WE’VE all seen the spray-painted squiggles, scrawled numbers and mysterious symbols which keep cropping up on the pavement, but do you have any idea who’s behind this cryptic roadside language?
The mysterious kerb code has left many people confused, with some thinking the daubing is the work of burglars marking out potential targets – while American comedian Sarah Silverman wondered whether the symbols she kept seeing on the pavement were crudely drawn swastikas.
Twitter/Sarah Silverman US comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted to ask whether roadside markings near here could be the work of Nazis
However, the truth is you don’t need to worry – the markings are painted by workers tasked with fitting and maintaining the vast network of pipes and wires which run beneath us – including water mains, broadband cables, power lines and sewage routes.
Richard Hayes, Chief Executive of the Institute of Highway Engineers, tells Sun Online: “The markings usually refer to the position of cables and pipes below the surface and often marked out in advance of proposed works.
“They can indicate depth, owner and direction.”
Alamy We’ve all seen random-seeming road markings on British pavements, but most of us have no idea what they mean
The burglars’ code?
In 2016, it was widely reported that the scrawling could be the work of crooks who had devised a secret language of symbols to share info about houses they wanted to burgle.
Supposedly, a pair of overlapping rectangles outside a home means the occupants are nervous and afraid, while a simple cross indicates a good target.
A cross in a circle means there’s nothing worth stealing inside, while a set of five dots means the house belongs to a wealthy occupant.
But it wasn’t long before the so-called “Da Pinchi Code” that was doing the rounds on social media, was dispelled by police forces who provided a key explaining what each pavement doodle could really mean.
SUN South Worcester Police debunked the ‘Da Pinchi Code’ myth by revealing what each symbol really means, with the alleged burglar code meaning in red
SUN Ever seen random-looking letters on the pavement? They refer to what kind of detection was used to map out the pipes below… in this case P for passive electromagnetics
A spokesman for South Worcestershire Police said: “There is no actual evidence to link these symbols to anything other than completely innocent and easily explainable activities.”
Police forces have previously warned of similar chalk symbols which they thought could be used to mark out homes where dogs are ripe to be stolen.
However, it’s more likely that these were also harmless road-markings, drawn in temporary chalk because workers expected to be done quickly.
Today, chalk is deemed a “bit of a relic” by road workers, according to Hayes. The longer-lasting oil-based chalk varieties were also only available in yellow, scuppering the carefully devised colour scheme used by today’s pavement doodlers.
Former burglars have also rubbished theories about any secret code, arguing that since most thieves operate alone, they wouldn’t want to help their competitors by providing details of who they can rob.
And when thieves do end up working together, crime experts say criminals would be more likely to just text or chat on the phone rather than risk spooking a target by marking up their pavement.
Alamy These lines indicate where pipes run, with numbers representing depth and pressure and circles showing the number of cables in a duct
The colour code
While it would appear there is no burglars’ code, there is a colour code to look out for.
Typically, different paint colours denote different messages, with red referring to electric wiring, yellow for gas mains and blue for water.
Often, an orange message relates to telecoms cables (although some companies are known to use green for this) and green refers to sewage lines.
White paint, meanwhile, is often used to mark excavations, doubling up as the Post-it Note of the pavement world – a colour for little reminders about where things need to go at the end of a project or for general communication between workers.
SUN South Worcestershire police released a guide to sidewalk scribbles to calm worries about crooks using them to target homes
What the most common symbols really mean
Alamy Simple, straight lines are the most common roadside marking. They indicate where pipes and cables run, with the colour giving away what’s what
Alamy Numbers can be used to indicate anything from pressure to depth, and in this case they have been used to show proposed heights of the pavement after alterations
Alamy Sometimes workmen will cut out the codes and just write messages in paint… while L/P is a common abbreviation for low pressure
L/P, M/P or H/P means low pressure, medium pressure and high pressure respectively, when used to talk about gas pipes.
Letters are also used to refer to the utility companies who own the cables, like BT.
Alamy Letters like R and P are used to show which method of detection has been used to map out the pipes below
Meanwhile, an R means that the position of the cables or pipes being described has been verified by radar, while a P means the placements are based on a check by passive electromagnetics – a tool for modelling underground systems.
A series of circles indicates the number of cables within a duct below… in this case, the red colour means it’s an electric duct
End of road scheme
This white squiggle indicates the point where a certain section of roadworks starts or ends
These zig-zag markings in white indicate where the road needs to be marked with zig-zags, like at a zebra crossing
This symbol shows where hatched markings – like at a box junction – should be painted onto the road
Kerb repair required
This symbol is during works to indicate that the kerb needs doing up
When two overlapping boxes are marked on a pavement, it means a cover or manhole is due to be moved
Alamy A simple cross marks the place where a water pipe runs – sometimes in blue and sometimes in white
Circle with cross
SUN Circles with crosses in are used to indicate where a lamppost is due to be placed
SUN This shape indicates the part of the pavement where a drop kerb is due to be fitted
Open box with circles in
This one looks super complex, but it really just means cable TV wires are running below, with the number of circles indicating how many cables are buried there
Sun This lock symbol indicates exactly that – that a manhole needs to be sealed and locked into place
Notes to contractors
Alamy Sometimes the shapes and symbols just won’t do – in which case contractors write proper notes, like ‘Shallow’, to each other. The T, meanwhile, could refer to a cable provider