West Campus lighting updates set to complete by next semester


Julius Shieh

A pedestrian walks beneath a streetlight in West Campus.

Kylee Howard, Senior News Reporter

Austin Energy has completed the recommended LED improvements to over 1,100 West Campus lighting fixtures per a 2018 study, an Austin Energy spokesperson said on Wednesday. The next phase of improving visibility will wrap up in the fall as the utility company identifies any remaining lighting gaps.

In 2017, Austin City Council approved a resolution to conduct a study regarding lighting in West Campus. Two years later, the city released the study findings to the public via a memo, setting up a plan to add 229 fixtures and update current fixtures. Only 27% of the updates were completed in September 2021, which is when students, parents and other community members signed a petition to expedite progress. 

As of last September, Austin Energy said it had improved over 600 fixtures with LED light bulbs in West Campus, with the deadline to complete those updates by the end of 2022. Austin Energy said it is now moving on to “phase two,” which includes vegetation management and adding 212 lighting fixtures.

Joell McNew, president of Safehorns, an organization made of students and parents to promote safety on and off campus, said lack of lighting and visibility have been concerns of students going back decades. 

“I have students from 10 years ago saying, ‘Oh my god, we wanted this back then,’” McNew said. “So this is a really big deal.”

Business freshman Taj James said he usually tries to avoid walking in the dark all together in West Campus. 

James said he is mostly concerned about pedestrians interacting with traffic in the dimmed streets. 

“I’m a man, so I feel more comfortable in the dark than some of my female friends do,” James said. “They’re more concerned about safety, … but my concern is more about the people not being able to see.”

James said he stays safe by taking well-lit routes but wishes for more light and sidewalks for his female-identifying friends. 

A University of Texas Police Department representative said the department is constantly working to increase safety measures in the West Campus area.

“UTPD understands the threats that exist in society and works with our campus community and law enforcement partners to help keep our students, faculty, staff and visitors safe,” a UTPD representative said in an email. “Our cooperative efforts have led to significant enhancements to create a safe learning and living environment.”

McNew said the inclusion of vegetation management in the plan helped improve visibility greatly. On her latest tour of West Campus, she was impressed when she saw 23rd Street and Rio Grande Street. 

“I literally stood at that corner and cried,” McNew said. “(Austin Energy) had raised the canopy of all the trees; now you could see all the way down (Rio Grande Street).”

Keeping construction sites secure and well-lit is another priority for Safehorns due to complaints of “criminal activity” in vacant properties, but McNew said she is grateful for the progress so far.

“When you work on these initiatives, you’re creating a legacy for (the) future onward,” McNew said. “We’re really proud of this project, and we’re really grateful to Austin Energy.”