Changing how we get around

Some good news from the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority:  gas prices appear to be motivating more commuters to take the bus. The Chronicle reports:

(R)idership has increased in the last month slightly compared to last year, and cost per service hour is better than what has been budgeted…

The Chronicle’s story includes a cool map comparing Washtenaw County’s transit-oriented planning scenario with the sprawl scenario.

AATA’s go!pass has also seen an uptick in use:

In March 2011, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (TheRide) reports that 62,019 rides were taken using the go!pass. This ridership is a 26 percent increase over March 2010 and sets a monthly record for go!pass use. This increase is also significantly higher than the increase in overall bus ridership that the TheRide is currently experiencing.

According to data collected from the new swipeable go!passes, the increase in go!pass ridership is due in part to more people using go!passes as well as a higher average ridership per pass. In March 2011, a total of 2,515 people used a go!pass. All of these numbers reflect increases over previous months where swipe data is available. A total of 493 downtown organizations offer go!passes to their employees, which is also the highest number of organizations since the go!pass program began in 2000.

I can personally attest that the #4 bus has been plenty packed the last few times I’ve rode it home.  Luckily I pick it up toward the beginning of its eastbound trip, so I’m able to snag a seat rather than having to stand.  As soon as we have a day that’s not A) rainy or B) freezing, I hope to be able to switch back over to biking to and from work.  Last Saturday was especially beautiful, so instead of navigating the hellish congestion of Arborland Mall by car, I biked over to Hiller’s to pick up some sundries.

It will also be interesting to see if the rising price of gas starts to impact home prices in our area.  Consider an observation that real estate expert (and member of the UM faculty) Christopher Leinberger has repeatedly made about the national housing market:

The mortgage collapse took place on the auto-dominated suburban fringe while walkable urban housing, whether in the city or the suburbs, pretty much held its value.

I imagine it will take several months to really manifest itself, but I would not be surprised to see housing start to appreciate in a few key areas:  near the university and other major employers (most notably St. Joseph Mercy) and along the core bus routes.

Over in Detroit, of course, pockets of growth have already emerged in Midtown, New Center, and other neighborhoods closer to downtown.  These happen to be areas that host or adjoin large centers of employment, including the Federal Building, GM headquarters, Cadillac Place, and lots of hospitals.  For the small numbers of employees who are new or weighing a move, will higher gas prices nudge the cost-benefit ratio for a few more of them, to rent or buy closer to work instead of commuting in from the suburbs?   Will they make it more attractive to price-sensitive students at Wayne State, CCS or UDM to move to these areas to be closer to campus?  The short-term effects, if any, will be small.  But I can see them reinforcing other factors that are helping stabilize this particular cluster of neighborhoods, in a way you don’t see in parts of town with fewer employers.

In Oakland and Macomb Counties, I think this could help stabilize the population loss in the inner ring suburbs.  Bus service tends to be strongest on the mile roads and along major north-south arteries (Woodward, Gratiot, Schoenherr, etc.)  Again, in the short term the effect will be small, but bus access will start to slowly become a consideration for home buyers in a way it wasn’t before.

I expect to be posting a bit less frequently in the next week or two as I try to stay on top of my life outside of cyberspace, so to tide you over here are a few older posts that I think are worth revisiting:

Check them out.
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