Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 18, 2021

It's #a2Council night in Ann Arbor. Here's the meeting agenda and here's the A2AF episode about the agenda

The evening kicks off with a short, six-item, consent agenda. Of note, there are two street closings. CA-3 is for the Shamrocks and Shenanigans 5k on March 13. CA-4 is for the Big House 5k on April 10. CA-6 is approval of hiring the new DDA executive director.

There are three public hearings on the agenda tonight. PH-1/B-1 is on a routine township annexation. PH-2/B-2 is the second reading of the updates to the disorderly conduct ordinance. I think there is an important missed opportunity here to engage in harm reduction here with regards to decriminalizing consensual sex work. PH-3/DB-1 is on township island annexation for the Villages of Ann Arbor site plan in Ward 1. 

Further down the agenda we have DC-1, a resolution condemning antisemitism. DC-2 is a resolution to "Begin Discussions with University of Michigan (U-M) for 2,000 Units of Workforce Housing on U-M’s North Campus and Agreement on Additional Student and Employee Residential Units Commensurable with U-M’s Growth." My two cents on this one: there is a housing crisis in Ann Arbor. That said, it is not UM's mission to house its workforce. There is one group in particular that is in the best position to address Ann Arbor's housing crisis: the city council. This resolution is a waste of time and an example of passing the buck. 

[Aside: legistar has stopped working for me at the moment so my description of subsequent resolutions will be short.]

DC-3 is a resolution to improve winter sidewalk accessibility and safety. This is good. I'd love to see Ann Arbor move towards municipal sidewalk snow removal. DC-4 is a resolution on the need for upgrades to DTE's streetlights in Ann Arbor. DC-5 is on how to prioritize  repairing the city's streetlight system. DC-6 is a resolution requesting a feasibility study for the creation of a municipal electric utility as well as a local sustainable electric utility.  It's exciting to see this moving forward. 

And that's it. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Opinion: Why I don't Support the Treeline Trail Plan

I need to start by saying, I love bike trails. About a decade ago, I took up with some people who were doing a weekly casual bike ride they called “Bicycle Beer Time”: ride the Border-to-Border trail from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, have a beer and some snacks at Corner Brewery, then ride back home. Before that, I was not much of a bike person, but the ride sounded fun, the people seemed cool, and - critically - the route was easy, safe, and comfortable.

It turned out to be a gateway to much bigger things. It was with this same group of people that I rode on my first multi-day bike tour, a week long ride from Ann Arbor to Traverse City. (We’ve done similar adventures almost every year since then, all over the US and even in Europe). I became a dedicated bike commuter. It’s through bikes that I met and continue to meet some of my favorite people in the world.

So, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the B2B trail changed my life.

The author on the B2B trail, port-ing a pie to a pedal-powered picnic. (Photo credit: Bike-In)

Knowing that, you’d probably think I’d be in favor of more bike trails - and generally speaking, I am. Indeed, when I first started hearing about the “Allen Creek Greenway” project that has since become The Treeline, I thought it sounded great, though I didn’t really dig very far into the details. This all changed when, in mid-2017, the city released its Framework Plan (which was then revised into the Treeline Master Plan and formally adopted by City Council later that year). As I read further and further into this document, my feelings shifted from excitement to incredulity and even a bit of anger: the price tag and proposed design seemed… preposterous; the plan was completely out-of-scale with what would make sense for Ann Arbor.

Even so, for a long time I’ve hesitated to speak out publicly against The Treeline, because as an advocate for safe bike infrastructure, I’ve become conditioned to take whatever I can get. Opposing a project simply because it’s an expensive and suboptimal design is a hard stance to take when the alternative may well be a big pile of nothing. However, it’s become increasingly clear that The Treeline is worse than that; it threatens some of the most critical work our community is undertaking to address the crises of our time - housing affordability, climate change, and - counterintuitively - bike and pedestrian safety. My concerns fall into four key areas:

  • It began as, and continues to be, a means to reject development of badly-needed housing
  • Its design represents an outmoded, car-centric way of thinking
  • The cost - and opportunity cost - is massive
  • It does not address non-motorized mobility in underserved areas of our community

Before I go any further, I should point out that these criticisms apply to the current advocacy efforts around The Treeline (e.g. from the Treeline Conservancy, the private nonprofit set up to pursue implementation of the trail), and to the Treeline Master Plan. There is certainly some value, however, in the core idea of a north-south "urban trail" through Ann Arbor. I believe that by eliminating expensive elevated structures and re-envisioning The Treeline as a ground-level and substantially on-street corridor, it can be salvaged into a much simpler, less expensive, and ultimately more useful amenity.

The Treeline vs Affordable Housing

Monday, January 3, 2022

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: January 3, 2022

Holy cow, it's 2022. Tonight is the first #a2Council meeting of the new year and the first in person council meeting in a while. Here's the agenda, and here's the A2AF episode about the meeting. 

Even before we get to the consent agenda, there are two important reports coming to council tonight. AC-1 is Resolution Directing the City Administrator to Develop an Unarmed Public Safety Response Program. Molly covers this well in the A2AF episode, you should listen to it. AC-2 is a report on pedestrian safety improvements around schools. Again, you should check out Molly's thoughts on this. 

Moving on to the sparse consent agenda. There are only three items. The first two items are for dental and health insurance. 

There are three public hearings on the agenda tonight. PH-1/B-1 is on changes to the storm water management and soil erosion ordinance. One change this would make is that by-right projects that pass Planning Commission would no longer come to council for votes. This is a good change because 1) having to go to more meetings for approval increases the cost of projects, and thus the cost of new housing. And 2) it gives the false idea that council has some say in these projects (see for example, the todo about the recent Earhart Road Development). PH-2/B-2 is on the new purchasing, contracting, and selling rules. PH-3 is on the consideration of developing an industrial district on Research Park Drive on land owned by Sartorius IDD. 

C-1 is on the first reading of an ordinance updating city laws on disorderly conduct including sex work. It is good that Ann Arbor is adding gender neutral language to our ordinances, but a missed opportunity to decriminalize things. Specifically, there is a missed opportunity to make prostitution a civil infraction rather than a misdemeanor. Crowd surfing and aiding and abetting crowd surfing probably don't need to be misdemeanors either. One positive change to the ordinances it is no longer a crime to transport someone to do sex work. 

DC-1 is resolution that asks DTE to be better about fixing streetlights near crosswalks.  DTE owns about 2/3 of Ann Arbor's streetlights but I don't know how much power council has to compel action from DTE.

And that's it. A pretty sparse agenda. What items are you most looking forward to seeing? Hopefully we will see you there. The CTN stream starts at 7 pm. Make sure you follow the action on the #a2Council hashtag.