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Safety concerns bring additional lights to Randall Park neighborhood

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Scott Procter

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The Randall Park neighborhood’s rise in crime and concern from residents result in trial lighting

The+University+of+Wisconsin-Eau+Claire%27s+Student+Senate+announced+the+installation+of+extra+street+lighting+in+the+Randall+Park+neighborhood.
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Safety concerns bring additional lights to Randall Park neighborhood

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Student Senate announced the installation of extra street lighting in the Randall Park neighborhood.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Student Senate announced the installation of extra street lighting in the Randall Park neighborhood.

© 2019 Scott Procter

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Student Senate announced the installation of extra street lighting in the Randall Park neighborhood.

© 2019 Scott Procter

© 2019 Scott Procter

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Student Senate announced the installation of extra street lighting in the Randall Park neighborhood.

The Historic Randall Park Neighborhood in the heart of Eau Claire is known for its rich history, natural resources and unique blend of residents.

The neighborhood, largely inhabited by students, is beginning to be known for something other than its history and beauty: crime. Burglaries in Randall Park from the first six months of 2018 more than doubled in the second half of the year, according to Eau Claire’s crime mapping software.

The Eau Claire Police Department has taken notice, and Lieutenant of Police Greg Weber noted the recent rise in neighborhood crime.

“We have seen a lot of property crime in this neighborhood from theft to criminal damage, up to burglary,” Lt. Weber said. “Most of these crimes are committed by people on foot or on bicycles.”

Just two weeks ago, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Student Senate announced a move that could help curb crime and increase safety for students and community members in the neighborhood.

The news release announced the installation of extra street lighting in the Randall Park neighborhood. In conjunction with the City of Eau Claire, the Historic Randall Park Neighborhood Association, Xcel Energy and the Eau Claire Police Department, motion sensor lighting was added to the mid-block between 2nd and 3rd Avenue on Niagara Street. The lights will be tested out for a month as a trial.

UW-Eau Claire Student Body President Branden Yates said a lot of off-campus students don’t feel safe. The combination of Randall Park’s unique population, heavy foot traffic and it being a “crime hotspot” made it a perfect location for additional lighting, Yates said.

“With those three elements, you would think that there should be more lights there and students should feel safer,” Yates said. “With everything the chancellor is doing on campus, our look at it at Student Senate is, ‘Why don’t you focus more off-campus?’”

According to usnews.com, about 62 percent of UW-Eau Claire students live off campus.

Lt. Weber said the biggest reason this project is moving forward is because of the high amount of foot traffic in the area. Additional lighting gives residents who feel uncomfortable walking in the dark — especially alone — a sense of safety, Lt. Weber said.

“For police, we look at it a little differently,” Lt. Weber said. “It allows us to more easily identify people who are engaged in criminal or disorderly behaviors. It also provides additional surveillance for neighbors as it allows them to see out their homes and identify criminal behavior.”

Because most of the crimes in Randall Park are committed by people on foot or bicycles, lighting enables people to see others who appear to be behaving suspiciously and provide an accurate description, Lt. Weber said

Leah Ness, transportation engineer for the City of Eau Claire, worked closely with Student Senate and the Eau Claire Police Department to make this project happen. As part of her position, Ness oversees the lighting that illuminates the intersections in residential neighborhoods.

After being contacted by both residents and students living in the neighborhood about lighting-related pedestrian safety, Ness felt it was necessary to place a trial light in the neighborhood. Prior to this introductory lighting, there were only lights on corners in Randall Park, leaving entire blocks in near darkness at night.

“What stemmed from this project was really concern from residents within the neighborhood and from the university student body,” Ness said. “Our role is to listen to the concerns and determine how to move forward.”

The concerns of Randall Park neighborhood residents regarding lighting and safety are real.

Tia Haines, a UW-Eau Claire senior who lives in the neighborhood, described the street lighting near her home as “slim to none.” Because of this, Haines often uses the flashlight on her phone to see when walking at night.

“Once you leave Water Street, it’s almost entirely dark,” Haines said. “As a woman, I feel unsafe walking to my house or car alone. I always think about having my keys prepared beforehand or carrying my pepper spray.”

Haines is not alone.

Hillary Smith, also a UW-Eau Claire senior and Randall Park resident, said the street lighting in her neighborhood is “minimal and not very effective.” Smith says some nights it’s hard to see people just a short distance away and she feels unsafe because of the lack of lighting.

“I would definitely support more street lights,” Smith said. “I feel like a lot of community members, especially women, would feel safer at night if the streets were well lit.”

Historic Randall Park Neighborhood Association President Lauren Lierman says as the culture and neighborhood infrastructure shifted, different lighting has become a necessity.

“Anything that allows for increased safety gives everyone a piece of mind and makes our neighborhood a better place to be,” Lierman said.

Randall Park neighborhood residents can expect to see additional lights being installed, but on a trial basis for the time being, Lt. Weber said. Because pedestrian lights are not common in the community, the city and the police department will wait to hear feedback on the existing lighting before expanding.

Ness says she felt it was necessary to do a trial light in the neighborhood to let residents see and experience the supplemental lighting.

“Using neighborhood feedback, we will be able to make a final decision on implementation,” Ness said.

The plan moving forward is to add four to five more lights in the same general area of the original, around Niagara Street and Chippewa Street. There is no timeline in place for the expansion.

While Lt. Weber recognizes lighting isn’t the only or best solution for the types of crimes the neighborhood sees, he said it “can certainly help.”

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Safety concerns bring additional lights to Randall Park neighborhood