The transportation system, including streets, sidewalks, alleys, and trails, are as fundamental to the character of a place as its architecture, its parks, and its people. The decisions that town leaders make about how many parking spaces to provide, how many lanes a street ought to have, or whether to provide sidewalks, have immediate consequences to how a place is perceived and ultimately, how people choose to travel. This section outlines recommendations that may help Oxford to preserve the things that its residents value through transportation choices.
Oxford's primary transportation challenges over the short and long-term are three-fold:
As a university town surrounded by rural Lafayette County, Oxford has a multi-faceted identity. It is a sophisticated, walkable small town grounded in the Square and the University with a strong sense of place. Its residents have a strong sense of civic pride with a tradition of volunteerism. Oxford also has strong rural roots, set in a disperse community that is heavily reliant on driving. Few land use controls and a reluctance to impose strong transportation impact measures have led to a prevalence of wide roads and few controlled intersections outside the town center.
The twin goals of creating a safe, walkable town center that is central to the town's character while making it easy to drive by minimizing congestion are often at odds. However, they are not impossible to reconcile. This section presents analysis tools and project examples that may guide Oxford's leaders as they endeavor to protect the town's character and improve its transportation system for all users.
While it has been a leader in both the state and the nation in rural Complete Streets policy, Oxford has struggled to realize a truly multi-modal vision. For example, even though Oxford had one of the first Complete Streets policies in Mississippi, it was never adopted. Rather, surrounding towns benefited from Oxford's investment by co-opting its policy. Instead of focusing on policy, this section outlines some key building blocks of great places using examples in Oxford of where they might be better implemented.
Pedestrians are most vulnerable when they are crossing the street. Generally, a majority of pedestrian collisions occur at intersections, and there is an indisputable relationship between the severity of the collision and the speed of the vehicle. Pedestrian collisions are likely to be fatal when the driver is traveling faster than 30 miles per hour, particularly for older pedestrians. At a very basic level, places that are comfortable and safe for pedestrians of all ages have slow speeds and short crossings that are well-marked.
One of the most important places to prioritize pedestrian safety is in Oxford's historic Square, both within the Square itself and on each of the approaches. While angled parking and clearly-marked crosswalks help to delineate the pedestrian space and provide a good buffer between the sidewalk and the road, the Square could still use significant intersection improvements to shorten its crosswalks.
The current design prioritizes wide turning radii and vehicle accommodation over pedestrian safety and comfort. The modest islands are not adequate to slow vehicles, and they could be more than a landscape feature. They should provide meaningful benefit by offering a place to wait as people attempt to navigate the crosswalk to the Courthouse. Other improvements to consider:
In order to accommodate larger vehicles such as tour buses, it may be appropriate to install mountable curbs in some locations.
Great transportation systems should accommodate users from the ages of eight to eighty. The "8-to-80" idea can be implemented in many ways, but at the most fundamental level, it entails compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), the design direction that governs the public right-of-way. Often, this set of accommodations, which includes curb ramps, audible signals, and walkways, is thought to benefit primarily people with mobility or visual impairments. However, these improvements benefit a much wider array of people. They make it safer and more comfortable for older adults, families with strollers, young children, and anyone who may be temporarily injured.
Throughout the U.S., many roads are currently "overbuilt," meaning they have too many lanes for the amount of vehicle traffic they serve. This is often a direct result of a peculiarity in transportation analysis that focuses only on accommodating the amount of traffic expected during the peak hour or even 15 minutes of a typical weekday. While this approach may ensure that congestion is manageable during that small window of time, it has the unintended consequence of providing a street that is too wide for a majority of the day. When there are too many lanes on a street, the fastest driver sets the speed limit. There are often wide gaps between cars, and faster drivers can easily pass others on the road. As discussed earlier, speeding has immediate consequences to safety. Wide roads where drivers can travel at 35 or 40 miles per hour may not be desirable in town centers, residential areas, or anywhere pedestrians and cyclists are expected or encouraged.
In response to overbuilt roads, many cities have retrofit streets to be both more efficient and more appropriate to their surroundings. So-called "road diets" or "lane channelization" projects typically reduce a four-lane roadway (two lanes in each direction) to a three-lane roadway (one lane in each direction plus a turn lane). The introduction of a turn lane to these streets reduces collisions anywhere from 30 to 60 percent. Key reductions are rear-end collisions, typically caused when a driver stops in a through lane without warning to execute a left turn. Pedestrian collisions are also reduced, because driver and pedestrian sight lines are improved. At crosswalks on four-lane streets, pedestrians can usually accurately judge whether or not the driver in the first lane will stop. However, drivers in the second lane often cannot see the pedestrian in the crosswalk until it is too late to stop. These "double jeopardy" or "multi-threat" collisions are significantly reduced when the pedestrian must only cross one lane of through traffic in each direction.
Road diets are ideal for streets that carry between 12,000 and 18,000 vehicles per day, although they have been successful on streets that carry up to 25,000 vehicles per day. These three-lane configurations slow traffic to more appropriate speeds while carrying the same amount of traffic. Once the lanes are reduced, the extra space (usually between 10 and 14 feet) can be used in a variety of ways:
A perfect candidate for this treatment is University Avenue, particularly between the Square and Ole Miss. University Avenue's potential as a connector is unrealized in its current condition. It could provide a strong, attractive gateway and be a centerpiece of a network that would encourage students and visitors to bicycle or walk for short trips rather than drive.
The graphic illustrates one potential use of the additional space gained from a road diet: a dedicated bike lane with a painted buffer between cyclists and traffic. Buffered bicycle lanes address one of the key hesitations for casual or beginner cyclists ≠ the proximity to traffic ≠ and they provide a visual narrowing of the street for drivers which leads to lower speeds.
As a compact university town, Oxford has the potential to be extremely attractive by bicycle. Encouraging safe cycling for trips less than three miles could significantly reduce congestion, eliminate the need for additional parking, and improve the overall health and livability of the town. Presently, most places in the U.S. provide minimal bicycle accommodations such as dedicated lanes, meaning only the most intrepid experienced cyclists are comfortable riding on the streets with traffic. A majority of Americans own bicycles but rarely ride them or only use them for trail rides because they are uncomfortable riding with traffic, even in dedicated bicycle lanes.
Because bicycling has enormous potential to address a variety of environmental and health concerns, many planners and engineers have re-visited the way we plan and build roads for cyclists.
A variety of recent research efforts have demonstrated that casual cyclists, older adults, and women are under-represented in the bicycling population because they prefer quiet, low-volume streets and bicycle facilities that are physically separated from traffic. In the last five years, a growing number of new bicycle facility types have emerged to attract new riders and improve safety for everyone. These newer types include a family of facilities called cycletracks as well as a toolbox of treatments for neighborhood greenways or bicycle boulevards.
A cycletrack refers to a bikeway that is physically separated from traffic either through a painted buffer or a hardscape separation.
A neighborhood greenway or bicycle boulevard is a low volume street (ideally fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day) that includes traffic calming and landscaping features to keep volumes and speeds low. They can include special pavement markings, traffic circles, and other measures that create a comfortable, attractive street for bicycling and walking. Often the most challenging components of a greenway are the crossing treatments where the greenway intersects a collector or arterial street. They may require full signals or pseudo-signals such as overhead flashing beacons to alert drivers to the presence of bicyclists and pedestrians and to ensure a safe, continuous corridor.
A candidate for a neighborhood greenway is East Jackson Avenue east of the Square, which could connect the neighborhood there to the town center.
Small blocks and grid-like street networks not only enhance the walkable, bikeable character of a place, they also ensure that no street carries a disproportionate share of traffic. Grid networks spread traffic more evenly which reduces the need for wide streets, particularly where they are not appropriate such as in commercial and residential districts. As cities and towns develop, they often allow development to dictate the street network, which most often leads to a proliferation of large arterial streets. As a result, even if the "as-the-crow-flies" distance between places is short, the actual travel distance is long. The map above demonstrates the short distance between places in some of Oxford's newer neighborhoods compared to the actual walking distance. This approach means that residents have fewer transportation choices. They must drive for most trips, which increases congestion as well as the amount of land that must be devoted to parking, land that could otherwise yield higher value. Rather than accept these conditions as static, some cities have programs to retrofit bicycle and pedestrian connections, taking advantage of easements, abandoned rail corridors, and utility corridors to provide through routes for bicycling and walking. Oxford can implement similar initiatives to begin building a community that is attractive for increased bicycle use.
Oxford's scale and historic core, as well as the presence of Ole Miss, provide it with significant assets to build upon. By addressing its key transportation issues, the city can enhance its sense of place and livability and provide a community that is attractive for future generations.