage or we might try to expand service in another way. I would love for people to give us their thoughts and ideas on how we can expand service to a larger area.

cfa2: What are your personal goals are for AATA?

Nancy: In terms of my personal goals on the AATA, well for one I would definitely like to speak on behalf of those who depend on the bus service to get around. I also take the bus quite frequently and see it as a public good—something that everyone should use for many reasons including environmental impacts and the fact that the bus is a community space where you might interact with people you might never see in another setting. I would like to advocate for improving bus service and for thinking about how the bus system fits in with walking and biking to get people around in the best way possible. In the end, I don’t think driving cars is the best way to get people around and I think the AATA is a great system that could get even better. I want to be a part of that.

cfa2: As far as advocating for improved service, is this one of those issues that all board members don't agree on? I would think everyone associated with AATA would want improved service.

Nancy: I think all Board members would agree on improving service, so I guess you got me there. I guess I am not sure we all have the same idea of how to improve that service. Does it mean more park and ride lots or does it mean longer bus hours? Does it mean trying to make the buses run more efficiently, or put more buses on the road? I think the improvements I would most like to see would be expanding the amount of time high use buses are out there (meaning expanded evening and weekend hours), improving service to Ypsilanti, and created some express routes.

cfa2: Can you give me any specific examples of making transit fit better with biking and walking?

Nancy: I sure can. I usually take the #4 bus from the Blake Transit Center to the Ypsi Transit Center. The route is primarily on Washtenaw. Let's say I wanted to get off the bus early on my way home from work (and I do sometimes) and bike the rest of the way. If I decided to get off on any of the many stops across from the County Rec Building or Medford and Manchester I would face a: no sidewalk to bike on and b: a real challenge in feeling safe biking on Washtenaw. If I wanted to walk, it would be even worse. I have had to cross Washtenaw from the stop across from Medford and Mancester before and it is really dangerous. There is no cross walk until you get over by the Bearclaw Coffee place.
I have had the same problem taking the #4 in Ypsi township to Tuptim Restaurant. The day I walked from the bus stop to meet my friend at Tuptim it was raining so the ground was totally muddy and again their were no sidewalks so it was quite unpleasant.
Since most bus trips start as bike or walking trips, it makes sense to see how they interact with on another. I think if there is a bus stop somewhere, there should be an effort to make it easy for a person walking from that bus stop to get around safely. And I think if that person has a bike, there also needs to be some consideration of that fact.
I think Ann Arbor does a really good job with bike lanes and sidewalks, but it can do much better. The same is true for the bus service. I am hoping during my time on the AATA Board I can help the cause.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

capital improvements plan; alternative transportation projects

In preparation for the city's budgeting process, the draft version of the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) is posted on the city website. Here is a list of the "Alternative" Transportation projects in the report:

Bandemer Park Pedestrian Tunnel
Bicycle Facilities Development*
Geddes Ave. Non-Motorized Path (Gallup Park to Huron Pkwy)
Huron River Multipurpose Trail*
Northeast Area Non-Motorized Trail
Platt Road Sidewalk (Huron Parkway to Washtenaw)
Plymouth Road Rail Station
Sidewalk Gaps
South Main Street Non-motorized Path (AA-Saline to East Stadium)*
Washtenaw Avenue Non-Motorized Path*

* item carried over from previous CIP

The Bandemer Park Pedestrian Tunnel is interesting in that it appears to have replaced the Gallup Park/Arboretum Railroad Tunnel from the 2005 CIP. Both projects were designed to get cyclists across the tracks. The Gallup/Arb tunnel must have been cut, despite its "Important" priority, since it construction was scheduled to start in Spring of 05. That doesn't bode well for the Bendemer tunnel, which has a lower, "Derirable" priority.

The South Main Street Non-motorized Path is recently controversial because of potential putting infringement. We were surprised to see that this project was also in the previous CIP. Since then it has been re-prioritized from "Desirable" to "Urgent", increased from $650k to $1 million, and moved up from a planned construction start in 2011 to 2008. Momentum is building on this one, but so is golfing resistance.

The Plymouth Road Rail Station is, of course, the terminal station for the North-South rail line. We griped about this location before, and the description from the CIP, "Passenger platform, covered pedestrian walkway with ADA compatability," isn't exactly inspiring, but it looks like the Mayor is serious about getting this train rolling. The design stage is scheduled to start in July of '09.

The CIP draft is scant on project descriptions, but it is worth looking over to get some familiarity with up-and-coming carfree projects.

DIY bottle cap helmet mirror

We've never understood the need for a rear-view mirror while cycling. The occasional glance over the shoulder has always been sufficient. But the style points earned from sporting a wearable mirror made from an attractive bottle cap and a bike spoke may just change our tune. Instructables demonstrates how to Do It Yourself.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Nancy Shore on carfreedom and homelessness

In an effort to branch out in terms of content (read as: "we're running out of tips!"), we decided to contact people related to local carfree issues to ask a few questions. You're not going to find the well-balanced queries and teetering style available in interviews elsewhere, but we were inspired by the content that came out of our first effort.

Nancy Shore is the Community Relations Coordinator at SOS Community Services. She is also the most recent addition to the board of the AATA, so she has a a unique perspective on carfree life. Today, she's talking about the carfree experience of SOS consumers. Coming up soon, we'll ask her about life as an AATA board member. You can read more about her on the totter.

cfa2: We'd like to get a better idea of what carfree life is like for SOS consumers. Also, how does SOS assist and advise on transportation concerns of their clients (clients, customers, or consumers)?

Nancy: First of all, we do call the people we serve consumers. Many, many, many of them, including the families in our shelter and transitional housing program don’t have cars. And this is not a choice on their part to be environmentally friendly, etc. They just simply cannot afford to have a car.
For the families in our family shelter and in our transitional housing (which are apartment units in both Ypsi and Ann Arbor) getting around is a constant issue. We actually provide our own vans to shuttle the children to day care and the families to various programs. In addition to that, many of the families rely on the buses to get around. This can become a real issue in Ypsilanti where buses run less frequently and where there are fewer routes. It’s also a challenge because unlike Ann Arbor, Ypsi has even fewer basic amenities downtown, so it might take quite a while to take a bus to get to the grocery store and get back. I think one of the biggest challenges for many of our carfree families is that they have to go to so many places and it’s really hard to get to all of them by bus in a timely manner. They might have to go to a job and in addition might have to drop off their kids somewhere else to go to daycare and then repeat the whole thing again in the evening.
It is definitely easier for our families to be carfree in Ann Arbor because the buses run more frequently and are often close to where they live. But I know it’s not easy, and I know if many of the families could have a car, they would. But SOS does offer van transportation, which makes it more convenient for the families. And the bus system is certainly important to the families we serve.
For the families who are not homeless, but very poor (those who come in and receive food and other items from us), I know transportation is also an issue. Especially in Ypsi, it’s just harder to get around without a car. Some families have parents that are working full time and going to school, or have families where the parent is working two jobs. Relying on walking or busing to meet all these needs can be very challenging.
I think what a lot of it bowls down to is that when people do not have cars, they find other ways to get around including walking and busing. But it is not so much of a choice as something they have to do.

cfa2: carfree ann arbor is based on the idea that it is possible and not completely miserable to live without a car. Of course we usually assume that you do have a home to get back to. Certainly, being without a home makes transportation tough. Are there some specific things that make carfree transportation more difficult for SOS consumers?

I recently spoke to the case managers that deal with many of our consumers. I think the specific things that make carfree transportation tough are:
1. The fact that many of our consumers live in one city and work in another. Many of them live in Ypsilanti, but work in Ann Arbor, so they have to deal with longer bus rides (sometimes up to one hour each way) to get to where they need to go. If many of our consumers could work and live in the same community, I think it would be much easier for them to go car free.
2. Many of our consumers with children find it very hard to take them on the bus. I really need to look at some of the tips you have on carfree to see if there are some things that might make the ride more pleasurable for them. Some of our consumers have 5 kids, so it's quite daunting for them to think about taking the bus.
3. Many of our consumers don't have laundry facilities, so they have to take a bus to go to a laundromat and then get the clothing back to their apartment. This can definitely be a challenge.
4. I would say the biggest challenge is just lack of time. It takes too long for many of our consumers to take the bus everywhere. But I think that is a reflection of our need to enhance the bus system more than a reflection of them not liking to take the bus.

cfa2: Similarly, are there any carfree tips that apply especially to SOS consumers? We're fishing for tips on cfa2 that staff or consumers might be recommending. Do you ever use cfa2 as a resource at SOS?

Nancy: I think it would be really, really important for me to research this further. I think mostly staff and consumers see not having a car as a hindrance, but it doesn't have to be! I really, really want to emphasize to you that I am a strong carfree advocate. I will definitely look deeply into your website for appropriate recommendations. I could also see the possibility of a "living carfree" workshop for our consumers to see if that would help them get interested in the carfree idea.

cfa2: Do you see any particular points of connection between SOS consumers and other by-choice carfree people?

Nancy: In terms of connections between SOS consumers and other by-choice carfree people I think there are many. Some are the need to trade tips on how to deal with large loads of laundry or groceries. I think many of our families could use some tips to make their lives easier. I think another point of connection is the advocacy piece. If people who are using the system see where it can be improved, they are in a better position to make changes. I also think that anyone who is carfree no matter what the reason becomes a member of a certain community. I think if those who are carfree can do what they can to support others who are carfree, that would also be helpful. So if someone is struggling with a bunch of bags on the bus, to offer to help. Or if someone looks stranded on a bad side of the street, to try to help them get across. One of the things I have learned while working at SOS is that our consumers need to be part of a supportive community. If carfree by choice people can do their best to help carfree by need people, I think it makes this world a better place.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

no county bus service... for now

AANews announces that AATA will not be persuing a millage to expand service to the entire county.

A consultant found that 54 percent of Washtenaw County voters would support a .5 mill tax to extend AATA service countywide. Without at least 60 percent support among voters at the outset of a campaign, a strong informational effort would be needed, the study said.
We'll asume for now that it is rational to abandon the idea even though more than half of taxpayers were willing to support it without any prior marketing. Still, wouldn't part of this informational effort be made by local government and employers? If this study was based on a go-it-alone marketing campaign, then AATA needs to work on their networking skills. There is all kinds of info we'd like to see from this report, but top of the list is what township and village governments think of the idea. We are more interested in what the 21 "key opinion leaders'' said in their interviews than the 6% shortage on public opinion. If local leaders want this to happen, they can contribute to the effort to make it happen.

But AATA is going for a softer sell:
"We are not interested in putting forward a proposal that the community is not interested in supporting," Nacht said.
AATA is "not close to offering the community any specifics," he said.
...the study included that there is little awareness of AATA outside its immediate service area.
With the usual caveat of potentially pot-stirring journalism by the News, doesn't that come off as stupid? 46% of respodents don't support expansion of a service they don't know anything about but AATA is not willing to explain it to them.

At the same time, AATA is dealing with enough problems in the existing service area. It looks like Ypsi won't be able to pay their part of the bill soon and we need to keep those lines running. Maybe this isn't the best time to expand.

On the brighter side, the report finds that, "the buses are clean, safe and usually on time." Between that, Ridetrak, and the fabulous Link, our buses are rollin' pretty smooth.