1 in 5 West Campus streetlights are deficient, report says, officials unsure who is responsible

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Roughly 20 percent of the more than 1,100 streetlights around West Campus are deficient, according to a study by the city of Austin, raising eyebrows from the city’s public safety officials.

However, public safety commissioners receiving a briefing on the report Dec. 3 seemed unsure of how to move forward and whether responsibility should sit fully on the city, the University of Texas or a combination of both.

Following the 2016 murder of University of Texas student Haruka Weiser, questions were raised regarding public safety and lighting around the university’s neighborhood. Last year Austin City Council commissioned a study to examine the lighting in the area bound by North Lamar Boulevard, Guadalupe Street, 29th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard. Although the final results are due in two to three weeks, the commission received some highlights Dec. 3.

According to the study, 1 in 5 streetlights are deficient throughout the neighborhood. The study defines deficient as not providing sufficient lighting, either due to an outage, vandalism or tree blockage. To fix all 220 deficient lights would cost between $1.7 to $2.3 million, said Joel Meyer, pedestrian coordinator with the city of Austin, who briefed public safety commissioners Dec. 3.

Students have communicated displeasure with the lighting in the neighborhood, which has grown denser and more walkable in recent years. Only 20 percent of students say West Campus lighting is adequate, and 93 percent of students feel lighting would make them feel safer walking at night, Meyer said.

Joell Sullivan-McNew, founder of Safe Horns, a group dedicated to a safer University of Texas campus, said she believes the broken windows theory, which relates crime prevention to environmental design.

“The lighting portion is an extremely important first step in reducing crime,” Sullivan-McNew said.

Commissioners had different ideas on how to move forward. Although some agreed the commission should recommend City Council address the issue, others, including Commissioner Brian Haley—a former University of Texas student body president—said the recommendation should target a partnership between the university and the city.

Commissioner Ed Scruggs said although the campus does not comprise any university property, the university drives the area’s development and growing populace and should take more responsibility. Scruggs said the city and university should not wait for private development to potentially fill some of the lighting gaps.

After the full results of the report are published, the commission expects to formalize a recommendation to City Council.

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Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and USA Today. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
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