Aztec High School 12th grader, Shayla Sandoval, left and Koogler 6th grader Ethan Fuentes cross North Main Avenue Wednesday in Aztec.
Aztec High School 12th grader, Shayla Sandoval, left and Koogler 6th grader Ethan Fuentes cross North Main Avenue Wednesday in Aztec. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

AZTEC — Two new signs on both sides of Main Avenue are eager for your attention.

Standing like sentries on either side of Main Street -- which doubles as a state highway in historic downtown Aztec -- at a crosswalk just south of Safford Street are a pair of solar powered flashing yield lights.

The two signs cost $6,000 and are the latest effort by the city to address pedestrian safety along the busy corridor that handles a constant stream of traffic. They were purchased with funds from the police department's operating budget.

"We constantly get complaints from pedestrians over near-misses," said Aztec police Capt. Troy Morris.

The crosswalk, paved with brick that interrupts the street's concrete, connects Echo Preschool on the east side of the street with Safeway on the west side. The crosswalk gets a lot of traffic from smaller feet, primarily those of children as young as 2 from the preschool who take frequent walking trips to nearby Minium Park. It also sees a torrent of teens going to and from Aztec High School in the mornings and afternoons and over lunch hour.

And that has many concerned for their safety, including Aztec police Chief Mike Heal. He and his assistant, Sherri Gurule, applied for a permit and funding through the New Mexico Department of Transportation earlier this year. After eight months, they were able to get permission to install the signs, but not the funding to pay for them, so Heal had the department shoulder the cost.

"People have been hit while attempting to cross streets throughout the city. And it's a big safety concern because a lot of people, kids especially, use that crosswalk," Heal said. "We're trying them there to see how well they work."

Additional signs will be mounted at eye-level, alerting traffic to the crosswalk, Gurule said.

Aztec High School 10th-graders, Ben Chavez, left, and Dylan Merritt, cross North Main Avenue Wednesday in Aztec.
Aztec High School 10th-graders, Ben Chavez, left, and Dylan Merritt, cross North Main Avenue Wednesday in Aztec. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

The staff at Echo Preschool have expressed concerns over countless near misses over the years. They say that drivers focus more on signals ahead at Aztec Boulevard and Chaco Street and fail to spot people on foot -- or obey the 25 mph speed limit.

Amanda Voss, assistant director at the preschool for the last four years, is grateful for the new signs but is still leery using the crosswalk, especially with kids in tow.

"It's a welcome improvement but still cars come barreling down the road," Voss said.

Because of the close proximity to a grocery store and restaurants, preschool teacher Tamera Howell uses the crosswalk numerous times throughout the day. While she's glad the signs were installed, she knows from experience that many drivers don't notice the pedestrian crossing -- or seem to care.

"I've been nearly hit more times than I can count on a calculator," Howell said. "I've been yelled at, called names I can't repeat. It's a constant problem these new signs with barely noticeable pin lights can't solve on their own."

People behind the wheel are not the only ones guilty of failing to follow the rules.

"Often, pedestrians will skip the crosswalks and intersections and cross wherever they are along Main, or if they do use it, fail to push the button that activates the flashing lights on the signs," Howell said.

Aztec High School sophomore Ben Chavez said he been "scared a few times" of crossing the street.

"There's some crazy people on the roads," he said. "I usually make sure there are no cars in either direction before I try to cross."

His friend, fellow classmate Dylan Merritt, thinks another factor is that Aztec still does not have an alternate arterial route to take a bulk of the commuter traffic off the city's main north-south thoroughfare.

"I think it's the amount of people driving through Aztec," Merritt said. "It also might help if the crosswalk was repainted."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.