Definitions & Pavement Markings

Puppy tracks? Yeah, they’re a thing.

Who knew there were so many types of road markings?

They all mean something, and they often mean something YOU need to know.


Topic 10: Definitions and Pavement Markings

Lesson Introduction

In this lesson, you will learn more about the roadway than most car drivers will ever know. We’ll talk about road signs to look out for, and the relevance of certain pavement markings. We’ll learn how roundabouts work and how to handle complex interchanges.

This lesson will focus on the parts of the roadway that are for general use — for all vehicles, including bicycles. The next lesson will focus on bicycle-specific infrastructure.

Highway and Roadway Definitions

Let’s start with defining the roadway itself. Two terms we hear are “roadway” and “highway.”

“Highway” is the overarching term for all paved and unpaved right-of-way associated with a road. It includes shoulders, sidewalks, and grass berms.

A “roadway” is the portion of highway improved for vehicular use. That includes travel lanes, turn lanes and — in most states — bike lanes. We learned more about the legal and operational significance of this in Lesson 1.6 in the basic course.

Pavement Markings

Let’s run through some basic pavement markings and what they mean.

The white line at the edge of the roadway is an “edge line.” Paved area outside of this line is the shoulder or gutter.

A white line between same-direction lanes is a “lane line.”

The “center line” is a yellow line or lines between opposite direction lanes. Yellow lines can also mark the left edge of a one way street, or define a two-way center-turn lane.

Approaching intersections, we’ll sometimes see directional markings. These indicate where you can go from each lane.

At the intersection, there is usually a white bar. Drivers are required to stop behind it to be out of the intersection and the crosswalk.

Marked Crosswalks are common at signalized intersections. But whether or not there is a marking, the crosswalk is still there and yielding to pedestrians is still required.

Where right turns are prevalent, you might find a “slip lane” to allow for easier turns. At the end of the slip lane you might see a row of triangles. These are also found ahead of midblock crosswalks and on the entrance to roundabouts. It’s the yield equivalent of the stop bar — the point at which you must yield to other users who have the right of way.

Another pavement marking you’ll see frequently is a “safety zone.” This is a hashed area not intended for vehicles. In most cases, you want to steer clear of it, as moving into it could cause you to get trapped. However, sometimes they can provide an easy place to release traffic that couldn’t easily pass otherwise.

Let’s take a closer look at lane lines.

When lines are solid, you’re not supposed to cross them. For example, when approaching an intersection, lane changes are prohibited because driver attention should be focused forward.

Dashed lines come in different lengths that mean different things.

A regular dashed line between lanes indicates that you may change lanes.

Sometimes the dashes become shorter. The line might also be thicker. These—called “elephant tracks”—indicate that the lane to the right of them will be diverging from the road you are on. You may be accustomed to seeing these on freeways, but more departments are now using them on regular streets.

They offer a heads-up that can help you out. If you see this happening to the lane you are using, and you intend to continue straight, it’s time to move one lane to the left.

In the middle of intersections, you may also see short, thin, dashed lines connecting lanes on one side of the intersection to lanes on the other. These are called “puppy tracks.” They are there to keep you from crossing into the path of a car in an adjacent lane. They may also indicate that one lane feeds into two on the other side of the intersection.

In this video, we want to move to the middle lane. By doing it here, we don’t have to make a lane change. We simply follow beside the puppy tracks across the intersection.

Lane Numbering

Sometimes you will hear engineers and bicycle driving experts refer to lanes by number—the #1 lane, #2 lane, etc.

We generally try to avoid jargon, but sometimes this does make communication easier. Here’s how lane numbering works. Lanes numbers begin at the center line or median. Number 1 is always the inside lane. And the number of the outside lane depends on how many lanes there are.