Top 10 Route Marking Shortfalls, Gaffe’s, and Boo-Boo’s!

Event Organizers and participants know inadequate route marking when they see it.

The humorous saying we enjoy is, “Riders or Runners never make a wrong turn; they miss the right one!”

The RouteArrows method of 5+ arrows per turn is our “route marking recipe”. You can “bake a cake” with other recipes, but we believe our recipe, our “cake” is a time tested and generous formula with the challenging goal of No Lost Riders or Runners. The challenge of route marking is to be able to adjust the method, “the recipe” as the needs of the roads or trails require to achieve the goal of “Clear, Concise and Consistent Communication”. When your participants are made aware of an upcoming turn well in advance, they’re happy!

The definition of “inadequate route marking” for events is not hard to define or discern. When participants miss turns or get confused, frustrated or lost, that’s inadequate route marking. With our many years of route marking experience and providing route marking products, we have seen and heard just about every possible route marking boo-boo in the book. So we came up with this humorously educational compilation: Top 10 Route Marking Shortfalls.

1) “Not Enough”

To begin, the most common route marking shortfall is simply “Not Enough” arrows. This can take a few forms, from using too few arrows per turn, or arrows placed too close to the turn, or not enough arrows on a fast descent or before a left turn lane. The goal with great route marking is to generously provide enough time to both comprehend and safely navigate the turns.

Some events might only use route marking to just “confirm” the turn but not to “inform” about the upcoming turn. They usually place one or two arrows right at the turn which provides no advanced notice. This can create safety issues, as some will be navigating with their GPS, and informed of the turn, but some will only be following the cute shorts right in front of them and be caught unaware of the upcoming turn.

That is why we recommend using our “10 Second Rule” to determine both how far from the turn to start, and how many RouteArrows to place before each turn. (See Our Instructional PDFs Here!)

As an example, a turn at a stop sign on a steep climb doesn't need the same number of arrows or spacing as a right turn on a fast descent without a stop sign. Knowing how best to place and space the RouteArrows for maximum value and safety is key to a well marked route. Being generous while adjusting as needed is the art of “baking the route marking cake”.

2) “Zone of Awareness” 

Another very common shortfall is arrows placed too far to the right. This includes arrows placed along the road edge or on your own signage many feet off the road.

The issue pertains to what we refer to as the “Zone Of Awareness”. As cyclists or runners get fatigued, that “ZOA” can get very small. RouteArrows work very well when they are placed in that “ZOA” where they are intently focused, on the ground, right out in front of them. 

Any route marking placed elsewhere, i.e. at or above eye level, or way off to the side, will be seen by some, but not everyone, especially in those locations where they are tired or focused on the terrain or they’re not anticipating an upcoming turn. It goes without saying, we don't recommend placing any arrows on existing road signage, or on guardrails, or curb/gutter edges, i.e. outside of the “ZOA”. (The list of location “no-no’s” also includes placing arrows on private roads, driveways, or parking lots unless you have confirmed permission, and you remove them afterwards.)

3) “Economizing”

We all know that events are under time and expense pressures. When an event has multiple routes, it might seem like a good idea to just use one RouteArrow color from the start, and then introduce the other RouteArrow colors out on the route when the routes split off or diverge. This might appear to be faster and cheaper (fewer arrows used!), but the problem is that you’re asking participants to think. It’s hard enough to get every participant to just be aware of their own RouteArrow color, let alone the changing arrow colors as they come and go out on the route. Adding this layer of predictable confusion is not worth the small amount of savings. 

Another example of this “economizing” issue is only placing the “turn, split-off" arrow color, but not the “don't turn, just continue” arrows. The axiom we recommend is “when you talk to one route, talk to all the routes!” The goal is to have every route be fully informed at every turn location, even if the turn instruction doesn't apply to them.

4) “Pattern Inconsistency”

All these preceding examples, when combined, often create another issue, an Inconsistent Route Marking Pattern. This can easily occur when there is more than one route marking team and they have not agreed on their optimal route marking pattern. An inconsistent pattern will create participant confusion, and it’s easily avoided with a bit of preliminary agreement.

5) “Disappearing Arrows!”

On a “lighter” note, another issue is placing arrows on the white painted "sideline” or words (STOP, YIELD, etc.) When colors are placed on a white background, they will not have the same visual “Pop” as colors placed on the dark gray of the road surface. The worst choice is when the lighter color arrows (Yellow, Lager, Lime) are placed right on the white painted surfaces, as they nearly disappear! We recommend placing all RouteArrows Left of The White Line, as this is both a consistent pattern location and the arrows will be worn away faster from vehicle traffic.

6) “Color Combos”

While we’re discussing arrow colors, the next shortfall is when events choose multiple colors for one event that don't contrast with each other. Color combos to avoid would include Yellow and Lager, Green and Lime, Blue and Aqua, Red and Orange, Purple and Pink, to name a few. When participants are not sure which color is which, or theirs, that can and will create confusion.

7) “Route Marking Day!”

Circling back to the “Worn Away by Traffic” issue, another common shortfall is RouteArrows placed many days or even a week ahead of the event. The arrows placed many days in advance will be worn, faded and much less visible, or even completely worn away. We recommend arrows being placed as close to the event as possible and within 24 hours is best for optimum arrow visibility. (See story at the end of this Blog!)

When rain is an issue, you might need to route mark more than a day ahead of your event. In this situation, place the RouteArrows “Out of Traffic, Off to the Right”. They will be more likely to be visible on your event day, not worn away by vehicle traffic. Wet arrows are worn away very quickly!

8) “RouteArrow Layout”

When marking multiple routes, we recommend the “Left to Right pattern” placing the long route color to the left and the short route color to the right. This is commonly referred to as the “picket fence” layout. Some might assume it would be better to stack the arrows, “nose to tail” close to the white line. I’m not a neuroscientist, but we’ve heard it is harder for our brain to discern and separate different colors when they are placed close together vertically and viewed at a shallow angle, compared to when they are spaced 2-3 inches apart, left to right. 

A corollary issue to this is placing two or more arrow colors too far apart from each other. I saw an event that placed their two route colors at a turn on either side of the lane, with the right turn arrow on the right edge and the left turn arrow on the left, near the centerline. Riders would see and focus on one color, (usually the one on the right) but not see or go searching for the other arrow 10 feet to the left. We recommend keeping all arrow color pairs or clusters close together, so all the needed route info is grouped together and easily discernible in one view, again within their “Zone of Awareness”.

9) “Location, Location, Location!”

This next issue occurred when placing arrows in a residential area on a weekday and then having cars parked on top of them on the weekend event day. I’m not making this one up, it has occurred, I have seen it. The lesson learned here is to be aware of the placement locations and know that things might change on event day. We recommend placing arrows Left of the White Line (or the road edge), where riders will ride over them, or a bit off to the left, but not to the right. (see issue #2) 

“The mailbox issue” is another location to be aware of. We recommend not placing any arrows near anyone's mailbox, as they will be seen by that homeowner who may be annoyed by the event and “those dang cyclists”.

10) “Happy Locals”

Lastly, the only complaints we receive at RouteArrows are from locals (not events or participants) when arrows are left behind on pedestrian paths or trails, in residential areas or parks. Those “locals” can get a bit protective of “their path” so that’s why we strongly recommend removing your arrows from those areas right after the event, as that is seen as a neighborly and proactive effort that can pay dividends when your event returns next time.

I’d like to leave you with a funny story from my cycling experiences while at a wonderfully bucolic event here in Northern California many years ago. The philanthropic but overworked event organizer was, by his own admission, not great at delegating. He helped create the event to support the local community and he would mark the route himself with spray paint two weeks in advance, so job done! On event day we set out early as the sun rose warmly behind us. At the first few turns there were no visible turn arrows and many turns after that didn’t have any turn arrows either. But on closer inspection you could see little bits of green, blue and red arrows along the road edge with a fresh white line over the top of them. The county road department had done their seasonal freshening up of the roads, just a few days before the event. They’d swept the roads and then repainted many miles of the white lines, covering most of the event's route marking arrows. Our group managed to navigate our 100k route, as we’d done the event before. We had a little chuckle at each turn, but the event organizer felt embarrassed about it. The next year he once again painted his arrows two weeks in advance, this time about a foot to the left of the white line.

Thanks again for reading our Top 10 Route Marking Shortfalls, I hope they were insightful and useful! 

For more info, visit our Instructions page!

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