Is compromise on the location of the Ypsilanti train platform possible?

A few days ago, I posted something here on the site about the local debate over where to construct the Ypsilanti train platform. And, I did a poor job of relaying my main point, which was that we can’t afford to let petty squabbling derail this project. I know it’s unlikely, as it’s already been announced that there would be an Ypsilanti stop on the proposed Ann Arbor – Detroit commuter line, but I have this fear that the folks from SEMCOG, who are putting this whole thing together, are going to come to town on the 18th, hear us fighting like lunatics over which side the tracks that the platform should be put on, and then just decide not to have an Ypsi stop at all. The truly important thing, from my perspective, is that we get a stop. I don’t want to overstate it, but I really do think that getting a stop on this line could be the difference between life and death for this little City that we all so love.

So, that was my main point. Unfortunately, I’m afraid, it kind of got overshadowed by my second point, which was –- let’s just agree to put the platform on the east side of the tracks, at least for now, and, then, in three years, when the trial period is over, fight over where the permanent location should be. I argued that made sense because it would require minimal effort/expense, and because there’s a large unused parking lot right there, at the end of Maple Ave., that would be ideal for commuters.

In a perfect word, I said, I’d like for the stop to be west of the tracks, in front of our historic Freighthouse building, but, to me, it just looked like there were too many complications – not the least of which involved laying new tracks and building pedestrian crossing areas. [If this is at all confusing, follow that first link and it will take you back to the last post, which includes more background, as well as an aerial image of the area in question.]

I realize now that my big mistake – even bigger than publicly suggesting that the east side was the better choice – is that I framed the whole discussion in a way that didn’t allow any room for compromise. I essentially put forward a false dichotomy, making it sound as though we had no choice but to choose between these two options… Fortunately, a few folks stepped forward to politely call me an asshole.

There were a lot of great comments, but I think this one, from City Council member Pete Murdock, moved things the farthest in a positive direction:

Here is where I am coming from and have been working very hard to make happen. A few weeks ago we found out that the stimulus money would have some funds in the Historic Preservation category of the Transportation Enhancement part of the Highway Funds. We found out that the Freight House was an eligible project and we rushed to get it on the possible project list, which we did. We are applying for 100% grant, no match, of 400-500K to cover the structural portion of the Conditional Use Assessment of the Freight House – mostly the roof and walls and foundations. This would eliminate most of the roadblocks to opening the building. I know of no other source of funds that could be tapped to get this done so quickly nor do I know of another eligible project we could use this grant for. The freight house project is rated favorably by the powers that be in Lansing and the idea the freight house would act as the depot makes our grant even more attractive than it would be otherwise.

We also solicited some cost estimates for a pedestrian crossing from the Maple St Lot as Brian outlined in his (comment). The pedestrian crossing, IMHO, should have been included in the original parking lot plans to tie that lot to Depot Town more directly. We are trying to get some of the additional Rail Corridor Stimulus funds that you posted about and that addition money that Galan mentions in his/her post for the crossing or possibly a regular Transportation Enhancement grant later in the year – which would need some match or possibly DTDDA money as Brian suggested.

As to the track reconfiguration, the representative from SEMCOG, told us they had a verbal “no big deal” and “minor costs” from Norfolk Southern and were awaiting a specific proposal and costs in writing from them. It was my impression that the track costs would be picked up by SEMCOG.

In the scheme of things, the parking issue is a minor one – basically making the near parking short term and the Maple St Lot and far end of the Frog Island long term. As OEC (mentioned), the Frog Island lot at the backend, by the recycling center, is empty much of the day.

Mark, that’s my plan, with the information I have now, and I invite you and others to join us in making it happen. If the train is a flop in three years, which I doubt, we will have a restored and open freight house and a pedestrian crossing across the railroad tracks. That’s a win for the community.

The way Im looking at it now, if we could come up with a way for the merchants of Depot Town to feel confident that commuters wouldn’t be taking the parking spaces close to their stores, I think we might be able to broker some kind of deal. It would, however, require 1) that we find the money to build a pedestrian crossing connecting the lot to the east with the platform on the west, and 2) that our City officials make a sincere and believable pledge to see parking codes enforced going forward. This, as I see it, would also mean changing a majority of parking spaces west of the tracks to 2 or 3-hour parking, and making sure that vehicles are ticketed and towed after exceeding that amount of time. And, of course, we’d need better signage pointing commuters to the longer term lot east of Depot Town… And, all of this would be contingent upon getting someone else to pay to move the tracks to the west, so that they ran closer to the Freighthouse.

There are a lot of “ifs” there, I know, but if there’s money and the political will to see it happen, I don’t see why we couldn’t make something work. Hopefully Pete and the powers that be come to the meeting on the 18th with a comprehensive plan that everyone can live with.

[This post was brought to you by the brilliant Ricky Gervais.]

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  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Mark. Folks who want in on either side should be willing to compromise and meet in the middle.

  2. galan
    Posted March 13, 2009 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Hopefully we can all get over ourselves about this, be grateful for the opportunity the light rail presents and figure out the best way to handle the particulars…..together. It seems like a good idea for interested parties to go to the locations in question and take a good first hand look while thinking of ourselves as a light rail user. Where would we want the train to stop? Would people have to, or want to cross over the tracks? Would passengers want coffee and maybe breakfast before leaving on the train? Dinner after? What shopping should be around there? What about visitors who get off the train? How can folks get to and/or from the train and to other parts of our city if they don’t drive a car and park it? Maybe people walk or bike or get there on a bus, or cab, or trolley? Where could there be bike racks, cab and trolley stops? Do we want “citi-cars”? There is a lot to consider if we are really serious about finding the most practical solutions. We would also want to think about what would be the best option to help develop the depot area and welcome people to the rest of the city without having the tracks be a barrier. If we just have a train stop and don’t take advantage of the opportunity to use it to help develop the rest of the city we would be missing a great possibility.

  3. DanIzzo
    Posted March 14, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    I don’t care where they put the stop, as long as we get one. I can only imagine it will dramatically help everyone’s property values and our collective standard of living.

  4. Posted March 15, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Reality needs to trump Passion and Hope

    Pete’s proposed compromise makes sense but only if Mark’s concerns are addressed. We must secure written commitments, not possibilities; otherwise Depot Town merchants and the City will quickly learn that ‘In the scheme of things, the parking issue is a minor one’ is a dangerous assumption because it is not based on business facts. If the guarantees are secured then the compromised proposal would be the best option.

    If the proponents of the Westside platform can not secure all of the guarantees and money commitments, then we need and should make the safe bet of recommending, for the time being, that the train stops on the eastside. Depot Town and the City can not afford another ‘all in bet’ without the facts, guarantees, and professional input.

    Bill French

  5. Tim
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I understand that the planning commission will be making its decision on the location of the platform this evening. The Planning staff recommends the West side, which seems like a good plan to me:

  6. Elijah McCoy
    Posted April 15, 2009 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Its offical, west is best. Now it goes on to council.

One Trackback

  1. By Wednesday’s meeting on the Ypsi rail stop on March 18, 2009 at 7:33 am

    […] in hopes keeping the project on track, I suggested a compromise wherein the platform would be located at the Freighthouse, contingent upon City officials doing the […]

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