If you live in the Greater Boston area, perhaps you’ve noticed the odd symbols — sometimes half a dozen of them — spray-painted on the shoulder at some intersections. They often look like letters, circles, or chevrons, and often have circles, arrows, or spikes on them. You may have thought they were some sort of gang code (in Sudbury?!), or utility-locator markings (“Dig Safe”).
That is not what they are.
These markings are painted by area cycling clubs to mark the turns (and non-turns) on the rides they organize. The marking is rotated to indicate the direction of the turn before each major intersection, and then after the intersection a “confirmation” marking lets riders know that they are still headed the right way. Many of these rides share big chunks of their routes — there are only a few good ways in or out of some of the most popular destinations, like Harvard, the Concord Visitor Center, Dover, and Carlisle — and use the same route year after year, so it doesn’t take long for a large number of “arrows” to accumulate at the important turns in these routes.
Today I rode the 75-mile short-turn version of Nashoba Valley Pedalers’ Apple Country Century, an annual, supported century ride through some of the most scenic parts of Middlesex County, past numerous apple orchards in Stow, Harvard, Littleton, Ayer, and Groton. This ride’s “arrow” looks like a capital “N” with an arrowhead on the rightmost stroke — almost exactly like the “N” in the Nordica logo. For a long time on my rides in MetroWest I puzzled over this marking on the side of the road — clearly it couldn’t be indicating “north”, and there would be no need for such an indicator anyway! But now I know, because I have followed that marking for 75 miles (albeit occasionally wondering if I somehow missed an arrow and got off the track).
You can see more details of the actual route on my cycling pages.
As I drove home after the ride, I couldn’t help but wonder: with all of these rides following consistent routes year after year, doesn’t that argue for some sort of consistent, state-sponsored bicycle route marking? The state already spends a large amount of money on bicycle facilities; surely it wouldn’t take too much effort to survey local cycling organizations to determine important and popular routes and actually establish official numbered cycle routes along them, with proper signage that doesn’t have to be repainted every year? That way, cyclists would have a better indicator of good cycling routes even in the absence of an organized ride, and drivers and local residents would also be made more aware of the cyclists in their midst. This is more important, I would think, on roads that are not already numbered state routes for automobiles; many times cyclists will deliberately avoid those routes because of the heavy, high-speed traffic they carry.