Toledo Neighbors Fight Back Against City’s Plan to Widen Their Road
1:05 PM PDT on August 15, 2016
Roseanne Martinez has lived at the corner of Secor and Bancroft Roads, just over the border from Toledo, for almost 30 years.
She and her husband were married in the backyard. They raised four kids there. Every Sunday, they walk right across the street to attend church at Hope Lutheran.
But Martinez found out recently she might lose her home -- or at the very least, a big part of her yard -- to a road widening project. The City of Toledo and the neighboring upscale suburb of Ottawa Hills are planning to widen the residential stretch of Secor Road, adding roundabouts, 12-foot lanes and maybe even a turn lane. Martinez's house and about 13 others are in the crosshairs.
"I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us," Martinez said of learning about the project. A roundabout would bring traffic almost up to her front door. Now she's not sure she can sell, and if she stays, and the house isn't demolished, her quality of life might be ruined.
"We’re long-time members of the community," she said. "We were really blindsided. "
This $12 million widening project isn't all bad. Replacing a couple high-crash intersections with roundabouts would be a legitimate win for safety. And the plan calls for adding a sidewalk on the east side of the road.
But the lack of concern for surrounding residents and intense focus on providing wide lanes for car traffic is troubling residents like Dana Dunbar, an Ottawa Hills resident who has also lived in Toledo's Old Orchard neighborhood. Dunbar says she thinks the city is missing a big opportunity, potentially undermining one of the healthiest residential and commercial areas in the region.
Dunbar concedes that the four existing lanes, at about nine feet each, are awfully narrow and make driving on Secor a hair-raising experience. But the city's plan, funded by a federal Air Quality and Congestion Mitigation grant, seems to trade one safety problem for another. Studies have shown 12-foot lanes -- a standard better suited for interstate highways than residential areas -- promote speeding and undermine safety. The Federal Highway Administration, recognizing this, recently eliminated lane-width standards for lower-speed roads like Secor.
"They’re looking at it as more of an arterial road to move traffic though than a quality of living" project, said Dunbar.
This city is also considering adding a fifth lane, but traffic counts don't warrant it. Secor sees between 11,000 vehicles daily on one end of the street, and up to 24,000 each day on the other end. A good rule of thumb in the industry is that any road with less than 20,000 vehicles a day is a good candidate for a "road diet" -- converting the road from four lanes to three, creating space for a turn lane and bike lanes.
Troy Russ, a planning consultant with the firm Kimley-Horn, thinks a road diet makes a lot of sense. Two traffic lanes and a turn lane can provide better safety outcomes and even better efficiency for cars -- and would eliminate the need to tear down homes.
"A three lane roadway can often carry more cars than a four lane road when there are numerous left turns," he said, adding that a road diet improves safety as well. "When there are many left turns, the two inside lanes of a four lane roadway are often blocked, raising the likeliness of rear end crashes."
Russ added that with careful intersection design, especially with treatments like roundabouts, three lane roads can accommodate 25,000 vehicles a day or more.
Dunbar, who owns a custom framing company, has never been too active in civic affairs until this project, she said. But she was struck by Martinez's testimony at a public meeting. Dunbar inquired about why the Village of Ottawa Hills would even consider tearing down occupied homes and their beautiful historic architecture.
"I was told that seven of the houses are rental properties and they would like to reduce cut through traffic in the village," she said. "I think there’s this belief, 'Oh, we’ll get rid of the rental properties.' These houses offer these people the ability to live in Ottawa Hills and educate their children."
Dunbar is also concerned about the financial implications for the school district, which Ottawa Hills estimates will lose about $55,000 in annual property tax revenue.
Dunbar discovered a TED Talk by "Walkable City" author Jeff Speck that convinced her to question the city's plans. Since then she's started the Facebook group Save our Secor, with almost 200 members. The group is circulating a petition, which has been signed by 129 people. Dunbar and Martinez say the cities need to think more creatively about balancing what's most expedient for drivers with the needs of neighborhood residents.
"It could be something really amazing through there," Dunbar said. "As you’re driving through you could really get a sense of who we are instead of driving through the neighborhood quickly."
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