Safety improvements made in West Campus ahead of fall semester

Victoria May

Many community groups have taken advantage of the summer break to improve safety in West Campus.

In response to safety concerns raised by students living in West Campus, organizations such as the UT Police Department and the City of Austin have spent the past few months making improvements to the area. Changes include a new safety app launched by UTPD, renovated sidewalks, increased lighting and new homeless policies.

On July 22, UTPD announced it would be launching an app, LiveSafe, for the fall semester. UT community members will be able to use the app to submit tips, communicate with officers, report incidents and access
emergency protocols.

“LiveSafe fills a critical void in today’s education and security product mix,” LiveSafe said in a statement. “It helps the UT community reduce operational risk by enabling them to prevent serious safety incidents by using early warning insights through the campus population.”

Construction on sidewalks throughout West Campus will be completed by the end of the month, according to the City of Austin’s website. Renovations, such as filling in sidewalk gaps, are being made along Nueces, 24th, 25th and 26th streets. 

“We think these improvements are critically important to help people who are trying to get from West Campus over to the University and vice versa,” said Sara Behunek, communications manager for the city’s Corridor Program Office, in a statement. “We want to make sure that people have access to the sidewalks and (make) sure that (they’re) ADA compliant.”

The sidewalks in West Campus aren’t the only thing getting an upgrade. In May 2017, the Austin City Council ordered a study of West Campus lighting, which found that 20% of lighting in the area was deficient and the neighborhood needed at least $1.7 million worth of lighting upgrades.

The council signed a response to the study in January calling for an increase in lighting in the area. All nonfunctioning fixtures and tree limbs that obstructed existing lighting have since been fixed over the summer, according to an Austin Transportation Department memorandum.

“We know lighting discourages crime and criminal activity,” said council member Kathie Tovo, whose district includes West Campus, during the May 2017 council meeting. “Having good lighting is really important
to ensuring safe spaces for people.”

The council also amended former homeless ordinances. Under the new rules, city policies prohibiting camping, lying down and sitting in public places are only enforceable if such actions present a safety issue or prevent use of public facilities. 

“It is important that City Manager (Spencer) Cronk carves out areas in which camping is still outlawed, especially now as we … prepare for students to come back to school,” business sophomore Cole Cunov said during the June council meeting. 

Additionally, panhandling will be prohibited only in circumstances deemed violent or aggressive.

“I think (the ordinance) is an important piece of us moving from dealing with homelessness through the jails and instead dealing with homelessness through housing and services while maintaining protections for health and safety,” council member Greg Casar said during a June meeting.