AUSTIN (KXAN) — City leaders announced Thursday that crews will work throughout the year to upgrade hundreds of street lights throughout West Campus after complaints about safety.
In a memo released Thursday, the city shared that it identified 511 decorative street lights that will have LED inserts added to them by the end of 2022. The city explained in a news release that these inserts “will increase the amount and quality of light in the area.”
West Campus, as the city noted, experiences higher property crimes — things like thefts — than others parts of Austin. When KXAN took a close look at the crime reports last year, they showed that 2021 was the second-highest year of the past five for assaults and burglaries in West Campus.
“The City listened to community concerns and is taking action to modernize the West Campus area to improve safety through a combination of better and more lighting, increased police patrols and ongoing support to help our homeless neighbors find housing,” Stephanie Hayden-Howard, the assistant city manager over health and environment, said in a news release.
Joell McNew, who serves as president of the safety advocacy group SafeHorns, said it’s taken years to bring about these changes.
“We’re happy to hear an update because we have never really heard any follow-up in terms of timeline and work done,” McNew said. “We’re very happy to see that there’s progress and to see this announcement from the city today officially.”
She described the city’s deadline to install these LED inserts into hundreds of lights by the end of the year as “aggressive,” but she hopes the city will stick to it.
“We’ll be satisfied with an improvement where students begin to feel safer because they’re actually seeing something done, and that’s what we’ve always wanted,” McNew said. “This lighting study was a lot of work, and it’s been years in the making, and we’ve just been waiting for action.”
The city noted in its memo that it already upgraded “439 ‘Cobra’ head style street lights to LED lighting, providing enhanced illumination as compared to the previous non-LED lighting technology.” Work will also happen year-round now to repair broken lights and trim trees and other plants that may block them.
Austin police, the city explained, are also increasing patrols every day throughout West Campus “utilizing patrol units, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and foot patrols.”
City leaders explained the Homeless Outreach Street Team is making regular visits to the area to connect people experiencing homelessness with services, too. However, McNew said SafeHorns will keep pushing for more of that type of assistance in the West campus area.
“Our students, many times, are afraid of the aggressive behavior,” McNew said. “We need someone to come to The Drag. We need them to engage with our unhoused neighbors that need case management. They need resources. They need help.”
The city is also forming a new group with several departments that will hold its first meeting in February with the goal of launching a study about improving lighting citywide. The departments include the Austin Transportation Department, Austin Energy, the Austin Police Department, Austin Code and Austin Public Works. “This interdepartmental lighting working group will define next steps on COA departmental lighting needs (including pedestrian and trail lighting), define roles and responsibilities and develop a scope and cost estimates for a citywide lighting study,” the memo stated.