Reduced City Budget Slows Down Development Projects for Oxford’s Pathways Commission.

The City of Oxford’s Pathways Commission held its monthly meeting on Monday, Oct. 26, to converse about current and potential plans for the city and review the commission’s annual report for the Board of Aldermen. 

The commissioners present at the meeting were Don Feitel, Kate Kellum, Meaghin Burke, Roger Kuhnle, Claude Gunter, Michael Worthy, Will Townes, and Robert Baxter, the City Liaison.

The goal of the Pathways Commission is to make Oxford a more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly place by increasing accessibility; this includes creating new pedestrian sidewalks, bike paths, recreational paths, and addressing the town’s traffic issues. The commission meets every fourth Monday of the month at 5:00 p.m.; however, because of the pandemic, they now meet over Zoom instead of at City Hall.

“We are a resource for people who have concerns, and we are also a resource for the city to find problem areas; we are charged with looking at the city through the eyes of a pedestrian or bicyclist, and solving problems, presenting problems and increasing accessibility,” Burke said.

At 5:00 p.m., Feitel, the committee chair, called the meeting to begin. The committee came together and approved the prior month of September’s agenda, which had been approved unanimously.

Because of the pandemic, the City of Oxford’s general operation budget is down around $3.2 million per an article published by Magnolia State Live. As a result of the reduction in funding, there has been a slowdown in building around town, which has impacted the commission’s projects. When the land-use code was revised a couple of years ago, the city included bike lanes and sidewalks in future development projects. But, because of the city’s drastic change in funding between pre-pandemic and now, Feitel said there has been a slowdown in building, which means fewer development projects are happening around Oxford.

“It’s all trickle down, there is less money to necessarily build sidewalks if they are worrying about furloughing employees and things like that, you know as it should be; so one of the things that we have had to do is, whereas normally we might be reviewing multiple projects or talking about other areas of town to build sidewalks… there’s just less options to do that,” Feitel said. “So as a commission we’re trying to think of things to prioritize, thinking of what projects we do and don’t want to push with the Board (of Alderman); because again they don’t necessarily have the funds that they thought they would and so we want to be careful with what we ask for.”

One of the first items that the commission discussed during their meeting was the projected construction of the Bramlett Boulevard Sidewalk Project, a $167,000 project that the commission has tried to get off the ground for several years. Funded by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the city, the project aims to finish the sidewalks along the right side of Bramlett Boulevard from University Avenue to Jefferson Avenue. The project will also increase pedestrian accessibility to Oxford Middle School, the Old Armory Pavilion, and the Oxford Community Market; Feitel said he spoke with John Crawley, Oxford’s Assistant City Engineer, who estimates that the project might start construction as early as December.

One of the main agenda items that the commission addressed during their monthly meeting was their annual report, which they submit to the Board of Aldermen. Every year, all the city’s commissions have to check-in and inform the Board of the business that they are doing. In their report, the commission highlights specific things that they are doing and concerns that they have, such as getting regular maintenance of bike lanes around town, because a lot of debris – such as gravel, branches, glass – gets knocked out of car travel lanes and ends up in bike lanes.

“A lot of areas in our town aren’t necessarily served by sidewalks, so areas that have bike lanes, you often see people running and walking in them,” Feitel said. “So cleaning is always a priority because if we can clean the lanes, they are more inviting, and if they are more inviting, more people use them.”

Besides cleaning up bike lanes, Feitel also mentioned that the committee wants the Board to address particular areas of town where bike lanes are unsafe. Specifically, the commission is concerned about the bike lane on College Hill Road and West Jackson Avenue; the bike lane is located on a sharp curve often encroached on by cars exiting off West Jackson.

The commission also discussed building a potential path in Lakeway Gardens, a neighborhood located off Highway 314. The crux of the project, which is just an idea at this point, is to build a walking or biking path between the neighborhood’s two entrances: Lakeway Drive and Cedar Street; the path will help increase bicycle and pedestrian accessibility. Townes also said he thinks this project is important because it will create another loop in the neighborhood that people can use to walk and bike safely, and he said a path could help prevent another cyclist fatality, like Kevser Ermin, a UM doctoral student, who was tragically hit by a car while biking along Highway 314 in 2011. 

“The first goal is to just make another loop in the neighborhood, and then the second goal, which is maybe more pie in the sky thinking, is if we are going to do that can we do something that also spurs on a future path along Old Sardis Road,” Townes said. “Where it ends up is not at all determined or anything, but I think the first goal is to get from Lamar Park to mTrade Park.”

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