The area between downtown Lawrence and the Kansas University campus has proved to be popular for criminals, especially late at night. There are reports week after week of students and other people being robbed and attacked in the area.
"Walking home from Massachusetts Street at night can be a scary process, especially if you're a woman by yourself," said KU senior Elise Higgins. "It's a time when I always try to be on my phone or have my pepper spray or my keys handy, because I'm never sure what might happen."
The Student Senate community affairs director is fed up with the reports of violence and is spearheading an initiative that could one day help reduce the criminal activity east of campus. She’s scheduled a meeting of the minds - that includes top city administrators - in hopes of finding a way to improve lighting in the area.
"I want to make sure that women, when they're walking down to Massachusetts Street or when they're walking to a house party, don't have to worry about being sexually assaulted because someone can hide in the dark," said Higgins, 21. "I want for them to feel safe going about their business and to not have to worry about being assaulted."
More than a dozen robberies and multiple assaults have been reported on the streets of central Lawrence this year. Higgins said that lighting in the area has been a campaign issue among student leaders for years, but that no one has taken action on it until now.
Representatives of the Oread Neighborhood Association, the new Oread hotel development and multiple student groups also will participate in Wednesday’s meeting, to brainstorm the best way to improve student safety between Massachusetts and Louisiana streets and 11th and 17th streets, Higgins said.
Mark Thiel, assistant public works director for the city, said he wasn't sure what would come from the discussion, but said the group likely would talk about the possibility of a lighted walkway between campus and downtown.
Higgins said one concept being discussed is installing 3-foot tall pedestrian lights along the edge of sidewalks. While there are lights at intersections in the neighborhood, the area between the intersections is the concern.
"This is just an idea that we're exploring right now, but we think that it would be a really effective way to make the area safer for folks who are walking," said Higgins, of Topeka.