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Issues, concerns arise at annual campus Safety Walk

December 6, 2007

Despite temperatures below freezing, a group of UW-River Falls students, faculty and community members joined together to assess safety concerns on campus as part of a yearly Campus Safety Walk Nov. 27.

The walk, sponsored in part by Student Senate, has become an annual tradition to give students a chance to voice their concerns about areas of campus they believe are unsafe and give suggestions as to how they can be improved. 

Bundled in winter clothes, the group of nearly 25 gathered in the University Center to receive maps, instructions, and be split into three groups, each led by a senator. The first covered the East side of campus and was led by Diversity and Women’s Issues director Nikki Shonoiki; the second covered the South side of campus and was led by at-large senator Melody Reimer and the third, led by CAFES Representative Laura Adrian, covered the West side of campus.

The groups were charged with the task of following a course on the map and assessing safety concerns, such as poor lighting, locations of the blue emergency call stations, and the positioning and condition of crosswalks and sidewalks.

After walking set paths, all groups reconvened in the Falls Room of the University Center to make a list of observations while warming up with cookies and coffee.

While concerns ranged from burned out streetlights to overgrown vegetation that posed potential threats, some of the more prevalent concerns related to the condition of the emergency call phones.

The “blue phones” or “blue lights,” as they are commonly referred to, can be found in 20 locations throughout campus, according to Public Safety’s Web site. Each has a direct link to the Pierce County Sheriff’s dispatch center and the theory goes that when standing at any particular blue light, another light should be clearly visible.

While the placement of lights didn’t seem to be an issue, many were concerned with the condition of the blue lights. Out of five lights tested on the East side of campus, four were broken or malfunctioning, Shared Governance director Cindy Bendix said.

“That doesn’t exactly make me feel safe walking around campus,” Bendix said.

Safety along the back paths were a primary concern as well; in particular, the lack of lights along the South Fork Trail seemed to bother many students. Regardless of the fact that the trail was not originally designed for students to use at night, it is currently being used – this means that lighting and warning signs need to be seriously considered, Chancellor Don Betz said.

“Of particular interest … are ways to ensure safety on the South Fork Trail,” Betz said.

Suggestions for improvement were entertained along with concerns, ranging from simply repainting crosswalks and trimming vegetation to installing new technology, such as LED lights that signify to a driver that they’re approaching a crosswalk.

However, while the idea of increased lighting may seem attractive to students walking on campus at night, competing factors such as energy concerns must be taken in consideration, Campus Planner Dale Braun said.

“I know it’s nice to walk at night on a brightly lit campus; it helps make us feel safer … but that lighting consumes a lot of energy, even when people aren’t around,” Braun said. “My hope is that in the future we could look at retrofitting at least some of our lights on campus with pedestrian sensors to come on when people are around, and either stay off or dimmed when people aren’t around, to reduce energy consumption and yield less light pollution.”

While campus does provide some safety programs, such as providing escorts to students walking on campus late at night, the Campus Safety Walk did a good job of giving faculty an even better idea of what needs attention on campus, Mike Stifter, Director of Student Life Facilities, said.

“Student Senate did a good job of involving some key staff and administrators from around campus … Students, too, were well represented,” Stifter said. “We will be interested in reviewing the notes once they are summarized and doing what we can to maintain a safe campus.”

The annual Safety Walk is definitely something that will be continued each year, as it continues to be “informative and useful each year,” Betz said.

“There was definitely engaged and vocal student representation,” Betz said. “This is an important tradition here at UW-River Falls that reaps benefits each year.”