Bike Hack: The Little Green Signs

A “little green sign” for Route 23

Source: By Fwgoebel – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10054106

Have you ever been driving (or biking) along somewhere in New York State and wondered about the little green signs that you keep seeing over and over on the side of the road? These little signs are actually reference markers put up by the NYS Department of Transportation after the Highway Safety Act of 1966 required that “each state shall have a highway safety program….(that) shall include, but not be limited to, provisions for….surveillance of traffic for detection and correction of high or potentially high accident locations”.

In short, in a pre-computer and pre-GPS world, each state needed to figure out their own way to reference every segment of state-owned roadway for traffic, maintenance and crash reporting purposes.

And, of course, New York State being what it is, came up with an ingeniously confusing, complicated, yet workable solution, which culminated in these little green signs that show an almost nonsensical jumble of numbers and letters.

But these signs are a great resource if you are ever lost on your bike and you need to figure out what road you are on. The top row of these signs is (almost) always the route number for the state road on which you are traveling. So in the absence of other signage, these little green markers can at least help you figure out what road you are on. On most 2 lane roads, they are every 0.2 mile, so you don’t have to bike far to figure it out. If you are riding on a 4-lane road, you’ll see them every 0.1 mile.

If you are interested in the real nitty-gritty about how these little green signs work, check out the NYSDOT Reference Marker Manual. It’s fascinating. It will make you appreciate the lengths that people had to go to to code highway segments before computers and GPS could just assign everything a coordinate.

And keep in mind, you will only see these signs in New York State. Other states have their own signs, which may or may not make sense.

Riding a bike to Montauk!

Gotham Bike Tours MontaukHave you ever wanted to do that one “big ride” to challenge yourself? Riding my bike to Montauk from my apartment in Brooklyn was the first time I had ever dared to ride more than 100 miles in one day. It was 1998. I was only 23 years old. I had just finished college. I had started a new job…and I decided to train all summer to meet this goal.

I wanted to do this ride one-way…and take the LIRR back home when I was done.  Back then, you couldn’t bring your bike on the LIRR Montauk branch before Labor Day. So I waited until the week after. I remember going to the Hagstrom Map Store on 43rd Street and 6th Avenue to buy all the maps I would need to plan my journey. The ride would be about 115 miles long…if I didn’t  get lost. I spent a ton of time trying to figure out what roads to ride, how to do this, etc. But I couldn’t wait! I had only been to Montauk as a kid with my parents. Now I was ready to go there on my own…on a bike!

The ride exceeded my expectations. And when I saw that lighthouse at the end of the ride it blew me away. I went down to the rocky beach below the lighthouse and I saw about a dozen fisherman casting their lines out into the surf. One guy was holding a huge fish he had just caught. I wondered if his feeling of accomplishment was similar to mine. I had caught a huge prize of my own…riding to Montauk!

Since that first ride, I have ridden to Montauk many times. Each time I learned a little more. I discovered how to use the trains effectively to do different kinds of rides. I learned where to camp. Where to get a good dinner. And were the best scenery was.

Three years ago I decided to put all of this knowledge into the first bike tour we ever offered at Gotham Bicycle Tours: Our Montauk and Eastern Long Island bike tour. It’s all the highlights of my many bike trips to Montauk condensed into a weekend that you can experience. Since not everyone wants to ride a hundred-plus miles, we have several different routes to choose from between 16 and 60 miles…each one designed to give you a feeling of accomplishment when you reach THE END!  And forget about pouring over paper maps!  We have all the routes figured out for you, and you can get turn-by-turn navigation from a GPS app on your smartphone.  Doing a bike overnight to Montauk and the Hamptons has gotten easier than ever!