Expand Sure Walk to fully serve student neighborhoods

Richard Lee

Editor’s note: This column has been updated to include more information on the services Sure Walk currently offers.

Sadly, a string of aggravated assaults in October rocked the UT community. In most of these instances, armed criminals targeted students walking alone in West Campus at night. While I felt safe walking alone at night before the assaults, I’ve now become worried walking even short distances after dark. 

Though UT offers Sure Walk, a service that offers rides and walking escorts to protect students and ensure they get home safely, the program does not extend to off-campus locations (UT Night Rides services off-campus neighborhoods, but is coordinated through Lyft and doesn’t start running until midnight). Since neighborhoods such as West Campus and North Campus are heavily populated with UT students, Sure Walk’s scope should also reach the communities where students live off campus.

It’s time for Sure Walk to expand its service area and keep more UT students safe. By operating out of campus parking garages, Sure Walk can ensure that students who live off campus can safely get to where they need to be. 

It’s important to note that the use of Sure Walk has declined alongside decreased on-campus traffic due to COVID-19. Blanca Gamez, associate director of Parking and Transportation Services, which manages the service, noted the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Sure Walk.

“Right now looking at the (ridership) numbers, it’s kind of hard to justify a satellite location,'' Gamez said. “Not to say that things won't change when students come back to campus, but with ridership so low, I can’t see the need for a satellite office.”

While ridership has fallen, crime has not. 

In the 78705 zip code housing West Campus, data from the Austin Police Department shows that the number of crimes reported in the period between March 1 and Aug. 28 was higher compared to the same period in 2019. This is not including the October spree mentioned above — meaning year-to-date increases may be even higher.

The increased crime in the area has caused many students, including sport management junior Sydney Johnson, to change their habits.

“I’m incredibly hesitant to walk home alone, especially since the robberies targeted women,” Johnson said. “I’ve had to start carefully planning whenever I go to and from places to protect myself.” 

Sure Walk exists specifically to protect students from violent crimes. If a student feels unsafe traveling alone at night, they deserve an option to move free from danger regardless of whether or not they are already on campus.

“I definitely would use (Sure Walk) to get around West Campus and keep myself safe,” Johnson said.

Due to the pandemic, the Sure Walk office previously located in Jester Center has relocated to Brazos Garage. Since this shows the service can work out of campus parking garages, new satellite locations such as San Antonio Garage or 27th Street Garage, which both border student-heavy neighborhoods, would offer the proximity needed to serve students living off campus.

Gamez notes that Sure Walk does offer rides from University-owned buildings such as parking garages, Walter Webb Hall and 2400 Nueces. However, students must already be in these locations, and there are no such buildings north of campus. 

Operating more locations near where students live also exposes Sure Walk to students who may not know it exists. This is an essential step for Sure Walk to continue to protect our communities.

No student should become the victim of a violent crime. Unfortunate reminders of crime in our area show that improvements must be made. Sure Walk can continue to be an active part of our community by growing its service area and maintaining a presence closer to where we live.

Lee is a civil engineering junior from Plano, Texas.