West Campus lighting to improve, according to city of Austin memo

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After Student Government representatives voiced a need for lighting improvements in West Campus, the Austin City Council and SafeHorns initiated a study to identify the lighting issues. West Campus should see improvements as early as this summer.

Photo Credit: Saba Rahimian | Daily Texan Staff

Residents of West Campus will see several lighting improvements throughout the area as soon as this summer, according to a memo released last month by the Austin Transportation Department.

The Austin City Council passed a resolution in May 2017 directing Austin city manager Spencer Cronk to complete a lighting study of West Campus and to make recommendations for lighting strategies to improve pedestrian safety. The memo outlines the short-term, mid-term and long-term plans for lighting upgrades.

Kathie Tovo, District 9 council member, whose district includes West Campus, said lighting was an area Student Government representatives and others consistently said needs improvement. Tovo, whose district includes west campus said a thorough study was necessary to pinpoint all issues.

“We make sure that redevelopment is also integrating the best lighting design possible for safety … so that we’re continually working toward improving people’s perceived, but also their real sense of safety in Austin and West Campus,” Tovo said. “We know lighting discourages crime and criminal activity. Having good lighting is really important to ensuring safe spaces for people.”

The study found 21 percent of existing lighting fixtures needed maintenance, did not work or were obstructed by trees. Short-term recommendations include repairing nonfunctioning lights and trimming trees that block lighting. This is expected to be completed by this summer, according to the study.

However, the city expects it will take five years to design and install new LED lights throughout the West Campus. Costs will be covered by the city’s five-year Capital Spending Plan for 2019–2023 and Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget, according to the memo.

Safety advocacy nonprofit SafeHorns worked with Joel Meyer, pedestrian coordinator for Austin Transportation Department, to help initiate the study, SafeHorns president Joell McNew said. McNew said she is disappointed by the time line to address all lighting issues.

“I think it’s extremely disappointing that the findings came back that it’s not even up to standard,” McNew said. “That is disgusting honestly, that they knew they were allowing all this building to come and they knew this area would become so populated, yet during the process there was never oversight to have accountability for the process.”

Allie Runas, chair of the West Campus Neighborhood Association, said she thinks the five year time line is reasonable, considering it as an investment in the neighborhood.

Runas, electrical and computer engineering senior, said Austin Transportation Department is taking steps in the right direction to “modernize” West Campus when the study found only 23 of the 1,148 lights to be LED.

“Austin and UT have definitely set themselves up to be institutions where we’re embracing a more eco-friendly future, and … we’re not putting our infrastructure where our mouth is,” Runas said. “It’s very exciting to know that the repairs that are happening are also going to be upgrades.”

Runas said students usually live in West Campus for two or three years, so many students who helped point out problem areas in West Campus will not be living there to see the completed lighting recommendations. 

“I know it’s frustrating that we’re not going to see that realized when we’re residents,” Runas said. “It’s a really great feeling to know that we’re making future Longhorns’ lives better.”