June 25, 2018 /
Jona Elwell

Color Coding: Demystifying City Spray Paint Marks

Ever seen a city block that looks like children with chalk have gotten a hold of it? No those aren’t kids having fun with spray paint – each of those colors and marks means something! We’re here to help demystify what on earth all that means.

An unfortunate backstory: a system for coding and marking utilities was first implemented in California after construction workers accidentally cut through a petroleum pipeline in 1976, resulting in a fatal explosion that destroyed half a city block.

So what does it all mean? First up, our beloved trees get specific spray paint markings.

If you see  a trunk with marks in orange, it indicates that trees has been slated for removal by the Urban Forestry Division (UFD).


If a tree has a yellow dot, it doesn’t mean the tree is coming down, but it does mean something a bit foreboding. That tree is a fruit producing female ginkgo tree tagged for spraying by UFD to spare us all from that distinct smelly smell that smells smelly.


If you see a colored dot on the sidewalk, it’s exciting news! That marks the location for new street tree plantings. Spray painted dots are usually the size of an apple, color used to vary depending on the availability of the particular paint in the hands of the arborist. Older dots used to vary from green to yellow to white to red, but current marking is more uniformly done in fluorescent orange or pink.

As for utility lines, this handy guide should help out:

Yellow lines follow Washington Gas lines, Red lines mark Pepco utility lines and blue lines denote the presence of DC Water lines and meters.

Have a concern why a certain tree or sidewalk is marked as it is? Contact the UFD at 311 or 202-673-6813 or Miss Utility at 800-257-7777 and ask them what type of work is scheduled, why and when. It’s always better to call then to disrupt service!