Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Modest Proposal

It is now abundantly clear that Swift Run will not be available for use until at least October and Ward Park is unlikely to get off the ground before then if ever. It looks like Ann Arbor is finally going to have an off-leash area within the next year or two. But the wait has already been too long, we have been promised that things were just in the future too many times, and the Ann Arbor dog-owning community needs a solution now.

Among the many obstacles, I understand that the budget for the neighborhood dog park program is extremely low. The number that I was quoted is barely enough to build a fence. Then of course there is the problem of convincing some neighborhood to host the first park of this kind before they have a chance to see how it will work.

With that in mind, I have been trying to think of solutions that might be workable in the near future. Here's one that I've come up with:

South Maple Park was originally chosen to be the pilot for a neighborhood dog park program. Apparently the community was in favor, the area is right, and parking is available. The problem is that the Utilities department maintains the area and wants to put a water tower there in the future. Naturally they don't want to get into a situation where they have to evict a dog park and look like the bad guys.

So why not consider putting up a temporary off-leash area on the South Maple site to serve as a functioning prototype for what is being proposed elsewhere. A relatively cheap fence could be used - Saline used a snow fence for it's temporary park when Mill Pond was being re-seeded last year. This park could be put up with the explicit understanding by all parties that it is a temporary solution that will be taken down once Swift Run is complete or when the water tower needs to go up (which I imagine will be long after Swift Run is open), or at some other time.

This provides a number of advantages:
  • First and most importantly for me, it provides an immediate off-leash solution for those of us who want to play safely and legally this summer.
  • Second, this is an area that meets the requirements set forth by the city and the neighborhood has already responded favorably to the idea of having a dog park, so the long meeting process could be avoided.
  • Third, the explicit understanding that it is a temporary solution should soothe the Utility department's concerns about having to close something down in the future. Being temporary also means that neighbors who may still be unsure won't be committed to a forever change.
  • Fourth, this provides the city a living laboratory to test its ideas of how a dog park should look, what kinds of rules would be necessary, any problems or benefits that will come to the neighborhood, etc. It also provides a model for the residents of other neighborhoods to look to when considering whether to host a permanent off-leash park.
  • Finally, this plan is rather inexpensive. The temporary fence could be put up at a fraction of the cost of a permanent chain link structure. Even the low pilot budget should be able to handle this plan including mowing, a couple of trash cans, and a sign with rules.

I don't like the idea of a temporary solution as much as a permanent one for obvious reasons - it would be too easy for the end of the temporary period to come and nothing to replace it. I also think the city has had more than ample time to implement something permanent. But I am realistic. A temporary solution either at South Maple or somewhere else (a small, surficial fence on part of the Swift Run site? a temp fence at Ward?) would relieve some of the pressure that we are currently feeling and actually provide the city with a way to step into its role as dog-park manager slowly rather than all at once.

I am forwarding this idea to the relevant people at City Hall and I hope that they are interested in moving quickly on something like this. Be assured that I will share whatever response I get.


Bob Dively said...

The temporary dog park is an excellent idea, IMO. South Maple Park looks like an good, if somewhat inconvenient for many, location.

There is some parking there but not a lot. My only major criticism of the location is that the nearest street parking appears to be several blocks away.

If you look at the likely location of an enclosure, it's a lawn completely surrounded by trees and close to I-94. Complaints about noise probably won't be an issue. Check out the aerial view from Google Maps:

Christina said...

Yeah, I think the city's idea of adequate parking is a little lower than mine. But I believe there are two parking areas at South Maple, one on Liberty by the big transformer or whatever it is and another one off of Maple in a cul de sac.

To be sure, once those are full there is no street parking for a long distance.

I think that A2 may be a bit hesitant to do anything temporary because it probably won't be as attractive as a permanent fence. But the area as you point out is nestled between a transformer, I-94, and some trees. There are apartments nearby, but I would be surprised if they can see the fence or if it could be seen from the street. So hopefully aesthetics won't be an issue here.

Bob Dively said...

Looking at the aerial view, I can see where there's probably a second entrance to the park off the cul de sac (which is Adrienne Dr, btw). I don't see any parking there, though. Maybe there's some street parking along Adrienne Dr. If I remember, I'll swing through there on my way home and check it out.

pughd said...

I think one of those streets has a square end rather than a round cul-de-sac, and if I remember from when we lived over there, there are a few painted spaces. But it's been a while so I'm not sure on that.

arbordog said...

I've scouted a few places in town that would fit the city's requirements (and my own) for a temporary solution. South Maple is on my list, but there are many others with better parking situations.

I'll post a few of my ideas later in the week. My favorite is West Park. I know there are a lot of programmed spaces there, but there are some huge open fields, and a small portion of any one would make a great centrally-located dog park. Plus there is a ton of neighborhood parking and many residents would probably walk there.

Ness said...

I'm not familiar with the city's requirements for a temporary solution, but I'm not sure West park would fit the bill. Yes, it's large and centrally located, but that may be exactly what they will hold against it too. It would make the dog park fairly "in your face", which may raise objections from the dog-unfriendly users of the park. They may also object that the traffic to the dog park would be put in a collision course with the rest of the park users.
As much as I'd love a centrally located and visible off-leash area, I'm just not sure it'll fly. Personally, given the things I like to do off-leash with my dogs, I'd prefer a nature area (with a play field included) as a solution, anyway. Like Kuebler-Langford, which is partially fenced in already, but I know there isn't enough parking there...

Bob Dively said...

I scouted the South Maple Park parking situation today after work. It's not good.

The official park parking lot off of Liberty St has spaces for 5 cars plus one handicapped space. Two or three more cars could probably skinny in along the short lane to the parking lot. The park is home to two of Ann Arbor's many tennis courts, so at least in good weather dog owners wishing to use the park will be in competition for parking spots with tennis players.

There are 3 cul-de-sacs that border the park. None of them have any parking. The northern most is Bens St, which ends in a funky little paved rectangle that's just big enough to turn around in and that has several no parking signs. The middle cul-de-sac is Russell St, which is dirt and ends in a little turnaround, off of which there is an official park entrance with a big park sign. There's also a fire hydrant right there and a big no parking sign of the We Really Mean It variety. The southernmost cul-de-sac is Adrienne Dr, which - if I read the sign correctly - is a private road belonging to the Pinelake Village Cooperative, which is a series of apartment buildings to the south of the park. There's even a gatehouse, which looks abandoned, but nevertheless doesn't exactly signal "Enter the park here!" Regardless, there's nowhere to park on Adrienne. It's very narrow, and should one not get the idea that it's a bad place to park, there are plenty of no parking signs as a reminder.

The nearest street parking is, well, I'm not sure. I believe that you can park on the street on Winewood Ave which is across South Maple St from the storage place that's next to Kroger. The nearest street to the south that might have street parking is Pennsylvania Ave. Both of these are a good quarter of a mile away. Additionally, I think that there is no crosswalk on South Maple between Liberty and Pauline, so people parking at Pennsylvania Ave (assuming that one can actually park there) who do not wish to jaywalk across South Maple St, which can be quite busy with fast moving traffic, are going to have to walk all the way down to Liberty St and cross there. (I could be wrong about that. Unfortunately, I forgot to look.)

In summary, parking for South Maple Park is very poor. On-site parking is very limited and there is no street parking in the immediate area. The nearest street parking requires walking along and crossing some very busy streets. The park is clearly meant to be a neighborhood park for resident living in the immediate area.

That being said, I still think that South Maple Park isn't a terrible choice for a temporary dog park. It's got plenty of space and no one is going to hear the dogs over the highway. However it's pretty clear to me that if the city's goal in creating a dog park, temporary or otherwise, is to lure dog owners who have illegally off-leash dogs in other parks to a legal off-leash area, it's going to fail because it's highly unlikely that more than a few dog owners are going to use the park at any given time.

Ness said...

Ok, I'm a complete novice with this stuff, but I was just looking at the map of AA parks -what about Turnberry park? It's described as "This undeveloped parcel will eventually become a neighborhood park". Not knowing how far along they are with the planning and what kind of shape it's in, and what the parking situation is like, but I thought I'd mention it.

Bob Dively said...

Turnberry Park does have the advantage of being very near a street named Roon the Ben.

arbordog said...

Bummer. I know the parking by the tennis court is limited, but I was hoping there was more elsewhere.

I'll check out Turnberry when I get back in town. Roon the Ben is familiar to me for some reason related to dog parks, but I can't put my finger on it. I actually think a city council member may live over there. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing for purposes of establishing a dog park.

I think you're right Vanessa that they want to put us somewhere completely unused, preferably unmowed, to keep out of the way of the 'ligit' park users. The reasons I like West Park are 1)It's so huge and they are only talking about giving us an acre to start with and more down the line so it would proportionally be a small amount, 2) extensive neighborhood parking even if little formal park parking, 3) we deserve something central and something more than the scraps of otherwise completely unusable space on landfills, swamps, etc. I would love to see something so "in-your-face" to prove that we don't have to be marginalized and also show skeptics that we can be mainstreamed. You're right though that that is exactly why it will never happen.

A nature area would be great! In some ways that's what Swift Run will be, but more of the tall-grass prairie ilk than woods. You see, by choosing a capped landfill for the site of the dog park, they have guaranteed that trees can never be planted. That along with the foot-dragging is I think a good illustration of the priority that dog owners get in Ann Arbor.

But all that aside, what you have both made abundantly clear is that there are a number of parks in the city that meet the criteria (available parking and at least two acres of "unprogrammed space). With a little creativity, a temporary solution should be available somewhere until a better permanent fix can be had.

Ness said...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to be a party pooper...I'm totally with you on making a larger point about normalizing the ideas of (well-behaved) dogs being off-leash.

Part of me wishes they'd just declare a few nature areas around town off-leash areas. Even for a few hours a day in the am and pm (and not just 6-8 am and 9-10 pm ;-)). That would lessen any parking congestion/traffic in one particular spot, as well as having all off-leash dogs concentrated in one spot. People would still have use of those area at other hours, and they could get used to the idea of dogs being off leash and not causing trouble (for the vast majority of cases).

I'd also like to make a point that I'm not sure has been emphasized at these meetings: Instead of aggressively pursuing owners who let their dogs off-leash, the city should (with the encouragement of responsible dog owners) aggressively pursue people whose dogs attack/injure other people. It is simply unacceptable for people to be nipped/bitten by dogs when running etc (though I don't see how leashes will necessarily prevent all those incidents) and those are the kinds of things the city should be pursuing.

arbordog said...

Good points Ness.

The big problem with declaring off-leash hours in nature areas is that too many people will worry that the dogs are damaging the wildlife. Right or wrong, this is exactly the kind of concern that is most effective for stalling projects in Ann Arbor, raise a concern about wetlands or birds and nothing will move forward.

Those are important concerns and I wouldn't want to do anything that would damage natural resources. However, I'm not sure that there is much "natural" left in some of these areas beyond squirrels.

bob recently wrote to tell me that there are now signs at Bird Hills saying "don't let you dog off-leash because they destroy the wildlife here." So this is clearly a tactic that they are already trying.

The attitude for most of the city planning people seems to be that any land they designate for dog use is being given up and relinquished from valuable city use rather than put into valuable service.

As for the dangerous dogs on leash issue, I think you're right but I don't know how to address it. People who don't know about dogs or who are afraid of them are given a false sense of security by leashes. As you and other dog people well know, dogs are sometimes more defensive and therefore less predictable on leashes and a leash does little to stop a dog from nipping at anyone or anything that is close to it.

I would never take my dogs in public on leash or otherwise if I thought there was any chance of them being aggressive. It would be nice if that were the case for everyone, but as you point out, that would take serious enforcement and I just don't see that happening. Besides the problems of will to enforce, I think that most of these incidents happen so quickly that irresponsible dog owners can run off before being identified or stopped by police.

Ness said...

Actually, the signs at Bird Hills have been supplemented (at least at one entrance) with a pretty funny invitation to ride ATVs naked through the park to shoot some wildlife, since that would only be an expression of lifestyle choices that dog owners have paved the way for. I was kind of amused.
As far as the danger to wildlife goes, I have two thoughts:
(1) any wildlife that can be caught by your average domestic dog is ill or otherwise compromised. It's called natural selection. I guess the Ann Arbor pinheads don't want to hear that...
(2) more wildlife gets killed on the roads than all the dogs in Ann Arbor combined could kill in a year. That doesn't mean we outlaw driving at nighttime when most wildlife is active. I'd like to see numbers on the impact of off-leash dogs on wildlife before we let them get away with that kind of emotional "oh, those cute bunnies" story.
In the meantime, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Ann Arbor news proposing off-leash hours at different parks...

Ness said...

Two more things, and then I'll shut up: (1) the other day, I took E and A to West Park where they had a grand ol' time digging up a groundhog tunnel (that the groundhog had just disappeared in) ---while on a leash. Did they bother wildlife? That groundhog was probably miles away by the time they started digging.
(2) How about 'license plates' for dogs? They have to be attached so they're visible and that way, if you get bothered by a dog, you can identify the owner.