Joshua Davis performs Sting's "Fields of Gold" on the April 27 broadcast of NBC's "The Voice." (Photo: NBC)

TC within walking distance to Ann Arbor?

July 16, 2015 | |

James Bruckbauer, right, with Richard Sheridan, co-founder of the Ann Arbor-based Menlo Innovations. 

Last week, our executive director Hans Voss and I met with a group of about 40 Ann Arbor business leaders and public officials to discuss the idea of connecting the city to Traverse City by passenger rail.

Leaders in Michigan’s growing tech community in Ann Arbor told us that efficient, productive travel is something that’s missing from Michigan’s transportation conversation. Technology-based company owners told us they want to have a more reliable, hassle-free connection to Grand Rapids and Traverse City—a connection that allows them work by themselves or work in teams as they travel to meeting in other parts of the state.

Richard Sheridan, co-founder of the Ann Arbor-based Menlo Innovations, said train travel puts us within walking distance with each other.

“When people asked me how I would get to our Chicago office from Ann Arbor, I would say, ‘I walked there,’” he explained. “After a blank stare, I would say, ‘I walked a couple blocks to the train station, worked on a train, then walked a couple blocks to my downtown destination in Chicago. Met with my Chicago team, then walked back to the train station, worked on the train, and walked back to our office. That’s walking distance.” 

Even in a digital works, geography matters for growing tech companies. They want to be close to each other to stay connected. But car travel takes valuable time away from work. 

”If I drive to Grand Rapids for a meeting, a good portion of my day is wasted,” Sheridan said. 

He was one of a handful of voices we heard in Ann Arbor in support of a revived passenger rail connection. Here are a few other quotes from others at the event:

“There’s a growing tech scene in Grand Rapids and there’s a growing scene in Traverse City, and the ability to concoct to each other gives us a competitive advantage.”

“When I drive to Ann Arbor, half of my day is wasted on the road and then I still have to figure out what to do with my car.”

“I would love to be able to spend a Friday afternoon working on a train and arrive in Traverse City when the work day is over, without missing a beat.” 

“When you leave southeast Michigan for Up North, you’re tense because of I-75. Then when you’re Up North, you’re relaxed. Once you get back to southeast Michigan, you’re tense again because of I-75. A train would eliminate that tenseness. The vacation starts once you leave town.”

Back in February, former Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje told the audience at our A2TC campaign launch that Traverse City needs to push this idea forward, and Ann Arbor needs to pull. It’s clear in talking to people in Traverse City and people like Sheridan in Ann Arbor that there’s enthusiasm and excitement to do both. It’s business leaders that are moving this idea forward.

About the Author

James Bruckbauer is Groundwork's transportation policy specialist. Follow him on Twitter at @jimbruckb. Reach him at [email protected].

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