SFU’s negligence at the Transportation Centre is putting commuting students at risk

After all of the recent stories about sexual violence and harassment on campus, SFU needs to step up

Dimly lit, forested bus stops far from campus buildings create unsafe situations for students. Photo: Chris Ho / The Peak

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief

Last spring, I found myself commuting home late on a Friday night, which isn’t unusual for me. The Peak’s publication days are on Friday, and they stretch out. On this particular Friday I was with two male coworkers/friends. We locked up the office, made our way through the Maggie Benston Centre’s parkade, and down to the Transportation Centre. But as most students know, this lower bus loop isn’t in use at the moment — so we crossed University Drive West and stood at the temporary stop that has been set up. 

At first sight I told my friends that somebody was going to get hurt here.  

For those who don’t spend time at the Burnaby campus, when you’re waiting for the bus at this temporary stop you’re standing on the sidewalk across the street from West Mall Centre, with a looming forest stretching out behind you. There is a lamp post lighting the area, but it feels more creepy than actually illuminating and secure — probably because you’re quite far from any buildings, in a part of campus that’s quiet to begin with. There’s a gazebo if it rains, but there are no blue SFU Security phones nearby. Also, there’s a sign warning commuters about wildlife — although, to be frank, bears weren’t the predator I had in mind. 

So when the news broke in July that a female student had been stalked and assaulted near University Drive West and West Campus Road? I was mad. I’d seen this coming, as had many other women students — which isn’t to say that this set-up is safe for men and non-binary students either. The area just doesn’t feel safe, period.

The Friday after that story broke, I stood at that same stupid bus stop again and nothing had changed, despite the fact that someone had been attacked a stone’s throw away. When I looked around, there was no extra lighting to keep the area better-lit, nothing separating students from the woods that someone had nearly been pulled into, no way to call for help if something happened, and no hint at all that this was a safe place for students to stand as we tried to leave our unsafe campus. 

After seeing that? I was livid, because someone had nearly gotten hurt and because the university had continued to allow this unsafe situation to exist by not taking additional steps to adapt the infrastructure its students were using. A full month later, as I finish writing this piece in the office, this is the same bus stop I’ll use to get home — thankfully, in broad daylight. 

I’m happy and thankful that this student’s story didn’t have a worse ending, but the fact that this attack happened at all is unacceptable. I started this piece by talking about my work with The Peak, and so I’ll circle back to that now to express how concerned I am by the increasing number of reports regarding violence and dangerous situations on our campus that I have read, seen, and heard of. This is a complicated issue, but there are simple things that I as a student want to see to feel safe on campus — my university providing safe infrastructure is one.   

The concept that university campuses can be unsafe places (for women in particular) isn’t news, but it leaves SFU with an institutional responsibility to be mindful of its students and to protect us. The Transportation Centre’s redesign has always struck me as unsafe, but now that violence on campus is escalating it feels purely negligent. If something else happens on University Drive — while I dare hope that nothing will — our university shares the blame.

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