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May 24, 2005 12:10 AM

Broken: (question) Words on pavement

Multiline_road_markingsSimon Trew poses a question for TIB readers:

In the UK, when text is written on the road surface, if several lines are needed then they proceed in the normal fashion from top to bottom (the top line being farthest away). In the US and Canada (and I think I have seen this elsewhere in continental Europe) they are written so that the nearest line is the start of the message. Being British I always find this rather strange since I read the message backwards, although no doubt the reverse is true for Americans, Canadians etc.

I can see the logic in each (write it as you would on the page; write it so the first line is seen first). Which is better?


I have never seen words on a Canadian road printed in the upside-down order - only in the right-side up order (i.e.:




). I have always been confused when in the US though - I agree that the words always seem to be in the wrong order. I've also noticed this trend in some graphic design produced in the US, including the December 1999 WIRED cover ( which has stuck in my head since (go we here or here we go?).

Posted by: Jay at May 24, 2005 01:12 AM

Hey.. I'm in the US, and although they are written bottom-to-top, I always have difficulty reading them. I think, like anything else, they should be top-to-bottom. Your mind will remember the words as you go over them, and your eyes will reach to find the first word. You do it while reading a sentence, you'd do the same thing while driving. At least thats my opinion.

Posted by: Joseph DePalma at May 24, 2005 01:42 AM

It is written




because as you are driving and looking at the road ahead, the first word that is readable is the one closest to you, "left". Then you can see "turn", and finally "ahead". So the words become readable in their proper order.

Posted by: Jacques Troux at May 24, 2005 02:11 AM

I've lived in America my entire life, and I've always thought the signs written on the roads were backwards. It still looks like it says "AHEAD LEFT TURN" no matter how many times I see it.

Posted by: Grant Bugher at May 24, 2005 02:49 AM

I'm from Portugal and here these kind of words on the pavement are also upside down and I was allways confused by them. Usually, they are so near eachother that I believe anyone can read the 3 lines together.

What I believe would be better though is that the words accounted for perspective, so the first word (farther away) would be twice the height and width of the last.

Posted by: Bruno Figueiredo at May 24, 2005 02:51 AM

In NZ they're written with the first word first as well.

IMHO, writing stuff on the road is broken anyway, because if there's a car in front of you, you can't see it!

Posted by: Alden Bates at May 24, 2005 07:38 AM

The words should be replaced with a pictogram, the same one used on road signs to convey the same message.

Posted by: stoo at May 24, 2005 07:50 AM

Here in Colorado they don't write text on the road. It would wear off in less than a year, due to snowplows, the incessant cracking asphalt, and intense sunshine, I suspect.

Posted by: Todd Bradley at May 24, 2005 09:00 AM

Alden- if you wouldn't see the words, then you need to back off the driver in front of you. You are TOO close.

Stoo- do people really pay attention to the thousands of signs per mile? They need to focus on the road, not the side of it.

Todd- would be a waste of ink. Only out-of staters would be able to read it. Of course, they would have to contract out of state paint crews to write it.

Posted by: bubba at May 24, 2005 09:21 AM

Like Todd Bradley said, in Colorado, they just have arrows, not words. I think arrows make more sense because it is immediately obvious what you are supposed to do.

Posted by: a cheesepuff at May 24, 2005 09:33 AM


Not all traffic conditions allow for you to see the words or signs on the road. Heavy slow moving traffic will obscure the information. As previously mentioned, use of arrows rather than words removes the need to solve the problem of which way to write the words.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at May 24, 2005 09:53 AM

I'm a US native, and I totally agree with the submitter... the way the pavement markings are done here in the States, I always want to read them 'backwards'. Maybe it makes sense in the context of road markings, but it's still unnatural for me to read text from bottom to top!

Posted by: codeman38 at May 24, 2005 01:27 PM

By Yoda written they are.

Posted by: Steve at May 24, 2005 01:32 PM

Whether you read it "Ahead left turn" or "Left turn ahead" it makes sense; I still know that ahead there's a left turn.

Posted by: darthvader7637 at May 24, 2005 02:06 PM

Yep, I agree with Joseph dePalma. Whether or not I get to the word "Left" first, my mind has been trained to read top to bottom so when it sees more than one line of words, it will automatically start with the top line. I've always viewed the painted words to be backwards even though I know why they do it.

Posted by: Faolan at May 24, 2005 03:28 PM


I'm in the US and I still wonder at the logic behind a speed bump at a stop sign???

Posted by: rnltred at May 24, 2005 04:24 PM

Would the dyslexics please raise their hands,

no matter how you read it turn comes in the middle, not left.

Posted by: Sean at May 24, 2005 05:12 PM

go steve, go steve, it's your bithday

Posted by: hgfkhf at May 24, 2005 05:55 PM

The words are top to bottom on the US, they are also taller. No doubt because we drive 50% faster than what the posted limits are, thus there is no chance we will remember what the other end of the message was by the time we get to the first word. Add to this our cell phones, passengers, and other drivers, and we are lucky to have a chance to finish breakfast in the car.

Posted by: Robert_M at May 24, 2005 07:42 PM

good call Sean!!

Posted by: ambrocked at May 25, 2005 03:03 AM

Why not also paint TURN LEFT AHEAD then it would cover all possibilities.

Posted by: Onery at May 25, 2005 11:49 AM

The worst example of this on U.S. roads is when they combine the upside-down text with multiple abbreviations:



Give up yet? It's supposed to mean "pedestrian crossing"!

Posted by: Josh at May 25, 2005 01:35 PM

Just this morning I took a different way to work, and ran into:





Born and raised in the US, I've always read the writing on the road from top-to-bottom. I understand the logic of putting the words in the order that you "should" see them first as you approach them on the road, but I'm happy to know that I'm not the only one out there that reads them backwards.

Posted by: Jen at May 25, 2005 02:23 PM

As a bicyclist, I've had a lot of time to ponder what sort of design features a LANE BIKE would have.

Maybe the sign isn't for me, but I'm high enough that I have no problem seeing both words at the same time, and as zippy as I like to think I am, I'm usually under 20kph, so words are not exactly flying by. As noted by many of the above, the picture of a bicycle gets it across a lot faster.

Posted by: Mr BK of Baltimore, MD at May 26, 2005 05:33 AM

the worst ones in the us are the ones that read





Posted by: dana at May 26, 2005 05:08 PM

I hate it when slow children are at play! They should change it to be less offensive. Separate slow and children at play and it would help a lot.

Posted by: Andy Hoffman at May 27, 2005 11:52 AM

It makes sense both ways -

Ahead, turn left

Left turn ahead

although I agree that it isn't the greatest system, especially like the example Josh said.

Posted by: no one at May 27, 2005 04:21 PM

Can some tell me how in world "XING" is supposed to mean crossing???

Posted by: aljvh at May 27, 2005 10:05 PM

Bubba, I didn't suggest replaciong the words on the pavement with a sign by the side of the road, I suggested replacing the words on the pavement with a pictogram (on the pavement).

aljvh, the "X" is "cross" -- get it? Just like the X-shaped signs at railroad CROSSings.

Posted by: stoo at May 27, 2005 10:10 PM

They should just use a sign.

If a car in front of you WAS covering it up, however unlikely that is, you would follow that car.

Posted by: A1 at May 29, 2005 08:41 AM

You're missing the worst of them. I get tired of going through Automatic CAUTION Doors.

Posted by: Loren Pechtel at May 29, 2005 12:17 PM

The 'X' is a cross! cross-ing! get it?

I think putting the Left first (i.e. closest to the oncoming driver) is better because you know that it's a left turn. How many other phrases starting with 'LEFT' would you see printed on a road?

Posted by: Bob at June 1, 2005 10:40 PM

The one on the left (Left Turn Ahead) Is definately better. If it happens the other way (turn left ahead) it sounds like a command, like if you dont turn you will fly into some invisible wall

Posted by: A distressed driver at June 4, 2005 10:07 PM

A distressed driver: The other way is "Ahead Left Turn," not "Turn Left Ahead." No matter what way you turn it, "left" won't end up in the middle.

Steve: A good joke you made.

Posted by: Brian at June 21, 2005 12:05 AM

My favorite example of this is in the Hudson River Park along Manhattan's West Side. The instruction in the cycle lane is:




Great. So do I yield (right of way) to pedestrians, or are pedestrians to yield..? Too late, CRASH!

BTW, I expect words are written this way in the US because they drive so close to the car in front, they can only see one word at a time, not the whole phrase.

Posted by: Andrew at July 14, 2005 10:33 PM

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