Blog: Michael Benham

Lots of hands have been raised in the talks about where our feet will go around the Washtenaw County of the future. After 50 town hall meetings, the Transit Master Plan is coming soon. Michael Benham, AATA's special assistant for strategic planning, talks about public input on the plan and the shape of transportation to come.

Post 3: What can the Transit Master Plan do for you?

In my first blog, I described some of the many conversations we had with people from all over Washtenaw County.  I heard hundreds of great ideas, stories of need, stories about transit in other cities and other countries.  In the blog that followed – my second – I provided a preview of the Washtenaw County Transit Master Plan, with its many proposals for service throughout the county.

Here, I'd like to review a few of the expected impacts if the plan were to become reality.  In particular, I'd like to highlight how transit benefits even people who do not use the system.

For starters, we believe the Plan can achieve a doubling of transit ridership in the urbanized areas of the region.  And in the rural areas of the county, it is forecast that transit ridership would increase 15-fold.  These new transit users gain more productive use of their time, as they can text, read, sleep, work on their computer, etc., none of which you can (or at least should) do in your car.

We have estimated that the Plan will take 5.4 million vehicle trips off of area roadways. This reduces congestion for those who continue to drive, and reduces wear on roadways, extending the life of the roadway and reducing maintenance costs. 

That reduction in auto trips in turn causes a reduction in automotive emissions such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and volatile organic compounds. The estimated 700 tons per year of reduction of these pollutants contributes to a decrease in illnesses such as asthma, and also helps reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate changes.

Reduced auto traffic means fewer vehicle crashes, which in turn means fewer deaths and injuries, and less expense associated with emergency response efforts.

Speaking of health benefits, the increased use of transit promotes health in another way, by encouraging walking and biking as part of daily travel.  Our work estimates that about $4.4 million in health benefits are generated annually as a result.

We have estimated that implementing the plan will stimulate employment, producing at least 1,800 new jobs. This estimate was challenged recently by the CEO of a large local firm, who told us "If improved transit brings just one good-sized company to the county, you can double or triple the number of jobs you have estimated".

An important category of benefits is those related to land use and development impacts.  Transit services, especially rail transit, can be used to focus new development in existing population and employment centers, creating compact nodes of development that are easy to serve by transit.  This same compact development is also easier to serve by water, sewer, roads, electricity and so forth, reducing the costs to provide ALL of the urban infrastructure.  This benefit is very hard to quantify, but is evident in many communities around the country with mature transit systems.

The rail proposals in the plan are believed likely to generate significant increased in property values, especially in the immediate vicinity of stations.  This benefit is especially welcome during these times of falling home values, and accrue to property owners in the county whether they ride transit or not.

These are just a few of the benefits of the Washtenaw County Transit Master Plan.  Please keep these in mind when you talk to friends and neighbors about the Plan.  EVERYBODY benefits, so everybody has a reason to support the Plan.  Please come to a public meeting and have your say!

The Ride has scheduled another round of public meetings to solicit public input on the plan. Find the complete schedule here.