Taking a stroll: The benefits and dangers of walking in Berkeley

Walking at night
Adeline Belsby/Staff

On any given weekday, UC Berkeley and the surrounding city are robust with activity, sidewalks transforming into precarious narrow strips of pavement overflowing with clusters of expeditious students. Despite the seemingly unconquerable hills that blanket Berkeley, the majority of students are willing to walk to their next destination, even if it means trekking the mile-and-a-half distance between Clark Kerr Campus and Li Ka Shing Center.

According to results from a 2014 University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES), 77 percent of students walk to campus instead of biking, driving or riding public transit. In fact, an analysis of a 2012 census survey by Governing ranked Berkeley third on a list of cities in the United States with populations of at least 100,000 where commuters walk the most.

On an average weekday, from walking to classes, going to meetings and making frequent — but necessary —  trips for coffee, I will have conquered anywhere from 6 to 10 miles. Despite the extra time and effort required to walk from one campus location to another, the choice to travel on foot comes with its benefits.

“Walking is always a really great way to engage with colleagues and get fresh air and also to get your oxygen flowing and be more energized throughout the day,” said Cori Evans, interim Wellness Program supervisor.

The Wellness Program strives to create a healthy work environment for UC Berkeley faculty and staff through various events and available resources. One of these programs is Berkeley Walks, a walking group for faculty and staff that promotes wellness and physical activity through 30-minute group walks on designated routes throughout campus. Another walking opportunity it offers is UC Walks: Cal Walks at Work Day, an annual campus community walking event with an average of 600 participants each year.

“Walking is always a really great way to engage with colleagues and get fresh air and also to get your oxygen flowing and be more energized throughout the day.”

— Cori Evans

Evans said walking is the best way to explore campus. She explained how she gained a new appreciation for the campus design and its walking routes after participating in a walking tour led by Emily Marthinsen, assistant vice chancellor and campus architect.

But perhaps the less commonly known benefits of a daily stroll are those related to mental, rather than physical, health.

“The emotional health that you get out of walking is second to none,” Evans said “It’s just a way to emotionally connect with yourself and be more mindful and be more centered.”

Studies have shown that even moderate exercise like walking can help reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety. In an environment where students often feel burdened by heightened stress levels and impending deadlines, walking can serve as a simple yet alleviative resource.

Because of recent instances of criminal activity on and around campus, however, individuals may feel a sense of insecurity when walking, especially at night.

One morning in March 2017, a female student was approached by a male suspect armed with a knife near the intersection of Bancroft and Piedmont avenues. Fortunately, she was able to escape the situation unharmed. Yet incidents like these are not uncommon and raise a number of serious safety concerns.

In an email, UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich said that in 2016, there were approximately 23 criminal cases related to robbery and assault that could have potentially involved students walking in public areas. So far this year, 24 incidents have been reported. Between 2016 and 2017, 25 cases happened on campus property and 16 occurred at People’s Park.

“I’m definitely more careful when I’m walking around, careful to the point of being scared,” said Aaditee Kudrimoti, a campus sophomore who was assaulted in April 2017 while walking near Unit 2.

She said that at 10:30 p.m., a time typically still populated with students heading to Late Night at Crossroads, she was walking with a friend before her assaulter suddenly dropped his bag, rushed toward them and punched her in the face, all while yelling profanities. Kudrimoti and her friend quickly fled the area and called the police.

Kudrimoti said she believed the campus should focus more on the comfort and safety of students, noting that she faced difficulty when asking police about efforts to improve security measures. She said her story has frequently been disregarded as simply one of many problematic occurrences.

According to Kudrimoti, her roommates seemed to express the most concern, investing in pepper spray and Tasers after hearing of Kudrimoti’s experience.

To avoid instances like these, UCPD encourages students to take advantage of night safety resources, such as BearWALK and the Night Safety Shuttle. It also advises against walking alone at night and suggests that students navigate campus using the well-lit routes outlined in their Campus Night Map.

“But on a campus that encourages walking as the primary form of transportation, it seems ironic that it simultaneously presents such a large number of concerning security issues for commuters.”

These safety measures help address some concerns from students who study late in campus libraries or who attend classes and study groups that take place on campus at night.

Rather than “militarize” the campus police, Kudrimoti suggested the creation of a student coalition that looks for potential solutions to these issues and increases safety awareness. She also recognized that homelessness and limited access to mental health care are significant issues that could have an impact on the level of security within these environments.

But on a campus that encourages walking as the primary form of transportation, it seems ironic that it simultaneously presents such a large number of concerning security issues for commuters. These pressing concerns question whether students, faculty and staff truly have the freedom to walk comfortably and have access to all that Berkeley has to offer.

“I’d like to say that (my assault) didn’t affect me that much, but it definitely did,” Kudrimoti said. “Whenever I’m walking around, I’m always completely on guard.”

Contact Molly Nolan at [email protected].

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