I Have Eyes But I Still Can’t See

E 38 1/2 Street

It’s 2:00am and the social activities are over. As I leave my friend’s house in North Campus, I quickly scurry in the direction of my car parked somewhere down the street. It’s nighttime— It’s dark outside and the single street light proves clearly insufficient for providing adequate lighting to the neighborhood. I have trouble discerning the location of my white vehicle, resorting to the visual feedback from my car when I press the “unlock” button on my key. As my mind is focused on locating my car, I continuously look over both my shoulders with a taxing level of hyper-awareness. My eyes strain to scan my surroundings for unexpecting persons. As soon as I reach my car, I turn on my headlights to increase the lighting in my vicinity. As I drive off, my heart rate begins to lower and my mind relaxes.

This is my common experience when leaving my friends’ off-campus houses at nighttime— a feeling of unsafety and anxiety when walking in very poorly lit areas. I’m a guy though, so isn’t that weird? I don’t think so. The reality is that insufficient lighting in neighborhoods around campus elicits some form of anxiety or fear in most students, regardless of gender. It isn’t simply happenstance that most horror movies or TV shows consistently have their most suspenseful moments taking place in the nighttime. While I’m not a psychologist, I can’t imagine that the science is too difficult to understand— in the dark, there is less visibility, and in the light, there is greater visibility. Humans generally have a greater sense of safety when they are aware of their surroundings— when they can see. Therefore, increasing amounts of darkness induce heightened states of awareness and insecurity, commonly leading to feelings of anxiety and fear.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 10.22.58 PMA 2014 poll conducted by Gallop surveyed adults regarding their fear of walking alone at night within one mile of their living arrangement. The poll filtered responses by age and household income, ad the results speak for themselves. College students fall under the categories of age 18-29 and household income less than $30,000, and in both groups exists the highest percentage of fear.

The problem is multifaceted, however. The effects of having a single street light attempting to provide visibility to an entire street doesn’t exclusively affect pedestrians. Consider yourself driving through the neighborhood at night— the headlights of your car may provide, on average, 200 feet of visibility in front of you. Most off-campus neighborhoods have a speed limit of around 35 miles per hour, so let’s do the math. Traveling at 35 mph (51 ft/sec) at night with 200 feet of frontward visibility would mandate that if you spot a person in the middle of the street via the lighting from your headlights, you would have about 4 seconds to bring your vehicle to a stop. This would include reaction time of recognition, reaction time of hitting the brakes, and then the time of the vehicle’s deceleration— I wouldn’t consider that a forgiving amount of time. The problem affects both drivers and pedestrians. Both are in danger yet the fault is not on either party, it’s on the poor street lighting in the area.

Arguably the most viable solution isn’t one that I would consider groundbreaking or innovative— Simply put more street lights along the road. Install enough street lights to adequately light up the entire street.

A neighborhood street in Birmingham, AL

When I walk out of my friend’s house in North Campus, the nearest visible street light shouldn’t be 100 feet down the road. While there does need to be some thoughtful consideration with regards to how frequent the street lights should appear, there shouldn’t be significantly long sections of darkness that aren’t reached by any light. I don’t believe that this is a difficult solution, particularly when considering the importance of the safety of students around campus. But even if it is, I’d beg the question regarding the lengths and bounds that the University/city of Austin would be willing to go in order to provide safer conditions for its students/inhabitants?

Particularly in light of the recent tragedies that have occurred at the University of Texas over the past year or so, the felt need for safety in and around campus understandably seems to be at a peak. Increased safety measures in any and every feasible capacity should be pursued, and I find that this is one obvious method of helping assuage those fears. While it clearly wouldn’t serve as the ultimate solution to those concerns, it certainly would help make forward progress.

Two venues that I think would best fit this piece are The Daily Texan and The Austin American-Statesman. I feel that that the subject of my paper would serve these two venues most optimally because they’re relatively local, so the problem of inadequate street lighting around the UT campus would remain more personal and identifiable to a larger percentage of the venues’ audience, and as a result, a greater incentive for timely action.


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