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SMART hits record ridership levels as mass transit demand grows

As gas prices hit $4 a gallon and beyond, SMART's ridership is hitting record numbers, averaging more than 44,000 passengers a day in April.

"With gas prices at an all-time high, people are choosing to park their cars in the driveway and ride the bus," says Hayes W. Jones, general manager for SMART. "We haven't seen ridership like this since the early eighties."

Actually, it's the highest ridership the authority has experienced since forming in 1967. Weekend service is at its peak and overall ridership is up more than 6.5 percent over the same time last year.

Ridership is going up so quickly, SMART is expanding service on the Woodward and Gratiot routes. Its riders are reporting that both routes are so crowded at peak times that many buses quickly become standing-room only.

Total weekly ridership, including weekends and small bus service exceeded 250,000 in April. Weekend ridership is also experiencing record numbers with a 14 percent bump on Sundays and a 10.4 percent increase on Saturdays over this time last year.

"For many families, having one car, let alone two cars is a luxury in this economy," Jones says. "The price of gas is a huge deficit for most families. We charge $1.50 a trip."

SMART is also working to make taking the bus more efficient for it riders by partnering with Google Transit to provide an easy-to-use trip planner on SMART website. The site also includes a series of “How to Ride the Bus” videos that explain how to load bikes, how to pay the fare and how to find routes.

This is all coming on the heels of serious talk of creating heavy and light rail lines in southeast Michigan. SEMCOG is aiming at establishing a commuter rail line connecting Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Metro Airport, Dearborn and Detroit in 2010. The city of Detroit and a band of private investors are also working on plans to create a light rail up Woodward Avenue in the city.

Source: SMART
Writer: Jon Zemke


Metro Detroit greenway projects to split $1 million in federal funds

More than three miles of trails in Metro Detroit will get a shot in the arm now that the Michigan Department of Transportation has awarded federal funds for non-motorized trail enhancements.

The lucky winners are Milford, Orion Township and Gibraltar, which will use the funds to either build new trails or refurbish existing ones. The idea is to help spread the economic development dollars that follow transit lines by giving extra funding to areas that provide more transportation options.

"This will help make Michigan a better place for residents, tourists and businesses alike," says Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm.

Milford will receive one of the biggest allotments of cash in order to build a 2.9 mile trail from the Milford Dam to the Huron River Parkway. It will be an important part of a larger system throughout Oakland County, connecting places such as the Island Lake State Recreation Area and downtown South Lyon.

The village is working with Milford Township, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks and the Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan. Federal funds are covering $609,355 of the $2.5 million project.

Federal funds will also cover $294,463 of a $420,661-project to refurbish and extend the Polly Ann Trail in Orion Township. Workers will resurface existing portions of the Polly Ann Trail, acquire and construct a 1,045 foot extension of it south of the existing trail and build a trail west on ITC Transmission corridor property. The work that will be done includes removing railroad ties, grading and surfacing the trail with limestone.

About $73,000 in federal funds are playing a major part in Gibrarltar building a $91,000 non-motorized path. The trail, although short, will provide a critical link for the extensive Downriver Linked Greenways Initiative. It will follow North Gibraltar Road from Middle Gibraltar Road to the Humbug Marsh International Wildlife Refuge.

The grants are part of a larger $3.3 million package of federal monies the MDOT awarded to seven greenway projects across the state. Those projects will add or improve 14.7 miles of trails in the state's trail network. Under federal law, 10 percent of federal surface transportation funds are set aside for these types of projects, such as streetscapes and non-motorized trails. They provide a maximum of 80 percent of the money required for each project. The rest comes from state or local government or the private sector.

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington moving forward with vote on downtown streetscape

Its official, the people of Farmington will get to decide whether or not they want their downtown to undergo a makeover next year.

The City Council approved language for a ballot item for the $3.2 million streetscape improvement project. The vote will be held during the primary election on Aug. 5, and if approved, the project will go forward next spring.

The proposal calls for rebuilding Grand River Avenue between Farmington Road and Warner Street. That stretch of road will receive the lion's share of upgrades, except for the boulevard set to be developed on Grove Street, between Grand River and Orchard Street.

"It will improve the flow and safety of traffic through downtown Farmington," says Vincent Pastue, Farmington's city manager. "It will also enhance the comfort and safety of pedestrians."

The project will expand the sidewalk area and add bump outs around parallel parking spaces, while installing new sidewalks, crosswalks, benches, bike racks, trash cans and decorative streetlights.

The idea is to make downtown, particularly Grand River Avenue, more efficient for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as more aesthetically pleasing. Local leaders hope this will help encourage vibrancy and increased business investment in downtown.

Source: Vincent Pastue, city manager for Farmington
Writer: Jon Zemke


Downtown Birmingham's Briggs Building nearly complete

Work is nearly done on the poster child for urban redevelopment in downtown Birmingham. The expansion of the Briggs Building is set to wrap up in 60 days and its tenants (the building is fully leased) are expected to move in by the end of summer.

The project is a standout because it makes the most of its underutilized space while preserving the historic character of the original building at Old Woodward Avenue and Maple Road. All while adding parking spots and creating mixed-use space in the heart of downtown.

"We're very happy with this project," says Ted Fuller, developer of the project.

The overall project (between old Woodward and big Woodward) will add 62,000 square feet of space and 175 parking spaces. Approximately 42,000 square feet of that will be set aside as Class A office space, 10,000 square feet will be set aside for retail and another 10,000 square feet will be set aside for luxury apartments.

The key to making this happen was adding a third story to the Briggs Building. Even though the structure was built in 1930, its footings are strong enough to support up to four total stories.

The other key aspect was turning a decades old surface parking lot into a five-story building adjacent to the Briggs Building. The parking lot stretched from Old Woodward to Peabody Street. The new building on top of it will have ground floor retail on Old Woodward, of which Universal Watch has leased space.

Office space occupied by money managers and attorneys will be on the second, third and fourth floors. Luxury apartments are set up for the fifth floor. A 175-space parking deck will go behind the building, facing Peabody. The whole project is expected to significantly increase foot traffic in the downtown area while adding 10 net parking spaces.

Source: Ted Fuller, developer of the project
Writer: Jon Zemke


Birmingham's District Lofts spurs sales with show model

It looks like a little ray of sunlight is peaking through the cloudy real-estate forecast in Birmingham's Rail District. Three new deposits have gone down for units at The Districts Lofts within two weeks of an on-site model opening.

There are 24 units in a four-story, mixed-use building that represents the first phase of the project. Those lofts are above ground floor retail space and an underground heated parking garage.

The lofts are single-story homes with at least two bedrooms, two bathrooms and 10-foot ceilings. The units range in size between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet. Prices range from the upper $400,000s to the upper $700,000s.

The development at 275 S. Eaton Street is just south of Maple Road and a few blocks east of downtown in what was once Birmingham's industrial corridor. The project is a key part of turning the area into a walkable, mixed-use residential and commercial district. In recent years the old factory buildings have been converted to lofts and businesses as the city redeveloped the area.

The District Lofts first residents are set to move in later this year when construction is wrapped up. The second of the project's two phases will feature 23 units and begin after most of the first phase has sold out.

For information, call (248) 593-6000.

Source: JC Cataldo, spokesman for The District Lofts
Writer: Jon Zemke


Jefferson Beach Marina finds new life in St. Clair Shores

The owners of the Jefferson Beach Marina not only hope to make their slips shine again they want to reclaim its status as the anchor to St. Clair Shores Nautical Mile.

A new general manager, Semo Post, has been hired to oversee the extensive renovations to the historic marina. Boasting more than 800 boat slips on 53 acres, the marina is just north of Grosse Pointe Shores.

Among the planned projects are new decks, refurbished facilities, new fuel tanks and a repaved parking lot. The owners hope it will make the marina a top destination, drawing crowds to the line of shops, restaurants and marinas between 9 and 10 mile roads.

The Jefferson Beach Marina, 24400 Jefferson Ave., originally opened as the Jefferson Beach Amusement Park in the early 20th Century. It became a marina in 1959.

Source: Jefferson Beach Marina
Writer: Jon Zemke


Birmingham to upgrade downtown parking options

It will take a little of the old and a little of the new to ease the parking crunch in downtown Birmingham.

The city is creating or refurbishing more than 1,000 parking spaces in two garages (new and old) this year. About $550,000 will go into finishing work on the Park Street Parking Structure this summer while work could begin on the new underground parking garage in Shain Park late this year.

The improvements to the Park Street structure, behind the Uptown Palladium movie theater, include concrete patching, water proofing and other repairs to the first three floors. The fourth and fifth floors of the five-story public structure were upgraded a few years ago. Work on the project is set to begin in early April and finish by July.

That's about the same time city officials will complete designs on the Shain Park garage. That project will build 210 spaces in two levels beneath an expansion of Shain Park, downtown's central square, adjacent to The Townsend Hotel. This will be the first public underground parking garage in Birmingham's downtown.

All of it necessary as city leaders push developers to build up and increase density in the suburb, especially in the downtown and Triangle districts. Both sections of town are doing away with surface parking lots in favor of high-density, mid-rise buildings.

Source: Paul O'Meara, assistant director of engineering for the city of Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke


Meetings set for development of regional transit plan

Improving regional transit, it's one of those phrases everyone likes to say but few seem to want to put the hard work into doing.

Until recently. Maybe it's those $4 a gallon gasoline projections.

Within the last few years regional leaders have worked to streamline and integrate rival transit authorities, establish commuter rail lines and propose light rail lines. But putting all of these pieces of the transit puzzle together is arguably the most important aspect of improving overall regional transit, which is exactly what Metro Detroit's Regional Transportation Coordinating Council (what's left of DARTA) is trying to do.

The council, led by transit czar John Hertel, will host regional transit planning open houses in the tri-county area in early April. Hertel's group is developing a regional transit plan for Metro Detroit as a basis for applying for federal funds (the mother's milk of mass transit initiatives) and is hosting the meetings to get public input on developing this vision.

The first meeting will be held on April 8 in downtown Detroit at the SEMCOG Conference Room in the Buhl Building, 535 Griswold. That will be followed by meetings in Oakland County (April 9) and Macomb County (April 10).

The Oakland County meeting will be held in the Oakland County Board of Commissioners Auditorium, 1200 North Telegraph Road, in Pontiac. The Macomb County meeting will be at 15 Main in Mt. Clemens.

For information, contact the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council at drmt2006@sbcglobal.net or at (313) 393-3333.

Source: Megan Owens, executive director of the Transportation Riders United and John Swatosh, deputy director of the Regional Transportation Coordinating Council
Writer: Jon Zemke


Gratiot work looks to preserve Mt Clemens bridge history

Big changes are in line for one of Mt. Clemens' biggest thoroughfares and part of those changes includes preserving one of the city's historic bridges.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is planning to rebuild four miles of Gratiot Avenue, including two bridges over the Clinton River. One of those bridges, for southbound lanes, is listed as a historic structure.

"Even though it will be a new bridge it will keep the same architectural integrity and aesthetics of the bridge it will replace," says Rob Morosi, spokesman for MDOT.

Improvements will encompass the southbound lanes between Sunnyview and Sandpiper streets, along with the northbound lanes between Sandpiper and Remick streets.

The MDOT will also hold a public forum on the proposed changes. That meeting will be held between 3:30 and 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Mt. Clemens Public Library, 150 Cass Ave.

For information on the project call (517) 373-9534.

Source: Rob Morosi, spokesman for MDOT
Writer: Jon Zemke


Ferndale's ID Woodward Lofts to rise this spring

Shovels are ready to go into the dirt and the ID Woodward is expected to rise this spring in Ferndale.

The developer, Detroit-based Sterling Group, plans to build the four-story mid-rise on the north side of the inner-ring suburb's downtown. Construction is expected to wrap later in the year.

The development, designed by Detroit-based Archive D.S., will set a new bar for innovation for Metro Detroit. The building will occupy a thin sliver of land once thought obsolete at the corner of East Woodland Street and Woodward Avenue, five blocks north of Nine Mile Road.

Thirty-five feet wide and 70 feet tall, the structure, will use every square inch of available space to fit in 18 condos, ground floor retail space and parking for the project. It will be the tallest and probably most contemporary building in the neighborhood and is designed to maximize every inch of its space contemporary.

The building will utilize Euro-style elevator parking, unique to Michigan, which will lift and store the vehicles so residents can press a button to get their car.

The condos are designed as traditional urban lofts, ranging in size from 500 to 1,100 square feet. They come with spacious floor plans, spiral staircases, balconies, floor-to-ceiling windows, 17-foot-tall ceilings and parking. The lofts are priced between $130,000 and $275,000 for a dual-floor penthouse, although most of the units can be bought for $150,000.

For information, visit the Sterling Group's Loft Shop sales center at 23365 Woodward or call (248) 417-2882.

Source: Frank Guirlinger, director of development services at Sterling Group
Writer: Jon Zemke


Ann Arbor's East Stadium bridge gets new design

One of Ann Arbor's odder intersections is on its way to becoming a little more normal, or at least a little newer. City officials are working on plans to replace the East Stadium Boulevard Bridge over State Street within the next couple of years.

Excerpt:

City officials are working on preliminary designs to replace the 80-plus-year-old bridge for East Stadium that goes over State. The city recently lowered the weight limits for traffic that crosses it to ensure motorist safety.

In the mean time bureaucrats are working on a plan that would not only replace the bridge (cost to do so about $10 million) but much of the infrastructure, such as sewer and storm water drains, for a grand total of $30 to $35 million. However, city officials are going after state and federal grants to pay for it, so the project is still a few years in the future.

Read the entire article here.


Birmingham’s Shain Park undergoes final designs, to begin this fall

It’s been a long road for the rebuilding of downtown Birmingham’s Shain Park, but local leaders hope to see the light at the end of the tunnel later this year.

Ann Arbor-based Walker Parking Consultants are working on final plans for the 210-space parking garage, which will be constructed beneath the park. Those plans are expected to be finished by this summer and the project to go out to bid this fall. Construction could start as early as 30 to 60 days after a project bid is accepted, a city official says.

The $11 million project calls for an expansion of the park south onto a surface parking lot across Henrietta Street from The Townsend Hotel. Of that, about $7.5 million will be spent to build two levels of underground parking on the site and then expand the park's green space over it. The new underground parking garage will increase the total number of parking spaces on that space from 150 to about 210.

The plans also call for another $3.5 million investment to improve the park's infrastructure, such as aesthetically pleasing walkways and a band shell on the expanded portion. City officials hope to work it in with nearby sewer and street work. The construction will likely tie up the park for one to two years.

Source: Dennis Dembiec, director of engineering and public service for Birmingham
Writer: Jon Zemke


Ypsi's 5-year downtown plan calls for marketing, business building

Most strategic plans for downtowns include some sort of major infrastructure project, such as streetscape improvements, restoring historic buildings and improving the pedestrian environment.

Downtown Ypsilanit's new five-year strategic plan doesn't really touch on those subjects, saying the city center has already accomplished most of those basic goals. Instead the plan, prepared by city officials and downtown revitalization consultants HyettPalma, calls for marketing the downtown better, letting locals define it first, facilitating more cooperation between institutions and developing a better business environment.

"Our goal will be to make Downtown Ypsilanti a well known regional destination for
entertainment, the arts and food, with the grittiness, edge and realness that is Ypsilanti," says Brian Vosburg, director of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority.

The plan also suggests creating more residences downtown, creating better synergies with mass transit and connecting the city center to other major areas, such as Eastern Michigan University's campus and Depot Town.

For information, contact Vosburg at brian@ypsilantidda.org or at (734) 482-1410.

Source: Brian Vosburg, director of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke


Trail grants to make walking in SE Michigan easier

Getting around in something other than a car is about to get a little easier in Metro Detroit.

The Michigan Department of Transportation gave more than $2 million in grants to communities in southeast Michigan to help improve trails and pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists.
The money is part of $5.7 million in MDOT and federal grants that were awarded toward projects dedicated for non-motorized traffic, such as trails, streetscape improvements and bike lanes.

"These investments will enhance recreation and transportation opportunities in Michigan communities and downtowns - helping make our state a great place to live and work for all of us," says Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm.

Detroit's downtown area is the big winner, taking in funds that will pay for $3.4 million in projects in Midtown and along the Riverfront. The funds will help pay for the first phase of the Midtown Loop along Kirby and John R streets. The two-mile urban greenway will connect several major institutions, such as Wayne State University , the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Medical Center.

The Loop will go a long way toward connecting the New Center neighborhood with the Detroit River and everything in between. The $2.3 million project will build the pathway and barriers separating vehicular traffic and the path. There will also be benches, bike racks, bike storage lockers, pedestrian lighting, landscaping, and trash receptacles.

The rest of the money will go toward the $1.1 million project to build a public dock and terminal at the Detroit Wayne County Port Authority space on the Detroit River near the Renaissance Center. The facility will serve as the port of entry and welcome center for the passengers from cruise ships and other vessels, such as naval frigates, historic tall ships, racing yachts and dinner cruises.

Among the other developments is a $322,000 streetscape improvement projects in St. Clair Shores along Harper Avenue between 8 and 14 mile roads. The money will pay for installing new benches, decorative paved crosswalks, trees and two gateways into the city.

The idea behind all of the projects is to encourage more people to walk or ride a bicycle, thus increasing foot traffic in their respective areas.

"These projects will improve trails, put bike racks on city buses and beautify local communities," says Kirk T. Steudle, director of state transportation. "Transportation enhancement grants help fund projects that improve the quality of life in Michigan and make our state a more attractive place to live and do business."

Source: Michigan Department of Transportation
Writer: Jon Zemke


Farmington to release downtown parking study

It's been a long time coming but Farmington officials expect to present the findings of a long term downtown parking study as soon as the end of the month.

"There's a light at the end of the tunnel," says Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority. "At this point we're really close. It won't be long until we get this all wrapped up."

The study will address the status of parking in the downtown area, its immediate needs and long-term requirements. It will also detail ways to improve and expand parking options to help grow local businesses and make them more accessible to local residents.

The consultants have finished the study and city officials are currently assessing the recommendations. They expect to review and revise for the rest of the month before presenting the results to the public either at the end of this month or in early April.

This study is part of Farmington's wider effort to make downtown more pedestrian friendly. Last summer Dan Burden, the executive director of Walkable Communities Inc., took a tour of Farmington, suggesting local officials make downtown more pedestrian friendly by expanding the sidewalks and shrinking the roads. This would give more room to walkers and at the same time slow down traffic, making everyone feel safer.

The DDA is heading up an streetscape improvement initiative that would, among many other things, make sidewalks wider and install crosswalks to make downtown more accommodating to non-motorized traffic.

Burden also suggested incorporating traffic circles into downtown's street grid, specifically the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Grove Street, along with the intersection of Farmington Road, Orchard and Alta streets. The circles would slow down vehicles, calming traffic for pedestrians while also cutting down significantly on the stop-and-go traffic created by stop lights. Think Washington, D.C.'s, Dupont Circle or Detroit's Campus Martius on smaller scales. However, traffic circles are not part of the proposed streetscape improvements.

Source: Annette Knowles, executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

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