The following was submitted by Hilary Ross Browning – resident of the South Park neighborhood. We invite comments from affected residents AND city staff – what do YOU think?
Along Wayne Avenue, lawn signs scream “Stop the Widening Project” and “City Unfair to us.” A seemingly simple infrastructure upgrade has angered many, and leaves Wayne Avenue residents with an uncertain future. There is no doubt, however, that the intersection of Wayne and Wilmington Pike needs improvement.
Congestion, speeding, street light timing, and pedestrian access are just a few concerns that the City should address when improving the intersection. The City’s solution, however, is to widen the road from Anderson Road to Wilmington Pike and from Wilmington Pike to Beckman Street. Widening will start in June, with an estimated completion date in July 2011. The city will use funds from Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission and Ohio State Issue 1 funds from Ohio Public Works.
The current plan involves taking a portion of land from property owners using eminent domain. The use of eminent domain is legal in this case, and likely necessary, as property owners do not want to cede land voluntarily. The Supreme Court has upheld the use of eminent domain for infrastructure upgrades as a form of economic development. Kelo v. New London (2005) and Berman v. Parker (1954) have established that governments can take land for public purposes provided just compensation for affected property owners.
From the perspective of Wayne Avenue residents, however, the Wayne Avenue project infringes on property owner rights. These residents are forced to accept the project, whether they want to cede land to the City or not. Residents have lingering concerns about diminished property values, safety, and the justness of the City’s actions.
It is equally concerning that the City’s plan may not improve the intersection, and widening may have undesirable long-term ramifications. The widening project could affect citizens for decades- and the quality of the plan should reflect the importance of Wayne Avenue as a central traffic artery.
To be successful, the Wayne Avenue project should be a measurable improvement over the present design. The project should benefit the majority of citizens, and should take into account any negative long-term consequences.
Unfortunately, the City’s plan for Wayne Avenue may not be an improvement over the old design. City of Dayton traffic engineers believe widening the road will relieve traffic congestion and promote safety. Urban design proponents, however, argue that street widening causes more problems than it solves. For example, urban design studies performed by Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany have shown that street widening encourages greater traffic volume. Increased traffic on Wayne Avenue would negate the traffic calming effect of widening the road.
Additionally, the widening project does not benefit all road users. Widening the road clearly benefits drivers, not cyclists and pedestrians. The City plans to replace the sidewalks and tree lawn, but it is unclear if traffic lights and cross walks will be updated to better serve pedestrians as part of this project. As for cyclists, the widening project will not make room for a bike lane.
Another concern is the potential destabilization of the housing block along Wayne. Homeowners face hard choices about the safety and value of their properties; many have chosen to sell their properties. The alienation of Wayne avenue residents is damaging to the neighborhood and city, as they may choose to leave the City of Dayton for good. Losing long-term residents is an undesirable consequence of a public infrastructure project. The widening project will decrease the market value of homes along Wayne, potentially inviting landlords instead of owner-occupants.
The City should address these concerns before moving forward with the intended project. It may be difficult or impossible to address the immediate concerns of residents living along Wayne. However, the City should not settle on an inferior design because of these challenges. With a new road design, Wayne Avenue could be a vibrant corridor. It may not be within the City’s reach to create a tree-lined boulevard or divided road, but beautification could ease some concerns.
A little creativity and extra effort could turn Wayne Avenue around for the better. Widening the road does not promote bike or pedestrian traffic; nor is it a long-term solution to better Wayne Avenue. As it stands, City residents must accept an inferior road upgrade instead of a sustainable, long-term solution.