How a Toledo Mom Stopped a Destructive Road Widening

Dana Dunbar was new to transportation policy and activism. But that didn't stop her from waging a successful grassroots campaign against a road widening in her neighborhood.

A protest ride against the plan to widen Secor Road in Toledo. Photo: The Village Voice of Ottawa Hills
A protest ride against the plan to widen Secor Road in Toledo. Photo: The Village Voice of Ottawa Hills

Back when the city of Toledo launched a plan to widen Secor Road between the suburb of Ottawa Hills and West Toledo, Dana Dunbar had no experience as an organizer.

But the project didn’t sit well with Dunbar, a long-time area resident, small business owner, and mother of two. The plan was to add a lane to the busy four-lane road, not far from her house — and to do it, more than a dozen homes would have to be demolished. After talking to a neighbor who was in line to lose her home, she started doing some research.

“I felt like we all needed a lot of learning,” Dunbar said. “We never heard of ‘LOS,’ we never heard of CMAQ grants. All of this was just a foreign language to me.”

She came across a TED talk by Walkable City author Jeff Speck about why places should be comfortable for walking, and something just clicked.

Dana Dunbar owns a framing company and has lived in the Secor Road area for 22 years. She led the “Save Our Secor” campaign to halt a road widening through her neighborhood.
Dana Dunbar owns a framing company and has lived in the Secor Road area for 22 years. She led the “Save Our Secor” campaign to halt a road widening through her neighborhood.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is a very different idea than what we’re used to in Toledo,'” she told Streetsblog. “Making way for cars is really our default.”

Dunbar says she never gave much thought to streets and transportation until that moment. She lives in Ottawa Hills, a suburb tucked inside the city of Toledo that some might classify as a walkable community. But the major streets — like Secor — are wide and hostile, and her family has three cars.

“We all drive around west Toledo and it’s just not pretty,” she said. “You have these islands of neighborhoods that are divided by roads and asphalt and parking lots. The trip is so stressful and ugly and uninspiring.”

The Secor Road project seemed like an opportunity to do something better. So Dunbar started attending meetings of the Ottawa Hills Village Council and reaching out to her neighbors. She started a Facebook page called “Save Our Secor.”

Dunbar’s research — reading sites like Streetsblog and CityLab and Strong Towns, as well as speaking with experts like Speck — convinced her and other neighbors that reducing the street to two lanes with a center turn lane might be a better solution. Copious before-and-after data shows that converting roads like Secor from four lanes to three is safer and more efficient.

But engineers with the city of Toledo balked. Funding for the $11 million project was supposed to come from a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant administered by the regional planning agency, TMACOG. Based on the traffic studies, engineers said, the road diet would increase congestion and so wouldn’t be eligible for the grant.

But Dunbar and her group didn’t back down. They started a letter writing campaign to the Village Council and hosted a protest bike ride to open people’s minds about the street’s potential.

“They said, ‘It’s a collector arterial,'” Dunbar recalled. “But we said, ‘No, it’s a neighborhood. Can’t we just slow it down and make it better?'”

Dunbar kept winning converts. She spoke at every Village Council meeting and invited the council members to join the Facebook page, whether they opposed the project or not, just to observe and learn. Her campaign had the desired effect, overcoming a reluctance to walk away from the federal grant money.

Last week the Ottawa Hills Village Council put the matter to rest in a 4-2 vote against the project.

“I think it was the groundswell of people who were against the widening,” said Dunbar. “They listened to the villagers. Intuitively they thought it wasn’t that great of a plan. It didn’t really fit the community.”

Dunbar isn’t done yet. There’s broad agreement that the current configuration of four nine-foot-wide lanes should change, and a few volunteers with Save Our Secor are now working to build support for a road diet.

“We all want to be healthy,” she said. “We all want to be connected. It’s really obvious when you look around west Toledo that we’re not doing the best we can for our area. We don’t really think about walking.”

  • carfreecommuter

    Dana and the Toledo engineers should look towards Chicago. I believe that CMAQ grants have been used to implement a large portion of Chicago’s road diets and bike lanes.

  • George Lerin

    Unfortunately, this article provides a very one-sided view of the debate over this by only presenting Dunbar’s side of the story. The stretch of road in question is extremely dangerous, as anyone who has driven it can attest, and is the site of frequent auto accidents. Most of us who live in the area agree it needs to be widened, but some Ottawa Hills residents like Dunbar continue to block improvement as it might affect property values and aesthetics in their community, which is among the wealthiest in not only Ohio but the entire country. This isn’t about protecting a neighborhood’s charm against a city’s thoughtless construction, as this article would suggest… it’s about a privileged few balking at their property values going down and two acre lawns being slightly decreased by a basic public safety initiative.

  • Arletha Taylor

    It is going to take someone flying into one of their houses when an accident happen and a bad one is going to happen. If nothing changes.

  • midringrider

    Hmmm.. 2 acre lawns wouldn’t need to have houses torn down for a few more speeding cars. Adding lanes just speed up traffic on dangerous streets in creasing teh danger.

  • Elizabeth Hare

    I live in Old Orchard and I agree with the road diet. You can add exit and entrance ramps for 475 and Douglas to route UT traffic down a road built to handle that flow. Can you picture 185′ diameter roundabout at Kenwood and Secor? Ever try and walk across at a roundabout?

  • Well I’m sure Chicago’s traffic can’t hold a candle to Toledo’s so it’s totally apples and oranges 😉

  • war_on_hugs

    If your goal is increased vehicle throughput, then sure, widen the lanes. But if your goal is safety, then you need to reduce speeds, not increase them. Road diets are a exactly what is needed for dangerous streets.

  • lost_fezil

    New generations of traffic engineers are starting to make recommendations for road diets. When older engineers who’s life experience is just widen, widen, widen are in senior positions, it’s much harder to fight for 21st century safe streets.

  • Pietro Gambadilegno

    It’s dangerous, and you think you can make it safer by widening it? Widening the road would make traffic faster and even more dangerous. If you want to make it safer, make the traffic slower.

  • John Wayne

    I’m from MI, so I know you guys do everything wrong in Ohio, but even MDOT likes 4-3 conversions *because* of the safety.

  • rogue

    The idea that a road widening through a residential neighborhood is a “public safety initiative” is ridiculous on its face.

  • Morris Zapp

    I’m curious to know what the missing “other side” of this story is.

    You have data showing a wider road would reduce crashes? That a wider road would be safer for all users, including people on foot and on bikes?

    If so, please share.

  • Walter Crunch

    There is no increasing congestion. There are only individuals making poor choices to drive when they should not.

  • Walter Crunch

    So….Cars drive to fast….So the road should be widened to allow them to drive faster. Please elaborate.

  • I grew up a few blocks from Secor — first on the Toledo side, later on the Ottawa Hills side. I find it extremely likely that whatever Dunbar’s personal motivation, most Ottawa Hills residents involved with this were almost certainly motivated by protecting their property values. Many folks in this privileged community have a deep, irrational fear of almost anything that has to do with the rest of Toledo, unfortunately. It’s a big political problem and Ottawa Hills is a pretty perfect manifestation of how to achieve systemic oppression with municipal boundaries, schools and zoning. Yuck.

    THAT SAID

    It’s true that Secor’s lanes are uncomfortably narrow, but uncomfortably narrow lanes are safer because people drive more slowly and carefully, and indeed I’m pretty sure I always drove a little more slowly on this part of Secor than on like Dorr, just like most people.

    Anyway, Dunbar is right that if the city is worried about safety, the safest thing to do on Secor would be to remove the passing lanes and just make it a three-lane street with a left turn lane the whole way. Prevents bad drivers from weaving from lane to lane and makes it way safer to walk across the street because there’s no second lane of cars that can’t see you.

  • Leif Gunderson

    Mr. Lerin,

    While you are correct that the article is biased and less than desirable safety and traffic conditions exist on Secor, you are incorrect on other points.

    The four 9′ wide lanes of Secor are not up to safety standards for a new road, typically 11′ wide lanes with a shared center left turn lane.

    The largest issue many village residents have with the roundabout/widening plan is that it would require the tearing down of 12 or 13 village homes and a tax base loss for the schools of around $60,000, which is roughly a teacher’s salary. In a district with roughly 75 teachers that has been losing federal funding because it tests well over the past 10 years, one teacher is a huge difference.

    Both Ms. Dunbar and I care deeply about our community, we simply differ on this issue.

    It should be noted that most of the properties along Secor are 1/4 acre or less.

    What to do about the Secor problem is a balancing act that must approached from a position of compromise from all sides. Secor at minimum needs repaving, and a widening would probably be good, too. Items that need to be balanced are the safety of motorists on Secor, the loss of tax revenue for the village schools, traffic capacity and environmental concerns, and property values for village and old orchard residents among others.

    As negotiations continue, it would be my hope that the village and city could come to a compromise along the lines of adding 1 foot to each lane and taking land equally from the village and old orchard.

  • BFrito

    John Wayne, it’s interesting to hear that MDOT has been supportive of 4-3 conversions. I’ve also read that SE Michigan has had some problems with certain roundabouts, which have exhibited higher accident rates since they have been installed. Can you share any information on that? Thanks in advance for your response. Cheers!

  • Andrew Mutch

    One of the local roundabouts up here in the Detroit area has gotten some press because the number of accidents. What’s often ignored about those numbers are:
    1. It handles around 100,000 vehicles a day.
    2. Almost every accident at this intersection has been of the minor fender-bender variety. I think there’s been one serious injury accident since it was opened. There’s been zero fatalities.
    3. There are dozens of intersections in Metro Detroit that have significant number of serious injuries and fatalities that don’t get the same kind of press because they have a lower number of total accidents.
    Before the roundabout was installed, I witnessed a high-speed head-on collision at that intersection caused by a driver who ran a red light. Those kinds of accidents don’t happen in roundabouts.

  • John Wayne

    Roundabouts having a higher accident rate has been a known thing for a long time. But as Andrew says, the fatality/injury rate is much lower because a collision at 20 is exponentially better than one at 50. I can slam my hand on my desk all day without it yielding, but if i take a hammer to it once…

  • Elizabeth M

    Indeed. However, the city hadn’t been willing to negotiate prior to this. It was five 12-foot lanes or nothing, they said. After village council initially tabled the vote a couple weeks ago, then the city said they could do four 12-foot lanes and a 4-foot concrete median, but that was the smallest they were willing to go. No discussion of 10-foot or 11-foot lanes was welcomed by the city of Toledo, although this was brought up as an option by several members of the public at various meetings.

    Honestly, I think Toledo brought this rejection on themselves. They planned a project that was far too big. Five 12-foot lanes and a 180-foot roundabout in a residential area??? Then, they dug in their heels when residents of Ottawa Hills or Old Orchard shuddered at the idea of such a massive widening, and refused to consider residents’ ideas.

    I appreciate what Dana did, because she organized residents on both
    sides of Secor to try to force the city to come up with a more
    reasonable plan. It’s not Dana’s fault that the city refused to negotiate or design a more reasonable plan. The city said it was five 12-foot lanes or “no build,” so then Dana’s group started pushing for the no build option when it was clear that none of their ideas about building a safer, more sustainable community would be heeded by the city at this time. As Dana said in this interview, Secor still needs work — let’s work together to come up with a good, sustainable plan for our communities.

    At least the Toledo and Ottawa Hills police have been doing a little speed enforcement on Secor recently, after all the outcry at public meetings about police ignoring the constant speeding drivers (and texting drivers etc.). It would help if Toledo would properly patch all the potholes, too — the two feet closest to the curb is almost unusable, which makes the lanes even more narrow.

  • Elizabeth M

    The city engineers at public meetings claimed that the traffic counts on Secor were too high for a 3-lane road. But there are roads in southeast Michigan with higher traffic counts that were successfully put on a “road diet” to 3 lanes. And here in Toledo, Holland-Sylvania Rd. between Walmart and Bancroft has an almost identical traffic count and a 3-lane pattern (that road is shared between city of Toledo and Sylvania Township). Whenever residents tried to ask why 3-lane roads worked in those cases but wouldn’t work on Secor, the city engineers didn’t ever give satisfactory answers…

  • Eric

    Seems like reducing nonexistent congestion through increasing capacity and speed is somehow a cover for improving air quality overall.

  • Eric

    Do people speed???

  • Artleads

    Widening streets a) invites more automobile traffic, and b) cuts down trees. There goes your air quality.

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