As usage doubles, SafeWalks looks to increase visibility

Although some students think getting a free ride is more convenient than walking, usage of SafeWalks doubled last semester compared to a normal semester. At the same time, SafeRides usage remains comparable to normal seasonal trends.

SafeWalks is a campus-wide walking service provided by student patrols under the University police department from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, said Skip Frost, head of the University police’s patrol division.

SafeWalks usually gives an estimated 100 to 110 walks per semester, said University Police Sgt. Joan Fiesta. But last semester, she estimated about 211 walks were given.

“With the spike in crimes, people are consciously attempting to walk in groups,” Frost said.

Fiesta said because of the increased usage of the service, the student patrols and the University police are having a meeting later this week to discuss ways to further advertise SafeWalks to the community.

Mitchell Draves, freshman in Engineering, said the service should be advertised more to students.

“During something like ACE-IT (Alcohol Culture Explored Interactive Theater) they usually tell you about SafeRides,” Draves said. “If they talked about SafeWalks, they might get more usage.”

While some students have never used the service before, they said it is an asset to the campus community.

“There are certain places that you can’t take a SafeRide, like the Quad, and I think SafeWalks is a good service for that,” said Annelise Docel, freshman in Engineering.

SafeWalker Mike Deloncker, senior in LAS, said faculty members often use the service in addition to students.

“We get a diverse group of people calling us,” Deloncker said. “Teachers will call for an escort to their car, or students call for a walk home from the library.”

Deloncker said he has never walked into a dangerous situation on a SafeWalk, mainly because he thinks the student patrol uniform he wears scares off anyone who might consider bothering him or whomever he is walking.

Fiesta said students may even find the uniforms to be intimidating, but student patrols are simply there to get people home and safe.

“People are afraid of student patrols because they are afraid they’ll give them a drinking ticket; that’s not the case,” Fiesta said.

Along with walking in groups, Frost said public transportation is always a safe way to go. But SafeRides, an on-call bus service run by the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District, has not seen an increase in usage related to safety precautions.

Tom Costello, assistant managing director for MTD, said a main goal of SafeRides is to make sure people are not “exposing themselves needlessly.” He added that there is a spike in the amount of people who use SafeRides in the colder months.

“It makes you wonder if people are worried about their safety or convenience,” he said.

Costello said people who have safety concerns might have a harder time getting a SafeRide because more people are using the service for convenience purposes.

“You know, the most important thing we need to keep in mind is that whether it’s SafeRides or SafeWalks, nothing is going to protect you more than good sense,” Costello said.