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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Why UW officials don’t light UW-Madison’s Lakeshore Path

Many students avoid using Lakeshore Path at night due to safety concerns. But is the path truly as dangerous as many believe?

On sunny days in Madison, hundreds of students, staff and community members traverse the Howard Temin Lakeshore Path.

However, when the sun goes down, the path empties. With minimal lighting on the path at night and news of incidents circulating, many Madison residents — especially women and minorities — fear the Lakeshore Path and avoid walking on it alone at night. The path has garnered such a notorious reputation that many have dubbed it the “Rapeshore Path.”

A University of Wisconsin-Madison student reported being called racial slurs and confronted by a man while on the path in July 2022. In October 2022, a woman reported being sexually assaulted on the path. 

As a direct route between downtown and the Lakeshore neighborhood, the path remains a popular way for many students to walk home. Yet many students avoid it due to its lack of lighting, especially in the evening.

“I generally feel safe if it’s light out,” sophomore Camber Walvoort said. “When it’s dark, I’m definitely scared, and I will have my flashlight on — or just not go on the path.”

An intentional diversion

Several groups — including the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD), UW-Madison administration and students — all have different visions for the path.

Former ASM Budget Committee Chair and current District 8 Alder MGR Govindarajan has said making everyone happy is a tough task.

“There are so many tiny groups that have a say over it,” Govindarajan said. “It’s impossible to please all of them, and that’s basically what the trouble is.”

While students want more lights along the path, environmental groups say adding lights will have a negative environmental impact on the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.

“Night lighting can impact wildlife,” the Lakeshore Nature Preserve said in a November 2020 email obtained by The Daily Cardinal. “We are especially concerned about the drop/negative impact on insects and the effect that has on so many species.”

Former Campus Planner Gary Brown indicated the path is left unlit for a different reason — to keep people off it.

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The “Lightway” is a better-lit network of paths spanning from the Pyle Center to Rennebohm Hall, and SAFEwalk provides students with a litany of options to get home safely.

Brown said there are “few escape routes” for an individual under attack in between Tripp Hall and Memorial Union with “no place to run if a problem arises.”

“Our answer has always been that it is actually safer if the path is unlit than lit at night,” Brown said.

Leaving the path unlit also helps individuals see better at night, according to Brown. He explained that allowing eyes to adjust to darkness allows for better sight into wooded areas, while higher light levels would make it more difficult.

Keeping the path unlit discourages nighttime use and encourages use of better-lit paths between Lakeshore and downtown, said Jeff Kirchman, an officer and natural areas liaison for UW-Madison Police Department.

“I agree with a lot of what Gary is saying there,” Kirchman said. “There is a pathway that has been set up to be fully lighted, and that was what was determined to be the approved route that people get from the State Street area to the Lakeshore dorms as opposed to utilizing the Lakeshore Path.”

Still, some students feel the lack of lighting is a main concern.

“When the sun goes down, there’s literally no light at all,” senior Kat Schneider said. “It’s super heavily wooded, which I understand trying to preserve the nature aspect of it, but since it’s so heavily used by students who live over in the Lakeshore dorms, I think it would be nice to have some sort of soft lighting. Something is better than nothing.”

But Kirchman said he believes Lakeshore Path is safe. 

Records from the UWPD incident log between 2019 and December 2021 show a total of 847 instances where the police department was present on the path. Over 800 of these instances were routine checks. Sixteen instances were due to 911 calls — the log does not indicate whether any action was taken or the reason for the calls.

“The department as an organization is not enacting any actions at this point that are extra patrols or anything like that, just because we haven’t had any problems with it to speak of,” Kirchman explained. “I’ve been here for going on six years and I can’t think of — in my personal experience — a single situation where we’ve had what I would consider to be a truly dangerous situation on the Lakeshore Path.”

A sentiment of security

With lighting the path becoming a divisive issue, ASM has considered alternative safety measures, including increasing the number of emergency call boxes that are built along the path.

Currently, there is only one emergency call box on the roughly one-mile stretch of path from Memorial Union to Dejope Residence Hall, located at the base of an intersecting path to Waters Residence Hall. There are only two total emergency call boxes present on the 2.2-mile path.

UWPD previously said the emergency call boxes are unnecessary, as they are outdated and costly. However, Kirchman dissented.

“Any time that people have access to means of communication for emergency purposes, I’m in favor,” Kirchman said. “I don’t think they’re a bad idea because I think there’s a deterrent effect to them.”

Kirchman said if he were to add another emergency call box, he would place it near Kronshage Residence Hall — the approximate middle point between Dejope and Waters.

“It definitely is sketchy to be out there alone and to know that you don’t have any resources if something were to happen,” UW-Madison Junior Mia Vaughan said. “If there’s more of those emergency stands throughout it and it’s more lit, that would help with the safety and [I would] be more comfortable walking on it.”

Vaughan said her friends have been approached on the path at night by an “older man” making racially insensitive and objectifying comments toward women.

“If he tried something, they didn’t have anybody,” she said. “Whenever I go on the trail, or I’m with my friends, usually we — especially as women — make sure we have one of our guy friends who’s there as a deterrent for predatory men.”

UW-Madison Junior Henry Hinchsliff understands the path is less of a safety concern for male students. Despite this, he expressed an understanding of the frustration women face on the path.

“I could understand someone who doesn’t look or isn’t the same gender as me, being a little scared about that,” Hinchsliff said. “I’ve always been a man so I don’t know what it would be like to be a woman per se, but that’s not to take away from any woman who says that they feel threatened because it gets dark out there and I could totally understand that.”

Brown believes avoiding the path is the best course of action once the sun goes down.

“We have received requests to light the path in the past, but it really is safer left dark,” Brown said. “It discourages nighttime use of the Temin Path [and] encourages the use of the much safer Lightway on campus.”

For those who still insist on using the path, Kirchman recommends keeping their head on a swivel.

“The key for me is what we call situational awareness — be aware of what’s going on around you at all times. The Lakeshore is a great place to walk, to visit,” Kirchman said. “Have a phone handy, have a way to call for help, be in groups of two or more. These are things that are part of our standard safety presentations. Just be aware.” 

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