West Campus lighting study attempts to address safety concerns

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Civil engineering sophomore Lean Bennett walks through West Campus. The city is implementing improved lighting throughout West Campus as part of a parking benefit program between the city and the University Area Partners, a West Campus neighborhood association.
Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

The City of Austin is conducting a West Campus lighting and safety study after months of lobbying from campus safety groups.

The study was approved by City Council in May, a year after the death of freshman Haruka Weiser and weeks after rumors ran rampant in West Campus the day freshman Harrison Brown was killed.

Despite recent events, Joel Meyer, pedestrian coordinator for the city transportation department, said the decision to begin the study was not made in direct response to any specific incidents.

“I think for a while there’s been concerns on safety from student and parents and business owners,” Meyer said. “Of course, there have been a couple of high-profile events over the past few years.”

The Austin Transportation Department is collaborating with the Austin Police Department and Austin Energy to conduct the six-month study. The group will present a report with recommended lighting updates to be approved by City Council this spring.

Campus safety groups intensified demands for increased security measures on and near campus after the deaths of Weiser and Brown. SafeHorns, a stakeholder group composed of students, parents and business owners, was one of the primary voices in this attempt.

SafeHorns Vice President Joell McNew said a lighting study is necessary, especially considering West Campus’ growing population.

McNew, who has a son at UT, said when speaking with student groups, the primary change they wanted to see in West Campus, aside from increased police presence, was lighting.

“We’re so thrilled to have this city come on board ... and take a look at (West Campus) so we can move forward for positive sustainable change, because it really does need it,” McNew said.

Biology freshman Carolyn Collins said better lighting is a step in the right direction.

“I do know that a lot of crime happens in darker areas because there is less visibility,” Collins said. “So I do think lighting could help the issue.”

Part of the study will consist of a public outreach effort, including stakeholder meetings and an online community survey, a tool Meyer said has been successful in past programs. He said input from West Campus residents and business owners is vital to understanding the issues in the area.

“We’re really looking forward to hearing from people who live in West Campus and work in that area,” Meyer said. “We want to get as much feedback as possible.”

English junior Adam Bucheister has lived in West Campus for two years. He said he has never considered lighting in West Campus to be a safety issue, and he doesn’t think better lighting will do much to combat crime or pedestrian accidents.
 
“I don’t know if it’s an issue of lighting. I think it’s probably more cultural,” Bucheister said.

McNew said she’s not sure lighting updates will have a substantial impact on actual safety, but they will make students feel safer.

“I don’t believe (more lighting) will make it safer, but I believe that having improved lighting in any neighborhood allows people to feel safer and also see and be more situationally aware,” McNew said. “A lot of safety is perception and fear.”