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Monday, May 09, 2005

The Greenway

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours on a walking tour hosted by the folks pushing for an Ann Arbor Greenway. I've been generally supportive of the effort to build a continuous park and path alongside the Ann Arbor Railroad right-of-way which runs north-south through town, passing about three blocks west of the heart of downtown. We looked at several of the city-owned lots which would become a part of the greenway--a parking lot and two maintenance yards for city vehicles, which are already scheduled to be abandoned for that use in a year or two.

Mayor John Hieftje, who as far as I can tell is sort of a fence-sitter on this subject, joined the group for the walk. The Mayor is a very friendly, soft-spoken guy who seems to really enjoy being mayor, and who knows a lot about the city. His comments on the greenway and the properties being considered were interesting, but I was particularly interested in several comments of a more general nature that he made. I wasn't taking notes, so these quotes aren't exactly verbatim, but I think I remember the gist of them well enough to quote him:
  • On the state of funding in coming years: "There will be very little state or federal money available for a long time, probably twenty years." He suggested to one of the greenway proponents that they get a particular grant application in to the feds "before Bush figures out those grants are there."
  • On making Ann Arbor a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly city: "If we could get the level of biking and walking that they've got in Boulder and Madison, we could save having to build three or four parking structures."
  • When someone on the tour suggested that the greenway might become a magnet for homeless people, the mayor said "We don't want to kick anyone out of the parks." He tempered that a bit by stating that the city will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol in parks, but it was good to hear him speak of homelessness as a problem to be solved, not to be gotten rid of.
  • He suggested to the greenway organizers that they be more flexible about the uses of the city properties, since they are currently asking that all three properties become strictly park land. Since two of the properties have buildings which may be usable and desirable, demolishing them for more parks in a city which already has many might not be the best answer. He mentioned that the Kiwanis Club was interested in one of the buildings on one of the maintenance lots. The Kiwanis holds a big second-hand sale every Saturday morning which raises thousands of dollars for local charities. This particular building would double their floor space, and greatly increase how much stuff they could sell. (I've had them turn away my donations a couple of times because they don't have enough space.)
  • The mayor is also a big proponent of rail, suggesting that a tighter energy future will bring railroads back into demand. The greenway proposal doesn't really call for tearing up the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks, but it seems to be looking towards a future where they might be gone. The mayor suggested, instead, that the tracks could well serve as a commuter line for the thousands of people in the Whitmore Lake and Brighton areas who come into Ann Arbor every day. He mentioned how stupid it was for a billion dollars to be spent adding on to Detroit Metropolitan Airport without incorporating any rail lines to get people to and from the airport.
I hear complaints about Mayor Hieftje from time to time, but he seems to have his heart mostly in the right place and to be quite competent at his job. I see him around town frequently, at the grocery store, the gym, or just on the street.

Just so you know I don't hate EVERY politician!