West Campus needs at least $1.7 million worth of lighting upgrades, according to a study presented by the Austin Transportation Department on Monday.
In May 2017, after months of lobbying by campus safety groups, the Austin Police Department, Austin Energy and Austin Transportation Department (ATD) began studying lighting and pedestrian safety in West Campus. ATD pedestrian coordinator Joel Meyer said their consultant estimated a need for $580,000 in lighting improvements and more than a million dollars in installation costs.
“There were a lot of concerns around safety generally in West Campus because of the heavy concentration and density of students in that area,” Meyer said. “Installing better lighting in West Campus will help people feel safer and more comfortable walking at night.”
Meyer said the study, which was presented during the monthly meeting of Austin’s Public Safety Commission, found that 20 percent of lighting in West Campus is deficient. Meyer said these deficient lights include lights that are burned out, obstructed by trees or vandalized.
“We see a really big opportunity to improve lighting in the neighborhood just by fixing some of the existing lights,” Meyer said. “It’s really important that we improve the safety of the built environment so people feel safe and comfortable walking to school.”
Allie Runas, an electrical and computer engineering senior, is working toward organizing a West Campus neighborhood association to advocate for improving issues impacting residents. Runas said she has noticed many dark places during her walks throughout West Campus and believes lighting additions are necessary for the area.
“Improving the lighting will not only improve personal safety for residents, but I also do feel strongly that it will improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety as well,” Runas said.
Along with the six-month study, ATD also accepted public recommendations through in-person meetings and an online survey. Meyer said 80 percent of respondents to the survey said lighting in West Campus was not adequate for people walking at night.
“We found that there is a big concern about lighting and safety in West Campus, but we also found that a substantial number of people thought that lighting could be a solution to those concerns,” Meyer said. “A lot of different
stakeholders said that this is a really big priority for them, and so as a city we’re also making it one of our top priorities.”
William Lockett, Student Government city relations co-director, said while the cost is high, enhancing lighting is one of the best ways to boost safety in West Campus.
“Like a lot of other students, I realize that lighting in West Campus is a problem as it relates to safety,” finance senior Lockett said. “Everybody knows that West Campus and other areas around campus could be safer, and I think addressing lighting is a big step in improving that problem.”
The finalized recommendations from the study will be sent in a few weeks to the Mayor and City Council to be considered for a vote, but a date for a vote has not been set.