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Posted on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 4:02 p.m.

Study says residents support WALLY commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell

By Staff

Washtenaw and Livingston county residents want to see a commuter rail between Ann Arbor and Howell. So says a market study released today by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to gauge community support for the proposed Washtenaw-Livingston Line (WALLY) commuter rail.

The survey, conducted by Illium and Associates of Bellevue, Wash., is based on interviews with 100 Washtenaw County residents and 101 Livingston County residents within the areas along the proposed WALLY commuter rail line, according to AATA. The research report indicate 75 percent of Washtenaw County and 80 percent of Livingston County residents surveyed support the idea of WALLY, and 61 percent of respondents would be interested using WALLY for their daily commute. According to AATA, the survey also found a majority of Livingston and Washtenaw county respondents believe public transit services are important to the local economy.

First proposed in 2006, the AATA took over the project last year. The transit is a member of the WALLY Coalition, a broad-based group of community organizations seeking to determine the feasibility of a north-south commuter rail service between Ann Arbor and Howell.

More on WALLY: • AATA: AATA agrees to take over WALLY • Concentrate: AATA to take over WALLY commuter rail project • Ann Arbor Observer: Closely watched trains - The trouble with WALLY • Wikipedia: WALLY (commuter rail) • Detroit News: Study calls Ann Arbor-Howell commuter rail line viable


Macabre Sunset

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 2:51 p.m.

Bear, Can you name one such project of this scope connecting densities of these sizes in America? The most optimistic estimate was 1,600 daily riders. Yet the push-poll said 61% of LC residents (much more than 100,000 people) would use the system. AccruedInterest, Too expensive means amount spent per user of the system per year. Let's say they spend $20 million on the train and the station upgrades and the infrastructure upgrades every year. That's a $2,000 subsidy per expected user. A lot more than maintaining a highway used by 80,000 people per day that's also subsidized by gas taxes. The rural roads won't be upgraded easily. No room to make them four lanes. A reluctance to repave or put in a left-turn lane or a stoplight or even a four-way stop. We're talking about roads that support maybe 200 cars per hour suddenly taking on train dropoffs that will put that many people on one road in an instant. I'm saying there's an order to improvements. A train won't have enough ridership to even come close to supporting itself through fares until it's supplementing at least a 3-lane highway. If US-23 adds a third lane, it might be 20-30 years before that congestion returns. The train won't put that current need off in the slightest - even the most optimistic (i.e. funded by the people who will profit from the project) estimates place daily ridership at 2% of the total traffic. I think they'd be lucky to get half of one percent in the end. Yes, my plan would help, because it would create a new exit for the park-and-ride. Those drivers wouldn't make it to Ann Arbor. I was being sarcastic about the "evil" automobiles. Poking a little fun at the train people.

Mumbambu, Esq.

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 1:15 p.m.

The Mayor of Ann Arbor has stated the cost of a 3rd lane on US-23 from Ann Arbor to I-96 to be about half a billion dollars. That's like two U of M stadium renovations :) Even if you don't like him, that's probably a reasonable estimate. Congestion is generally only a big issue in this areas of US-23 during peak periods. I did a little bit of research and found the Highway Capacity Manual (or HCM as these engineer type call it) states that a rural 70mph expressway has a per lane capacity of about 2,400 vehicles, though some factors may reduce that number- I'd imagine those factors to include things like all those 53 foot semi-trucks criss-crossing our county. It seems WALLY is being designed to help alleviate traffic during those peak periods. If WALLY can pull even 240 people off US-23 during the peak hour...well it seems that that could make a meaningful (I'm not saying it will fix it) improvement for the DRIVERS on US-23 in addition to all the benefits we here for the riders. And this would be at a tiny cost compared to the widening US-23 alternative. This ALSO potentially reduces the parking burden in the downtown area. Talk about expensive- PARKING SPOTS are expensive.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 11:30 a.m.

MS: like the post, but I have a few problems...mostly because I'm ignorant of the facts. First, you claim it's too expensive. I assume you mean too expensive for your estimate of ridership because an additional lane would be much more costly. So, the "too expensive claim" rests solely on your estimate of ridership. Second, you claim ridership will be lower than estimated because traffic to and from both stations would be burdensome. One can upgrade the roads in rural areas (yes, it would add to cost of project), and one can copy the "Very convenient UM park-ride system" (yes, more busses would be needed and will increase cost). Third, you claim there are no commuter lines between communities without 3-lane highways. Then, you claim the solution is to build a 3rd lane. In a few years, traffic will bottleneck again, and then the two communities would meet your standard. Why not skip the billions and go right to rail? Fourth, your plan does nothing to alleviate traffic jams at exit ramps and gridlock in AA city limits. Fifth, I disagree that cars are evil; desigining transportation systems that make inefficient use of them isn't the brightest idea. Whether that makes them evil, I'll leave to the philosophers and theologians.

Patricia Lesko

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 8:17 a.m.

The company that conducted the "study" is a small marketing firm that helps brand projects for those who want to sell them to a particular demographic. It wasn't research that was conducted; it was marketing. There are plenty of folks at universities in both Washtenaw and Livingston counties who could have conducted a bona fide study, distilled and presented the data. This "study" is a thinly veiled attempt to establish need and support for WALLY. Further down the line, then, whomever wants to can refer to the "study" done that showed overwhelming support for the project. I suppose there are those at AATA who do think there's a sucker born every minute. There must be in Ann Arbor; our taxes paid for this "study." :-)


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 6:43 a.m.

And wouldn't Ann Arbor be bringing in all of Livingston County's revenue? Thats the reason AA's supporting it. People aren't going to Ann Arbor and leaving they're wallets at home.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 5:05 a.m.

Why do I get the feeling that the majority of people in the poll are in favor of it because they want to COME TO ANN ARBOR, not the other way around (sorry, I don't know anyone complaining about the time it took to go to Brighton or Howell?) Of course, when it goes through, you know which taxpayers will ultimately get stuck with the bill...that's right, Ann Arbor tax payers. Maybe this is where our income tax is going?


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 2:46 a.m.

"I hate the rail talk, because it's just too expensive and impractical. Cars may be evil, but we're stuck with the existing community structure." Maybe you are stuck, but that doesn't mean the rest of the community has to be stuck with you. Negative attitudes have often had disastrous results borne out of the fears of mediocre minds.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 2:44 a.m.

People, check it out for yourselves: A lot of the places considered for waystations are places that already have carshare lots and bedroom communities that would benefit from the transit plans. Here is another website that explains in more detail what is proposed: I am tired of naysayers blocking progress with chicken little forecasts. Mass transit enables people to move to and from work effectively and efficiently. If you look at the past, MS, you would realize that such systems HAVE INDEED been done before in this country between communities this size. And I would like to know how you figure it was a "push-poll" sans evidence? Or is that your own jaundiced view?

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 5:07 p.m.

First off, proponents need to understand that rail is not the solution to this particular problem. There is no other rail system in the entire country anywhere near this scope connecting two communities of this size. That's because our communities aren't set up like Europe's. The Livingston County stations would be in rural areas, where the roads couldn't possibly handle the influx of traffic when the trains arrive. So those who think they would use it would quickly stop if it were successful. Ridership would probably peak and ebb at around a third of what they're claiming. Second, the savings assumptions are based on people in Livingston County giving up their cars. That's kind of silly. Even getting to the stations would require a car. And people in semi-suburban/rural areas need their cars for every trip to the grocery, even for taking their kids to a bus stop. Third, the station in Ann Arbor is nowhere near anything. The plan requires extensive and efficient busing from Plymouth Road. That will add a lot of daily time to each commute, even into downtown, let alone all the businesses on the south side. People who think "hey, commuter train, convenient..." won't feel the same way when there's an hour of bus and a bit of walking on a cold December morning added to the trip. This plan just doesn't address the needs of communities with the residential and destination/job densities of our area. There's no significant rail plan in the country that even connects two communities with less than a 3-lane highway between them. What's the answer? I'm afraid it's not politically correct. US-23 needs a third lane between 96 and 94. Hugely expensive, but it will serve hundreds of thousands of people rather than just a few hundred. It was planned and scheduled before Jenny came into office. Unfortunately, because Livingston County didn't vote for her, she found scrapping that plan a lot easier than cutting the budget elsewhere. She got 'em good. Combine that with an expansion of specific park-and-rides on the outskirts of Ann Arbor. The UM does a nice job with commuter lots near North Campus. Then they run buses into central campus. Very convenient. AATA could work with blocks of downtown businesses to do the same. There's a lot of empty space between Territorial and Plymouth, and not a single highway exit on 23. Build a dedicated commuter lot with an exit there (they do this on the ring road for DC, among other places) served by AATA, paid for in part by downtown businesses. Make it convenient and people will use it. I hate the rail talk, because it's just too expensive and impractical. Cars may be evil, but we're stuck with the existing community structure.


Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 3:56 p.m.

What's the right approach, MS?

Macabre Sunset

Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 3:22 p.m.

Geez. I thought this boondoggle plan was long dead. I wonder how the push-poll was phrased to get 80% positive response. I've read a lot about WALLY, it's just the wrong approach to the problem.