I’ve made a big deal over the years about how I miss the color-coded street signs, by borough, that marked NYC streets between 1964 and 1985, which were thence supplanted by the green-and-white numbers since then. I’ve come to realize, though, that there were another set of directional signs right under my nose, as it were, the whole time.

I’m referring to NYC’s “arrowhead” system of smaller signs, installed beginning in the 1940s (my estimate) that were placed on main routes, directing motorists to major expressways or bridges conceived in large part by NYC traffic czar Robert Moses. They were small signs in various shapes: arrowhead (Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone), inverted triangle (Triborough), or circle (Queens-Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery Tunnels), and seemed to follow a color-coded system, though I have yet to crack it without seeing all of the signs, though the bridges seemed to be white or navy-blue with a red border, though the Verrazano Bridge was a circle. The tunnel signs were black and white circles (Brooklyn-Battery) and gold and black (Queens-Midtown).

As large green and white directional signs have gained prominence, the “arrowheads” as I call all of them, have been phased out, though there are still several of them around town where the Department of Transportation hasn’t removed them. The DOT has been installing new versions, which are rounded-edged rectangles with the arrowheads printed on them, not die-cut. Know the imitations!

I find more all the time, so If I get a critical mass of more of them I’ll so a second page.


Roosevelt Avenue in the 50s in Woodside, Queens


Queens Blvd./Roosevelt Avenue at 49th Street, Woodside, Queens


Queens Boulevard and 42nd Street, Sunnyside, Queens. Older samples in the genre use fonts other than Highway Gothic, which came along in the 1950s.


1st Avenue and East 35th Street, Murray Hill, Manhattan


Flushing, Queens. This battered sign has since been removed.


There’s a whole flock of Arrowheads on River Avenue near Yankee Stadium. Here was also see one of the large green and white signs that have largely supplanted the smaller Arrowheads.


Junction Boulevard and 46th Avenue, Corona.


3rd Avenue under the Gowanus Expressway in Park Slope.


This lamppost on Astoria Boulevard and Newtown Avenue has nine (9) directional or safety signs on it, one of which is an Arrowhead.


The intersection of Woodside Avenue and 69th Street sported a pair of Arrowheads, one of which is shown here.


Under the Broadway el in Bedford-Stuyvesant you will find a discreetly placed Arrowhead.


Lastly, here’s a pair on Rockaway Blvd. in Rosedale that have gone to the great beyond, along with the old castiron lamppost that carried them.


Categorized in: Forgotten Slices Signs Tagged with:


  1. Fred Mayer says:

    Simple, effective and easy to follow in heavy traffic. It should have been adopted all over the country. I tried to follow route 1 from New london, CT to Greenwich years ago. In some spots it was almost impossible. All the signs looked the same.

  2. Allan Rosen says:

    When Moses built his bridges, he put markers all over the city, it seems like at every turn so everyone knew how to get there. There were dozens for the Battery Tunnel and not a single sign for the free Brooklyn Bridge, I remember. My favorite was a Whitestone Bridge sign near Bay 7th Street and Cropsey Avenue not too far from the Verrazano Bridge, nowhere near the Whitestone. It may still be there. I don’t believe any were removed. They just fell off with age. So while they made sense when they were put up, many are useless today because so many are missing. You used to know where to turn just by following the signs. Now you get one turn but none of the others. But now we have GPS anyway.

  3. Adrian Smart says:

    I snapped one of these for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel on Forgotten Tour 34 in 2008:

    I wonder if it’s still there…

  4. Howie says:

    These signs were a true stroke of genius. The fact of the matter was you really did not even have to read. Each crossing had its own unique design I believe and once you knew it allyouhad to do was follow the arrows. New Jersey is like that with the parkway and turnpike signs.

    I have read that the IND subway used a color coded system for its stations to help new immigrants know where to get off. maybe this was a similar goal for new drivers.

  5. That is very unfortunate what happened to NYC street signs. RIP to the Triborough Bridge.

  6. raynard says:

    A Former NYer here also us to work in the sign industry.To tell you the truth, most young people cant read a paper map,to lazy to read a sign.. It’s sad and I have kids ans grandkids so I encourage and challenge them to learn.It’s a good thing being also a former trucker driver before cell phone and gps that I learned how to read milemarkers. a tip in case your gps fails. most route numbers odd (north and south) even(east and west) the sun rises in the east, sets in the west. Brightest star at night, the north star. Learned that in the Army and you can get a better sense of direction without”toys” telling you. Learn about crossstreets and yes I use Google Maps and embraced some “modern advances but still”stick to the basics..

  7. Vinnie says:

    About 5 years ago, I could still make out a Liberty Ave. sign——in the blue on white color combo used for Queens—under the Lefferts Elevated in Ozone Park. at the intersection of Liberty Ave and—I want to say (103 Ave.) Whoever were the boneheads to have heaped this unfair federal law at us, failed to realize a lot of us locals get confused as to where the Queens/Brooklyn border is!!!! I still wouldnt know if Im in Bushwick or Ridgewood…its still pretty rough to figure out.

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