OAK HILL, Texas (KXAN) — In Oak Hill, there’s no crosswalk connecting Oak Hill Plaza and its Cap Metro bus stop to the H-E-B shopping center across the street. In fact, there’s no crosswalk anywhere along SH-71 in that area. And it almost cost one woman her life.
Lauren-Traylor Price was leaving work at Jim’s Restaurant in the Oak Hill Plaza in July, ready to head home, when she realized she needed to buy a few things from H-E-B.
“I’ve done this before since I’ve been on the bus,” she said. “I go across, trying to cross at the light between the Oak Hill Plaza where the bus stops and the H-E-B that has all kinds of other stuff over there now, too.”
She never thought that during one of those quick trips to the store, something would happen that would land her in the hospital.
“The last thing I really remember is standing at the corner waiting for the light to change and I woke up on the pavement and didn’t know where the heck I was,” she said.
The stoplight in that area is not consistent for cars leaving Oak Hill Plaza. Some green lights last longer than others. Dashcam video shows Traylor-Price starting to cross the busy street when the light is still red as a car hits her.
WARNING: Video below is graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.
“I was thinking I had fallen at work because one of my colleagues was over me saying, ‘Ms. Lauren, Ms. Lauren, are you OK?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, help me up, I need to get up,’ and she said, ‘Oh no, Lauren you’re on the pavement and you’ve been hit by a car.’ And I didn’t believe her,” Traylor-Price said.
The car that hit Traylor-Price was going an estimated 45 miles per hour before it slammed on its brakes. Traylor-Price doesn’t remember trying to cross on red, but she said a crosswalk would solve the problem of not knowing how long the green light will last.
“This is not about if I did the wrong thing or if (the driver) did the wrong thing — this is about there needs to be a way for people to cross that (highway) safely,” she said.
The other safety factor at play — the H-E-B and bus stop are on opposite sides of the highway.
“That’s one of the biggest challenges in what we do is trying to place our stops and find the right balance between access and safety,” said Todd Hemingson, the former Executive Vice President of planning and developing for Capital Metro. (Hemingson worked for Capital Metro for 13 years. We interviewed him shortly before he left the company.)
On average, more than 3,000 people use bus routes 315 and 333 every day, and ridership has increased by more than 15% since last year.
“It’s a symptom of the way we’ve been doing transportation projects for many years in this region and across the country,” Hemingson said. “We focused on moving cars and not necessarily paid as much attention as we perhaps could have to pedestrians, bikes, and public transportation.”
Texas Department of Transportation officials said because there were no sidewalks at the intersection when the signal was originally built, they didn’t consider a crosswalk.
“I’m more than willing to work with TxDOT,” said Gerald Daugherty, Travis County Commissioner for Precinct 3. “The whole Y situation has been problematic for a long time, a lot of traffic, continued to grow.”
TxDOT officials said they’re working on it. The new Oak Hill Plaza Parkway project will add new sidewalks and crosswalks, but construction won’t start until late next year.
Daugherty, however, believes there is something to be done now.
“I think that we can make some adjustments,” he said. Daugherty suggests extending the green light — or adding a second bus stop in the H-E-B parking lot.
“When somebody gets hurt that’s going to raise a flag. I think we need to start with trying to get some sort of a count on how many people go across on foot at that particular intersection and build it from there.
“It’s just not a safe crossing area.”
“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. This hurts,” Traylor-Price said.
Prior change due to KXAN story led to decrease in crashes
Lauren-Traylor Price wasn’t the first person to point to this intersection as a safety concern. In December, drivers told us the light at the Oak Hill Plaza shopping center only stayed green for 7 seconds. That caused many people to run the red light.
After our reporting, the Austin Transportation Department extended the length of the light, and it detects when cars are waiting at the red light.
Over a five-year period, there were 48 crashes along that stretch of SH-71. Since our story on Dec. 5, 2018, there have only been three crashes in eight months.