The Light at the End of the Tunnel Doesn’t Work: Investigating ANU’s Street Lighting

CA: Discussions of sexual assault and harassment (SASH), and safety concerns.
Sam Kearney provided additional research.

Suitable street lighting is a perennial issue at the ANU. Complaints about broken street lights and inadequate illuminance are not uncommon and this environment has made students, many of whom call the campus their home, feel unsafe and vulnerable.

Streetlighting plays an important role in pedestrian safety and a sense of security. A 2019 study found that areas which had new lights experienced a significantly lower crime rate than areas without new lights because of improved surveillance. Additionally, the study discovered that increased lighting decreases “index crimes”, crimes which include murder, robbery and aggravated assault, by 36%.

In light of such statistics and student concerns, Woroni has investigated the problem, focusing on commonly used streets and the implications of poor lighting on campus.

This map shows the estimated prevalence and colour of the streetlights on the roads that ANU students most commonly use. They yellow street lights are sodium vapour which tend to provide less illumination than white LED lights. This image will be more accessible on a laptop than on a mobile device.

Daley Road

Eight residential colleges sit along Daley road. The street is around 700 metres long and has approximately 48 functioning street lights before 10pm. After 10pm, around ten LED street lights switch off.

Most street lights are located on footpaths in front of residences, with footpaths on the opposite side of the road often completely unlit.

Yukeembruk Village, being the newest residence, has high streetlight illuminance across Daley road provided by approximately 10 LED street lights. However, there is a stretch of path of approximately five metres, in front of Burgmann College, running across Sullivan’s creek, which has no streetlights. Yukeembruk residents often take this path and some have expressed safety concerns that objects afar are indistinguishable in the dark.

The postgraduate wing of Burgmann benefits from Yukeembruk’s streetlights, however there is little lighting in front of the College’s reception building, and the undergraduate wing, where most residents live, does not receive this lighting.

Unlike Yukeembruk, street lights in front of John XXII College and Ursula Hall are sparser, with little illumination. Particularly, the opposite path has no streetlights and is completely overshadowed by a line of trees overlooking Sullivan’s creek.

Footpaths on Dickson road which lead to the Laurus Wing of Ursula Hall and to Wambrum Hall, have approximately seven LED street lights. However, after 10pm, many of these LED lights turn off. This same situation occurs for the path to Burton and Garran Hall. Whether the extinguished lights are to avoid disturbing residents in those halls is unknown. However, the street lights in Kambri, where Fenner Hall sits, do not turn off.

Extinguishing lights means students returning after 10pm must confront a relatively empty and dark campus. One student who lives on Dickson road explained, “It’s incredibly concerning when I can’t see what’s a metre ahead of me, or behind me.”

Burton and Garran Hall is one of the oldest, and cheapest residences on campus. The Hall houses approximately 515 students, which is higher than most other Halls. In front of Burton and Garran, there are approximately seven streetlights, two of which do not work. The streetlights are of relatively lower quality, providing little illuminance on the footpaths, when compared with the high beam LED lights in front of Yukeembruk, Bruce and Wright Halls. Additionally, a majority of the streetlights within the residence grounds do not work.

A concerning region is the carpark between Burton and Garran, and Wright Hall. With only two sodium vapour street lights on the north end, which provide a small radius of illuminance, the parking lot is incredibly dark.

A pedestrian on the nearest footpaths would not be able to discern the colours nor the content of the registration plate of the cars at night. Woroni can confirm that students have reported several safety incidents in the carpark between this year and 2022.

Bruce and Wright Halls, which are relatively newer and the only halls along Daley road not under the ownership of AMP Capital, have high illuminance, with multiple street lights within the grounds of the residence.

University Avenue:

University Avenue, within the ANU, starts from Childers street and continues until Daley Rd, following a straight path across Kambri, past the Psychology Building and the ANU College of Science. It is the fastest path to Wright and Bruce Halls from the city centre.

Kambri, as the heart of campus and a recent redevelopment, is well lit. It has many external, and commercial events, with Marie Reay hosting conferences and Kambri Cultural Centre often holding private events. There are many LED lights in Kambri, which provides Fenner Hall with a highly illuminated surrounding.

However, past North road, as the street continues from the Ian Ross Building of Engineering, until the ANU Research School of Psychology, the street illumination is poor.

This section of the street contains only lamp posts. Compared to streetlights, lamp posts have a shorter illumination radius. Additionally, the placements of the lamp posts are sparse, creating only spots of light on the pathways.

There is a higher amount of yellow lights, which are likely low frequency sodium lights. It is easier to discern human facial features under LED white lights, than yellow lights. Students have previously raised this concern.

One student who frequently uses University avenue, explains, “I can make out a person’s shape from a distance. But I cannot [distinguish] their features like clothes, face, or even if they are carrying something, until I get close to them.”

The student also revealed that they will change over to the opposite footpath when a person ahead is seen walking towards them. Speaking of the Schools and Colleges along University avenue at night, they expressed, “with both sides of the street being empty, the place becomes incredibly isolated. It can be incredibly frightening, especially when I am walking home after midnight.”

Yellow lights may have been used because they pose less environmental harm, especially to wildlife on trees. However, the path along the north end of Fellows Oval, which is overlooked by trees, has white lights. And LED streetlights which emit a warm white glow, are safer for pedestrians and wildlife.

Sullivan’s Creek Road

From Kambri, Sullivan’s Creek road leads to residence halls such as Ursula Hall, Burgmann and John XXII Colleges and Yukeembruk. The path is approximately 500 metres long, with around 15 streetlights, many of which are street lamps.

Student’s walking across Canberry Bridge must walk an isolated path along Sullivan’s Creek road to reach Daley road. The path has five overhead streetlights, three of which are yellow.

Before 10pm, Sullivan’s Creek road remains well lit. However, after the stadium lights on the four corners of Fellow’s Oval are turned off, surrounding areas become relatively dark. In particular, the path along the north end of the oval, where only three of the five street lights are operational, have multiple dark spots.

Tina, who has lived on campus for three years, confessed she deliberately avoids this path at night. “It’s a very quiet road,” she says, “ and it’s very far from anyone awake at night.”

She elaborates, “It’s incredibly difficult to make out what kind of a person is walking ahead of you, or worse, behind you. They could have a weapon, or a mask, or something [unusual]–and I wouldn’t be able to see until I am a hand [length] away from them.” Because of this, Tina will often take a more lit but longer route to her residence.

Fellows Road

Fellows road also has sparse yellow lights, while multiple dark spots along the road further decreases visibility. Although the road has no residences, it leads to University House and Graduate House. Students returning from the Law Library late at night may also confront a poorly lit street to their residence on Daley road, or to Kambri.

Garran Road and Ward Road

Like Fellows road, both Garran and Ward road have limited lighting, however, Ward road benefits from the stadium lights of the South Oval.

The path following the John Curtin Research School of Medicine is well lit, with several overhead LED streetlights. This is perhaps because of the expensive equipment the School holds, or the value of the building to the ANU itself.

However, students have noted that lights along Ward road seem to be motion-sensored. One student mentioned, “I thought the area was completely dark and all the lights (were broken), until I actually walked up towards it and the lights turned on.” The student raised concerns that other students may be misdirected by the extinguished lights and turn back to take a longer route.

Is There Someone Behind Me?

Poor lighting on campus decreases visibility along pathways; as students have pointed out, this fosters an unsafe campus.

Students have spoken about the correlation between poorly lit campus environments with sexual assault and sexual harassment (SASH) and how this creates an atmosphere of fear. One student notes, “With there being a major [SASH] case every year that I have lived on campus, the walks back home from work have made me more and more nervous.”

For other students, the insecurity of walking alone at night has been debilitating. One student confessed, “I don’t go to [Canberra Civic] unless I know I have friends walking back with me, or if a friend is dropping me off. When I [walk] back by myself at night–everytime I wasn’t [checking behind] … felt like someone was creeping up on me. It’s an awful feeling.”

Under its security policy, the ANU “has an obligation to meet personal safety on campus.” In the context of lighting, the ANU says it has met this obligation. An ANU Spokesperson told Woroni that “The ANU campus is also serviced by an extensive network of lights and well-lit walking paths.”

The spokesperson added that “The University has a wide range of measures in place to ensure [the] community’s safety. This includes the UniSafe team that regularly patrols the campus, the ANU OK app and the Virtual Walkhome feature and 24/7 safety escorts.”

However, students have raised concerns that to access the ANU OK app, and to call 24/7 escorts, students must have a phone device, which is charged and has data. One student commented, “If you’ve used your phone all night, which I think is reasonable for twenty year olds, and then [return to] campus with [an uncharged] phone, how would you call ANU Security?” Another student mentioned, “I have never seen ANU security patrol through my normal routes.” The student’s normal route was a commonly-taken street on campus.

With proposals to relocate a majority of residential car parking to Dickson parking lot, students from Burton and Garran, Ursula, Bruce and Wright halls have raised safety concerns. The changes will entail an increased walking time for students who previously parked closer to their residences. However, this assumes the students can secure a parking spot. After 10pm, students would walk an average of 7 minutes from Dickson road to their residence, under multiple extinguished lights.

Can the ANU turn the lights on?

The University budget includes funds for maintaining lights on campus, and the spokesperson confirmed that there is also a regular schedule for checking lights on campus.

The spokesperson additionally stated, “The University has recently invested significant capital to upgrade paths and associated path lighting around South and Fellows Oval… (and) planning is underway for further lighting upgrades in 2023 and continuing over the next five years.”

These prospective changes may improve security around campus, especially surrounding South and Fellows Oval pathways, which students commonly use, but which are relatively dark after 10pm.

Despite these promises, some students remain pessimistic. “The University rarely funds our safety. We have to compromise so much until they finally do”, says Tina, whose three years on campus residences has made her despondent, but she is willing to accept any positive change from the University before she graduates later this year.

Students who have encountered a broken streetlight can direct their complaint to the ANU OK app, specifically the Fix my Campus feature. If students feel unsafe during their night walks, they may use the Walkhome feature on the app, or can call ANU security at 02 6125 2249.


Editor’s Note: This article focuses on the lighting on-campus, and on the paths that students are most likely to walk. It doesn’t address lighting issues around the UniLodge complex, partly because some of that area is not ANU-owned and due to resourcing limits.

Sam Kearney provided assistance research on this article.

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