Google's Larry Page still has vision for Ann Arbor transportation changes
Google co-founder Larry Page is influencing Ann Arbor’s transportation future.
It started during his undergraduate days in the mid-1990s at the University of Michigan, when he envisioned replacing campus buses with something "futuristic."
It continued this spring in a conversation with U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, when Page - according to multiple sources - offered suggestions for better ways to connect the university’s north and central campuses.Â
Then Coleman this weekÂ announced that the university would host a forum in early 2010 to explore “alternative transportation” options. That could include traditional options like intra-city rail or trolleys, or perhaps even more exotic options such as an aerial tram.
For Page, who visited Ann Arbor in May to deliver a commencement address, developing a better transportation network in Ann Arbor apparently has been a personal dream since college.
When he was a student in Ann Arbor, he's said, he attended a leadership program that inspired him to think big.
"That program encouraged me to pursue a crazy idea at the time: I wanted to build a personal rapid transit system on campus to replace the buses," Page said, according to video of the commencement address.
He then ad-libbed, "Yeah, you're still working on it here." That part of the speech is not included in Google's prepared transcript of his address.
Page said his idea "was a futuristic way of solving our transportation problem. I still think a lot about transportation -- you never lose a dream, it just incubates as a hobby."
It’s unclear whether Page, in his spring meeting with Coleman, proposed specific transportation ideas or offered funding for a transportation initiative.
But his interest in Ann Arbor is well known. In 2006, Google opened an AdWords sales office in downtown Ann Arbor - partly a result of conversations between Page and Coleman.
University spokesman Joe Serwach declined to address Page’s role in encouraging U-M’s leap into Ann Arbor’s transportation infrastructure. A Google spokesman did not respond to requests seeking comment.
U-M in June completed its $108 million acquisition of the ex-Pfizer campus in northern Ann Arbor, adding to its need to facilitate better transportation options for employees. The site, now part of U-M's North Campus, has been renamed North Campus Research Complex. The addition of 2,000 to 3,000 employees at NCRC over 10 years will add to demand for efficient transportation options.
“We've been thinking about the challenge of facilitating the connection between these two parts of our campus for a number of years,” Serwach said in an e-mail. “It was the acquisition of the NCRC, and the prospects for growth that it brings, that has inspired us to take this new step to explore the possibilities.”
Page, it appears, has been thinking about the possibilities, too.
"Many things that people labor hard to do now, like cooking, cleaning, and driving will require much less human time in the future," he said at the U-M commencement. "That is, if we 'have a healthy disregard for the impossible.'"