"Be Safe" should focus more on improving campus physical environment

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SURE Walk is a program that allows students a safer way to walk home. SURE Walk aims to collaborate with UTPD to create safe walking zones by spring of next year
Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

In 2015, UT launched the “Be Safe” campaign to encourage students to be more mindful of personal safety around campus. Be Safe ads are now plastered all over bulletin boards, classrooms and libraries.

The slickly produced posters are instantly recognizable with their bold typography, catchy slogans and iconic shades of white, black and blue. Stylized stick figures convey Be Safe’s key messages, “Walk With Me,” “Be Aware of Your Surroundings” and “Call 911.”

Through Be Safe, UT is expending tremendous effort to change our habits and our behaviors. But I see less effort being spent to improve another critical aspect of campus safety — its physical environment.

Many areas on campus remain plagued by inadequate lighting and overgrown brush. UT promises to improve them, but we have no idea where and when the work will take place, because the full Department of Public Safety review is classified. We deserve accountability and transparency when our personal safety is at stake. Instead, we’re being kept in the dark, both literally and figuratively.

Our campus bus stops, used by thousands of students every day, are a disgrace. Most are little more than a sign on a pole, while a select few have rusting benches and shelters. It should go without saying that bus stops, where people wait for long periods of time, ought to be lighted at all times. Yet at night, students are left in the dark, waiting for a bus that could be many minutes away.

For some time, Capital Metro has offered real-time tracking of its mainline bus and UT shuttle services. UT should take advantage of the technology by installing displays at all campus bus stops. Rather than wondering when the next bus will arrive — if one is even coming at all — we could have real-time countdowns to the next arrival, just as the MetroRapid stations have. For the Forty Acres, West Campus and East Campus campus circulators, a real-time map could be displayed with the precise locations of each bus.  

When getting around campus, personal safety means pedestrian safety, which requires good street design with moderated traffic and plentiful crossing opportunities. Here too, UT falls short. Despite a high-profile renovation of Speedway, most campus streets are designed to be car-first. I curse the wide lanes of 21st St, which allow motorists to speed unimpeded, each time I cross the unprotected crosswalk at Whitis.

Moving around campus should never be a game of Frogger. Traffic calming measures, like narrower lanes, wider sidewalks and curb extensions, would prioritize people, not engines, and do more for the safety of students than any reminder about the existence of 911.

Unlike Be Safe, I dream of a campus in which I am not worried to walk alone and in which my surroundings are aware of me. Changing our campus’s built environment will not be cheap, but it will be necessary to make meaningful improvements to our personal safety. Until we accomplish that, all this talk about being safe is just that — talk.

Young is a a computer science junior from Bakersfield. He is a columnist.