As metro Toledo continues its relentless, remorseless sprawl toward the west and south, it becomes clearer than ever that the handmaiden of sprawl is the overcrowded, often dysfunctional highways leading out of town - Airport Highway and Central Avenue being prime examples.
The Blade story last Sunday on the woes of Central Avenue shows clearly that developers have learned little or nothing from the continuing fiasco that is Airport Highway: traffic jams, countless retail entries, increasing west-bound truck traffic trying to avoid tolls on the Ohio Turnpike, spot zoning decisions, and the impotence of township government as a force for controlling development.
From the I-475 interchange at Central Avenue to King Road, a mile and a half stretch of four-lane highway, kamikaze drivers roll, seemingly oblivious to the fact that others are trying to keep out of their way and are at the same time looking for particular retailers along the strip. Those businesses often are hard to see if one is also paying attention to what's happening on the road. Speeders don't have free rein, of course. Frequently, long lines of traffic at stoplights slow them down.
A couple of years ago the traffic count on the area east of King Road was 28,000 vehicles a day; it is surely more now. Tractor-trailer traffic jumped 50 percent - to 3,170 vehicles - between 1997 and 2000.
“This whole area is like a powder keg. Some days you want to say the hell with it,” said Phyllis Steele, owner of today's Lighting on Central, a specialized retail business. She could not have summed up the Central Avenue problem more succinctly. Her store, like many others along the strip, is far less visible than the big boxes farther out.
The attitude of Sylvania Township officials and others concerned with sprawl appears complacent at best. Brad Peebles, township administrator, says traffic and road design, not poorly planned development, is the cause of the increasing congestion. Road improvements may help temporarily, but the history of sprawl suggests that newer, wider roads are but a temporary expedient. They attract more traffic, further aggravating the problem.
Proper zoning is the best approach, and in fact, Central Avenue does have an overlay zoning district, created 10 years ago. However, as Edward Nussel, president of the Glaston Oaks Condominium Association, commented, the overlay “has been neutralized.” Unfortunately, that is a story that has been repeated all across the country.
The hoariest rejoinder of developers to advocates of smart zoning is that the “property owner can do as he pleases with his land.” That's a canard. Just as a person's right to swing his fist stops short of the next guy's nose, the right to do what one wants to with land must be subject to reasonable zoning restrictions. Otherwise, property rights and values will be undermined, and the stage is set for nightmarish sprawl along the Central avenues and Airport highways of Toledo and the nation.
When the public pays the bill for road improvements or responds to carnage on the highways rising out of unwise development, the public also has a say in how private land is zoned and used. The proposition is that simple. Americans do respect the rights of private property owners, but they also have every reason to be concerned about rising costs of public services stemming from the bulldozer brigades' assault on the cities of our land.