Oxford council candidates talk transportation, tourism

Vehicles travel along the brick-covered High Street in Oxford. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
Vehicles travel along the brick-covered High Street in Oxford. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Two incumbents are among the field of nine seeking four open seats on Oxford City Council in November’s election.

Incumbents Mike Smith and Edna Southard are on the ballot with challengers Drew Davis, Jace Prows, David Prytherch, Chantel Raghu, Samantha Vogel, Corey Watt and Austin Worrell.

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The Journal-News asked each candidate about transportation issues in the city as well as what can be done to attract more visitors. Here are their responses:

Q: What can be done to make Oxford more appealing as a destination city?

Davis: Oxford can be a more appealing destination city by continuing to improve communication of all the great events that we have here. Additionally, providing incentives and revised zoning to encourage more business development will create even more reason to come here and stick around for a bit longer. Improving local infrastructure like sidewalks and street lighting can create a safer environment for visitors and locals alike.

Prows: Continue and expand our current efforts such as music festivals, wine festivals and other activities. It is important to encourage pride in our city and for residents to be involved, from cleaning up litter, to community service to support for Miami Athletics. Oxford is unique to have so many family owned small businesses operating in town. I feel that small businesses, along with the student population are underappreciated in this city.

Prytherch: Expanding marketing and investing in local amenities can attract visitors to better support our unique local businesses and year-round economy. These efforts make us a great destination and a wonderful place to live.

Raghu: No one travels to a small town because of its strip malls or chain stores. So, what is Oxford's niche? We need to blend the old and new and amplify all that is great about Oxford. The farmer's market should be expanded and High Street should be pedestrian only during times of high foot traffic, farm to table restaurants should be encouraged to develop a local culinary scene and support local farms, more outdoor seating needs to be made available, local Native American culture should be highlighted to embrace this area's rich history and public artwork should celebrate our always expanding local culture.

Smith: I think it would be great to work with Miami University to bundle arts and sporting events with hotel and restaurant packages. Once people visit Oxford they always return.

Southard: Cooperation between the City and the University enhances our efforts to make Oxford more of a cultural and tourist destination increases economic development in our town. The summer Thursday concerts this year have been extended through September. Yoga in the Park preceding the Oxford Farmers Market brings in people from all over our region on Saturday mornings. The first part of the Oxford Area Trails opened this year and we need to continue the plan for the OATS trail to go all the way around town, move forward to make the Amtrak station stop happen and encourage public art to enhance the interest and beauty of our town.

Vogel: Build eco-friendly "Smart Homes," for single family units, three models initially, three different price points, to achieve the goal of in-fill within the Mile Square; whereby attracting young professionals, families, singles, empty nesters and seniors. All units *affordable for the median household income. (*$140,000-$180,000) Then collaborate with the Chamber of Commerce offices in the surrounding counties to coordinate tours with real estate agents and the builders.

Watt: The City needs to partner with others in the region to ensure we are leveraging our resources and not competing with each other. Oxford and the university have incredible resources and events that should complement, not compete with our neighbors. The cities of Hamilton and Middletown have found their niche and are emerging as places to be. We must diversify Oxford's economy and marketplace to be more than a school year playground. Residents and tourists struggle to find appropriate options during breaks, when we should have more consistency and merely transition the customer base, not shut down.

Worrell: Oxford isn't just a great place to call home, it's an incredible town to visit. We are one of Ohio's Best Hometowns for a reason. We need to promote an active and vibrant community year-round. Community festivals and events draw in people from all over, so let's do more: hosting even better and more creative events. People should be driving to Oxford to eat, shop and spend the day or a few!

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Q: What should the city’s transportation priorities be?

Davis: I think that the ease of walking in a city is great for a number of aspects. It encourages better public health and safety, promotes a welcoming feeling, supports local businesses, alleviates traffic and generally improves morale. Sidewalk improvement and night time street-lighting can encourage more walking. Additionally, development of bike lanes and/or improving availability of bicycle parking can alleviate traffic stress on economic areas.

Prows: The city of Oxford is 7.5 square miles this makes the city easy to get around. It only takes a trip to a big metropolitan city to realize how good we actually have it in Oxford. It is easy to complain when we have to park a few blocks away from our destination but we must keep things in perspective. I do believe it is important to make the streets as safe as possible for those who wish to travel by bike, safety would be emphasized. For those who find traveling a challenge, I would encourage support of several local taxi companies in town as well as residents who choose to drive for Uber.

Prytherch: Our Comprehensive Plan says it all: "A quality, accessible transportation system with alternative forms of transportation for a diverse population, improved infrastructure, adequate parking, bikeways and efficient traffic management." This means planning our streets for the safety and convenience of all users, of all ages and abilities. And it means investing in infrastructure to connect us to each other and the region: like the Oxford Area Trail and Amtrak.

Raghu: Infrastructure to support walking, biking and public transit should be the city's transportation priorities. Walking and biking is healthy for our city in so many ways: cleaner air, healthier people and a community that is more in touch and less isolated. There are a lot of barriers. Sidewalks should be restored and possibly widened to accommodate a bike lane on one designated side and pedestrian only on the other side of the sidewalk. Innovative and technologically progressive public/mass transit can be explored to help accommodate people outside of the city center and people who may not physically be capable of walking or biking.

Smith: Oxford is incredibly walkable. We need to continue to make those pathways safe for everyone. We have a great bus service, but it could use some tweaking with more stops, bigger routes and summer bus service. Finally, we need to look towards the future with regional connectivity with an Amtrak stop in Oxford.

Southard: We can develop streets that are pleasant for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. I would like to see more transportation through the city and to the surrounding cities. We need buses that take people to all parts of the city including the Community Park. The New York to Chicago train line already goes through Oxford, so building an Amtrak platform so that the train can stop here will bring more visitors, more prospective students and their parents and provide more options for everyone. We need to work on sidewalks and lighting to improve safety.

Vogel: Support the development of the Amtrak station. Offer low-cost incentives for Oxford community members to car pool with Miami University students; likewise to ride their bikes, weather permitting.

Watt: I serve as a Trustee on the Butler County Regional Transit Authority (BCRTA) and believe Oxford's transportation priorities need to be 1) increase options and accessibility to public transit (bus and shuttle) for all citizens; 2) build a transportation center to attract and coordinate various options (train, bus, taxi, park and ride, etc.) 3) increase our pedestrian and bike options, both for commuting and recreation. We have more cars than feasible parking; unsafe options for pedestrians/bikers (e.g sidewalks, crossings); growing, but inadequate public transportation.

Worrell: As a college town, Oxford faces varying challenges with transportation. I hope to work with the BCRTA and the rest of Council to ensure that our public transportation is adequately serving all of our residents. We also need more parking Uptown to accommodate anyone that decides to drive into town. The city has the space to construct a mixed-use parking garage and retail space structure, that would provide much-needed additional parking and space for new business.