Chau Nguyen

With the construction of U.S. Route 27 to begin in May, additional road space may provide a safer route for cyclists and provide a greater amount of room on the highway heading to and away from the university.

Cyclists in Oxford have something to smile about, as the city is implementing recommendations of a new bicycle study that encourages drivers to share the roads with other vehicles.

The study was conducted by the master’s degree students in Miami University’s Institute of Environmental Science (IES) program and is the third bicycle study to be presented to Oxford City Council in 10 years.

According to Oxford Vice Mayor Prue Dana, the bicycle related initiatives were a result of the city’s desire to explore alternate means of transportation to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“We have a lot of cars on the streets,” Dana said. “Not only is parking a problem, but there are too many cars for the number of streets we have.”

Working for city council, students in the IES program acted as a consulting company, conducting studies that resulted in the presentation of three plans to city council beginning in 1997, Dana said.

According to Dana, the first service project related to bicycling was presented to the city in 1997, creating a master bike route plan, which designated streets where bike lanes could be placed.

“It connected people who lived in suburbs with schools with the community people and both students and residents,” Dana said.

Presented in 2004, the Multi-Use Perimeter Path Feasibility study was the second plan to be explored.

It examined the possibility of creating a circular path around the city that could be used for multiple purposes such as walking, running, bicycling and possibly rollerblading.

“The idea is that this would be a circumference around the city and the master bike plan would be the spokes into the wheel, which this would be a circular path,” Dana said.

Although part of the 2004 study was implemented with the creation of paths in the Oxford Community Park, Dana would like to see additional proposals from the study carried through.

Despite the initiatives, neither plan had been implemented, due to what Dana said was lack of focused community support.

“There are many people who are interested and there are many people who say that we need a bike path but they don’t come to city council and say when is the bike path going to be here and we need it,” Dana said.

In addition, Dana noted that there are not many city council members or planning commission members who ride their bikes to work, therefore the need for a bike route is unnoticed.

“I ride to work when I can and I’m the only one that I think rides to work consistently and when you do that, you become real aware of the need,” Dana said.

The third study conducted by master’s students Vera Figueiredo, Andrew Kielaszek, Genevieve O’Malley Knight and Scott Porter examined the reasons why the first two were never initiated, surveying students and permanent community members to see why they were not riding.

According to Dana, some of the problems noted in the survey as reasons for not riding included the lack of marked or wide enough roads along with the issue of safety.

Because of these survey results, the latest study emphasized the importance of the four “e’s” for the successful implementation of the plan, which include encouragement, engineering, education and enforcement.

“I think this is significant (because) after 10 years of bicycle studies, three studies in 10 years, we’ve finally taken a step towards implementation,” Dana said. “People who ride bicycles will just look up and say ‘Wow, I don’t have to struggle anymore. Somebody knows I’m riding,’ and that’s never been done before so that’s why I think it’s pretty neat.”

The “Share the Road” initiative, which is part of the most recent study, placed signs along Spring Street, which turns into Fairfield Road as it approaches Kroger, to encourage recognition of the existence of bicyclists on roadways.

“We are working on more or less public notification,” said Oxford’s Street and Maintenance Manager Eric Keebler. “Just as a reminder that vehicles need to share the roads with bicycles.”

So far, the signs have been placed from Oxford’s Community Park to Miami’s campus with hopes of adding additional signs in the future, Keebler said.

Graduate student Ryan Gamm frequently rides his bike to class as well as around town as part of training for competitive bike racing. For Gramm, riding in town is always a concern and requires him to be very alert.

“There’s so much movement and hustle and bustle around, there are bound to be accidents,” Gamm said. “I’ve gotten hit by cars three times in town during the four years I’ve been here. Because of the slow speed, they’ve been very minor incidents, but scary nonetheless.”

As a part of the four e’s, the engineering portion the plan involves the creation of striped bike lanes along University and Bishop streets, as well as the increase of bicycle storage facilities and bicycle racks around Oxford.

Gamm said the creation of bike lanes is a positive step in the right direction that may prevent incidents like his and could make a big difference for cyclists.

“Just to have an established lane like that is a great thing for cyclist because drivers respect that barrier,” Gamm said. “Anywhere there is a bike lane added to a road, doesn’t matter whether it’s a big city or a small town like Oxford, it makes a big difference because drivers respect it and are aware of it.”

Keebler said the bicycle plan is a way to provide connectivity through a thoroughfare type-plan that aims at improving major roads in Oxford.

“(It is) to give people the opportunity to go wherever they wanted on a bicycle (or) in a vehicle,” Keebler said. “We’re taking it from vehicles to bicycles.”

According to Keebler, the widening of northbound U.S. Route 27, due to begin construction in May, will also help provide bicyclists with the opportunity to ride away from the university toward town.

“The widening of (U.S. Route) 27 North out towards Wal-Mart will include a 10-foot wide multiuse lane for bicycles and pedestrians so there is a safer route if someone wants to go out that way,” he said.

Dana hopes education regarding bicycle riding will be provided at the TRI recreational facility with programs that teach riders where to ride and how to use hand signals.

Dana also noted federal programs such as Safe Routes to Schools, which encourage groups of parents in a neighborhood to ride to school together with their children.

“Lots of parents drive their kids to school, but in this case, they would be walking and riding with their children and that’s a good thing because children need exercise,” Dana said.

Dana cited exercise as one of the benefits for students to use bicycles as a mode of transportation.

“The advantages are that people would be in better in shape, but they could take their bike and park right outside their academic building and could get in and around campus in less than 10 minutes riding a bike,” Dana said.

Ultimately, Dana said she hopes the project will expand to include the initiatives proposed in the two previous projects. She also said she stresses the potential of bicycle riding as an alternative mode of transportation.

“The power of the students is tremendous here, to absolutely change the way the campus look,” Dana said. “Just think about how the town would look, how the school would look.”

Under the implementation of the bike system, the “Share the Roads” initiative places
signs along Spring Street and Fairfield Road.