of Michigan Facilities and Operations

Hot Topics

Transportation Technology Forum

In the State of the University address in October 2009, University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman announced that the university would hold a transportation technology forum to address the need for improved mobility between the Ann Arbor campuses. In early March 2010, the university brought together select vendors of high-capacity transportation systems, representatives from institutions where such systems are operational now, representatives from state and local governments and local transportation authorities, and university faculty and staff to explore options for future transportation linkages.

After the purchase of the former Pfizer complex (now the North Campus Research Complex), the forum represents the university's first step in meeting the challenge to develop a strategic plan for its 21st century transportation needs. In conjunction with local governments, the university will explore solutions that provide linkages between the campuses in the most efficient and sustainable ways.


The University of Michigan (U-M) Ann Arbor campus has some 3,100 acres of land and just over 30 million square feet of facility space. The total campus population on a typical week day during the school term is approximately 80,000 people: 25,000 undergraduate students, 15,000 graduate students, and 38,000 faculty and staff. The university's faculty and staff support academic, research, and student life, as well as clinical activity and patients associated with the U-M Health System (UMHS). The U-M campuses are generally integrated with the surrounding areas and primarily depend on the city's street system. There are other higher education facilities within and near the city of Ann Arbor, as well. There are five U-M campuses in the Ann Arbor area, which are generally linked through the city:

  • Central Campus (approximately 300 acres): the core of the university located near downtown Ann Arbor, in an urban setting;
  • Medical Center Campus (approximately 100 acres): a dense activity area that includes education, research and clinical functions with approximately 6.0 million square feet and serves 1.7 million patients annually; located just northeast of the Central Campus;
  • North Campus (approximately 1,000 acres): a primarily suburban campus located between Fuller Road and Plymouth Road, which attracts 14,000 users per day and includes a resident population of 4,000;
  • South Campus (approximately 400 acres): primarily practice facilities and sport stadiums, including a large number of special events; and
  • East Medical Campus (approximately 200 acres): located east of US-23 on Plymouth Road in Ann Arbor Township, which currently has a relatively small amount of medical facilities; however, there is a large area of undeveloped land.

Over the past twenty years, the U-M Ann Arbor campus has experienced steady and rapid growth phases, particularly in its research enterprise. The Central Campus has always been integrated with Ann Arbor, and in the 1950s, the university purchased farm land that became the North Campus. What was acquired in the 1950s as vacant farmland became five million square feet of university space that today accommodates the College of Engineering, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the School of Art and Design, the School of Music, Theatre and Dance and the School of Information. A large residential population has also evolved on North Campus, with residence halls for 2,300 students and 1,625 family housing units. Beginning in the 1960s, some North Campus property was sold to various private companies and eventually 175 acres were acquired for a large expansion of Pfizer Corporation's Ann Arbor R&D facility. By 2007, Pfizer held two million square feet of facility space on this land, and announced they were leaving Ann Arbor. After a couple of years of the property being listed in hope of finding a private company to invest in the facility and our community, it became apparent this was not going to happen, given economic conditions. On June 18, 2009, the university acquired the Pfizer complex, now called the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), returning much of the land to the original North Campus. The university has also announced a ten-year plan to grow its research enterprise eventually utilizing all two million square feet of NCRC space.

In August 2009, the university announced achievement of a $1 billion research enterprise. In addition to all the wonderful challenges of a growing and thriving university, U-M's transportation system, a bus system free to all riders, now transports nearly six million riders per year. This is comparable to the size of Toledo's bus system and also equals the ridership of the regional transportation service provider, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA). Over three million riders annually are transported between the central, medical and north campuses. The university has continued to grow an efficient and effective bus system, but aspires to explore how transportation technologies can provide faster, more effective transportation between the campuses. Equally important is the vision of a system that is compatible with joint interests of the city, state and local planning groups that share our interest in sustainable transportation from a regional perspective. The university is interested in providing the foundation for a serious exploration of transportation alternatives, and as such has identified several key next steps.

In March 2010, we will hold a transportation technology forum on campus, inviting leading vendors who operate or are constructing alternative transportation systems to join local parties we routinely engage in regional transportation (city, MDOT, AATA, etc.). We will structure a forum for companies, community and agency representatives to create potential visions of how we might create a long-term opportunity for development of better transportation connection between the central, medical and north campuses. We have identified a number of companies that have installed or are currently constructing transportation systems throughout the world. Our intention is to engage them in joint exploration of the technological possibilities, grounded in reality of capacity and volume considerations, routing and land requirements necessary for such a system, and first order cost estimates to construct and operate and overall financial feasibility. The system could be rail, monorail, dedicated road, smart road system, or other technology, depending upon what is appropriate to meet our needs currently and into the future.

Concurrently, the College of Engineering created a fall 2009 course also focused on exploring alternative transportation technology options. Specifically, its Industrial Operations Course 424 was designed to:

  • develop a vision for an improved transportation system at U-M considering all campuses, including the expansion to the North Campus Research Complex, and linkages with regional transportation systems (existing and planned);
  • assess the performance of the current (baseline) parking and bus transportation system;
  • compare the baseline with alternative transportation approaches (e.g., monorail, light rail, subway, etc.) and select one approach for further study and development;
  • focus on the selected approach, and develop a conceptual "transportation vision" for an improved transportation system for U-M;
  • provide a thorough feasibility analysis of the proposed system including throughout, infrastructure cost, operations cost, system operations plan and pricing, system maintenance, environmental and community impact, safety, linkage with regional transportation systems; and
  • propose a plan for implementing the vision. The class recently completed this assignment and the recommendations will be shared at the public forum session. We also anticipate academic input from the Ross School of Business, the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Ann Arbor Transportation Characteristics Summary

The city of Ann Arbor provides a high quality of life for its 114,000 residents. The downtown area has over 11,000 employees. The proximity of the University of Michigan contributes to a strong and stable downtown. There are a number of activity centers throughout the city, and downtown Ann Arbor is a vibrant commercial area that blends commercial, residential and office buildings. There are approximately 6,600 parking spaces in downtown Ann Arbor and over 23,000 parking spaces at U-M.

Ann Arbor is surrounded by a ring of freeways, including I-94 to the south which provides access to Detroit Metropolitan Airport (approximately 25 miles to the east). The city has a somewhat non-standard roadway network due to the various physical constraints that cause many of the major roads to be non-linear and adds to the complexity of navigating the street system. Ann Arbor has instituted a policy that limits roadway capacity expansion since little or no additional right-of-way is available. The city has approved a comprehensive non-motorized plan that emphasizes non-motorized needs in critical corridors. In general, non-motorized activity is high in Ann Arbor primarily as a result of the relatively high number of students who do not own a car and the growing number of high-quality non-motorized facilities that are available.

The Ann Arbor Transit Authority (AATA) and U-M Parking and Transportation Services (UMPTS) together operate almost 100 buses during peak travel periods providing a high level of transit service for students, employees and residents. In 2007, AATA and UMPTS carried over 40,000 bus passengers on a typical weekday. In the past five years, the number of bus riders in Ann Arbor has increased by over 35 percent. One of the most critical transit links is between North Campus and Central Campus, which carries approximately 15,000 riders per day. These riders are primarily students that live at one location and are taking classes at the other campus.

The U-M and AATA continue to develop and deploy innovative and effective programs to address the shortage of parking on the U-M campuses, which include a number of services including ride-matching, vanpools, carpools, Zipcar car-sharing, express bus services, park-and-ride lots and transit centers. The ratio of employees to parking spaces is approximately 2.0 for the entire U-M system and is approximately 2.3 for the UMHS. U-M has a 4-tier parking system, which includes parking options adjacent to facilities as well as remote parking options that include a free shuttle or bus ride. Many students and employees use multiple modes to travel to and from campus, including non-motorized, transit, ride-sharing, and single-occupancy vehicles.

Of all employee trips to the Medical Center Campus (approximately 19,200 per day), 52 percent drive alone, approximately 11 percent use AATA bus service, 13 percent use UMHS shuttles, 10 percent use U-M bus service, 7 percent use carpools or vanpools, 4 percent are dropped-off and 3 percent either walk or bike.

The UMHS has established a goal of reducing the number of people driving alone to 40 percent by the year 2030. Reaching this goal will require expansion of commuter choice programs and a high capacity transit connection between the North Campus and Medical Center Campus implemented as part of a regional high capacity transit system.

Near the Medical Center Campus on Fuller Road, the city is currently moving forward with developing an intermodal facility in partnership with the U-M. Phase 1 of the Fuller Road Station development includes 1,088 parking spaces, and bus staging will be facilitated at the intermodal facility. This facility is scheduled to open in 2012. Future phases may include an additional 592 parking spaces, and service for Amtrak, commuter rail, bus transit and a future potential high capacity transit service line will be provided at the intermodal facility and the proposed train station. Covered bicycle parking will be provided as part of phase 1, and a bicycle station, including a number of amenities, will be provided as part of future phases.

There are two commuter rail initiatives that may become active within a few years, including the Ann Arbor-to-Detroit (east-west) line and the Howell-to-Ann Arbor (north-south) line, otherwise known as WALLY. The city's transportation plan includes a concept for a high-capacity transit corridor, and the feasibility study has begun to further examine this opportunity. The high-capacity transit corridor would connect activity nodes at locations such as downtown Ann Arbor, U-M campuses and office parks. It would also interface with other modes of transportation, including commuter rail, Amtrak and bus transit services.