I’ve wanted to feature Trap Streets on 12MC for the longest while. I began the initial research and started writing an opening paragraph probably a half-dozen times over the last five years. It remained on my topic list, surviving various purges in the vague hope that someday I might find an opportunity to discuss it. Inherently, how does a geo-oddity site dependent upon visual imagery begin to approach something that by definition does not exist?
Let me recap recent developments. I posted another installment of Odds and Ends a couple of days ago, mentioning reader Nigel’s curious discovery of Heterodox View Avenue in various locations throughout the United States. I conducted a basic search and I couldn’t provide an explanation. At the time I observed, "Heterodox View Avenue — and it was always Heterodox View Avenue; not street, not drive, not boulevard, only avenue" and I couldn’t understand why. Neither could I fathom a reasonable explanation for any avenue named "heterodox" in general, a term defined roughly as an unconventional opinion. It all seemed odd and vaguely out of sorts.
Three 12MC readers, Wangi, Craig, and Rhodent each posted comments in quick succession independently. Perhaps, they suggested, multiple appearance of Heterodox View Avenue were meant to serve as trap streets.
Trap streets don’t serve as literal traps — although those in fact do exist (primarily in Canada) — instead they serve as traps for copyright violators. Cartographers historically drew minor, insignificant errors into their maps to deter others from stealing their works. Often errors took the form of small, fictional one-block streets. Access roads through shopping center parking lots, as with several Google Maps’ appearances of Heterodox View Avenue, seemed to fit that definition rather nicely on a theoretical level.
Two of the comments focused specifically on Heterodox View Avenue in Lenexa, Kansas. That was the only example where one could clearly read actual signage in Street View, and cross-reference it to the underlying map. I took a screen print of the image:
Heterodox View Avenue, Lenexa/Olathe, KS
via Google Street View, May 2012
Don’t be too concerned about the address being listed as Olathe in the image. The spot was Olathe albeit by about 500 feet from the border with Lenexa, so either may be possible from a postal service perspective. More importantly, compare the confluence of street names with the (blurry) image. Notice W. 112th Terrace.
Heterodox View Ave. – Google
Meanwhile, Google Maps displayed that exact same street as Heterodox View Avenue. Ground images completely contradicted that claim. It was not Heterodox View Avenue. Google Maps also got the western cross-street wrong. It’s actually W. 113th Street.
I compared the location with a couple of other online mapping tools.
W. 112th Ter. – Open Street Map
OpenStreeMap labeled W. 112th Terrace correctly, although paradoxically it also whiffed on the western cross-street.
Only Bing got it right, with W. 112th Terrace to the east, W. 113th Street to the west, and no sign of Heterodox View Avenue anywhere.
I turned to an overview of trap streets presented on OpenStreetMap where they were called Copyright Easter Eggs. OSM viewed them as unnecessary because the site incorporated "a very unique and distinct fingerprint evident in the data coverage and details included." Thus, for example, OSM was able to determine that Apple had lifted data without attribution in 2012 without having to resort to "introduced errors." Trap streets once had meaning in the paper mapping era although they’ve become quaint anachronisms in the digital age.
One must also consider that map inaccuracies can derive from many sources. Trap streets likely form an inconsequential percentage. I’ve noticed frequent innocent errors in every online mapping tool with nothing suspicious intended by the authors. Mistakes happen. I’ve also observed numerous cases of "paper streets," including entire subdivisions, which were planned at one time and never constructed. Let’s also not discount the possibility of pranks intended as harmless insertions by bored or playful cartographers.
Were the appearances of various Heterodox View Avenues sufficient evidence of genuine trap streets in Google Maps? It seemed more plausible than finding several unrelated, unintentional errors having the same exact name, or paper streets overlaid upon actual streets, or a not particularly clever prank. I doubt Google would ever admit to the existence of trap streets even if they were true so we will never know. It will be interesting to watch what happens now that Heterodox View Avenue has been outed.
Trap Street is also a movie!
Coca-Cola Plaza, Tallinn, Estonia
Search on trap street, and behold, one will stumble upon a 2013 Chinese movie with that title in its English version. The Internet Movie Database provided a brief description that sounded intriguing from a geo-geek perspective:
In a southern city of China, a digital mapping surveyor encounters a mysterious woman on an unmappable street… He learns that the data he collected of the street will not register in the mapping system. The street has disappeared as if it never existed. Desperate to reconnect with the mysterious woman he continues his investigation of the unmappable street only to discover something that will change his life forever.
While the movie has screened in Canada, Russia and the UK, it does not have a US release date as of the time I write this (Nov. 24, 2013). It will debut next at Coca-Cola Plaza in Tallinn, Estonia as part of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, on November 26. Tickets were still available this morning. I’m half-tempted to buy one even though I’ll never be able to attend (road trip to Estonia, anyone?). Maybe the director, Vivian Qu, will stumble across this page while Googling herself and invite me to the US premier.
I guess I should start learning Mandarin. I hate subtitles.
The signs claimed "On this site in 1897 nothing happened." It was mildly amusing, maybe even a tiny bit clever the first time — the first time! — I saw one of their ilk several years ago. They mimicked the look-and-feel of genuine historical markers with faux cast iron, bold font, adorned with a couple of official-looking stars, and appearing on random walls, rocks, pillars, and homes in places where, quite accurately, nothing much special ever happened. I’m sure many people in the 12MC audience have noticed these conversation pieces scattered around during their travels.
On This Site… by ilovememphis, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
This one was spotted by the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. The tag geolocated to a parking lot near the intersection of S. Front Street and Beale Street. I poked around in Street View for awhile, noticed a promising brick wall, and couldn’t find the actual sign in the wild, though.
The trend had likely run its course already by the time "nothing happened" signs appeared on Amazon for $29.99. Other sources priced them even lower.
Imitators delivered additional evidence of oversaturation. Variations from my very unscientific survey of photo sites included September 5, 1782 (second most common), 1832 (third most common), April 17, 1897 (adding even greater precision to 1897), March 13, 1893, June 12, 1761, April 1, 1780, and on-and-on, including one specifying that George Washington never slept there. They all held one thing in common; that on that date and in that spot, nothing happened. There’s even an entire group on Flickr devoted to nothing happening.
1782 ON THIS SITE SEPT 5, 1782 NOTHING HAPPENED by Leo Reynolds, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Interestingly, while 1897 seemed to be a preeminent date for historical non-occurrences in the United States, it was September 5, 1782 that dominated in the United Kingdom. I’m sure an enterprising scholar could frame an entire doctoral dissertation around the definition of historic age in the U.S. versus the U.K. It’s about a hundred years farther back in the Old Country, apparently.
The example, noted above, was discovered in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. One person commenting on its page, observed:
I think whoever made this sign made a typo and used an 8 instead of a 5. It would be factually correct and even more amusing if it read Sept 5, 1752 because absolutely nothing happened on that day due to the date changes of the British Calendar Act of 1751.
That was so cool I had to look it up. Sure enough, the Parliament of Great Britain passed the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 and amended it with the Calendar Act 1751. Thus, September 5, 1752 didn’t exist in Yarmouth because the calendar skipped from Wednesday September 2 straight over to Thursday September 14, 1752 during a transition from Julian dates to Gregorian.
Humorous signs like these have been around for at least a couple of decades. Multiple Internet sources said they’ve been around "since at least the 1980′s." The date seemed plausible. However, as is typical, they all quoted from each other in circular fashion and none of them reference a reliable primary source. The earliest definite reference I found traced to a November 1990 Chicago Tribune article, Unhistory – A suspiciously long prepositional phrase which highlighted a sign affixed to a rock at the Evanston, Illinois campus of Northwestern University. It’s still there, and it’s known colloquially as The Nothing Happened Rock. I can’t believe I found the actual rock on Street View (map). That’s nuts.
The Simpsons, Episode 347, "Goo Goo Gai Pan," March 13, 2005
Fair Use screen grab
Nothing Happened signs have become a part of the collective consciousness. A parody sign debuted on the Goo Goo Gai Pan episode of The Simpsons, first aired on March 13, 2005. "On this site, in 1989, nothing happened," appeared as the family walked through Tiananmen Square, an obvious reference to the momentous events of that year and subsequent efforts to wipe it from Chinese memory.
The joke has grown a little threadbare over the years although people are still discovering Nothing Happened for the very first time, and expressing their amusement. I suspect that they’ll be around for awhile.
The Twelve Mile Circle now has Twitter presence. I began a soft launch with 12MC’s Google+ followers two weeks ago so I could work out the details. I’m now able to post a variety of ways including by mobile phone, and I’ve successfully posted a photo from that source as well. I’m ready to take the next step and open this account to the general public. I do want to take a moment to recognize my Google+ circle — yes, I have a Twelve Mile Circle circle — for bearing with me while I worked out all of the peculiarities on my end. Thank you all for helping me with the launch.
You can find the 12MC Twitter feed at TheReal12MC.
There’s a whole story behind that account name. Obviously lots of names were unavailable because I came to the party so late. This included the existence of a musical group called Twelve Mile Circle. I first floated the Twitter idea about a year ago and loyal reader Greg posted a prescient comment: "It looks like twitter.com/TheReal12MC is available." There you go Greg, you get full credit for naming the 12MC Twitter site.
WordPress software allows an author to select the date and time and article will post to the Internet. I wrote this article on Thursday evening. Right now — if you’re reading this article the day it posts — it’s Sunday. I am on the road somewhere within the vicinity of Dust Bowl on my way to Dalhart, Texas. I have embarked upon the Dust Bowl trip that I’ve been talking about since August.
View Dust Bowl Destinations in a larger map
Why does that matter? Other than it’s totally cool and I’ve been planning it for months? Because I wanted to time the Twitter rollout with the trip so I could live tweet from the road. Expect a steady stream of random observations and blurry photographs all week long (March 18-22, 2013). Follow along while I provide commentary from a different state for five straight days. That’s your incentive to head over to Twitter right away and start following TheReal12MC. I’m probably already tweeting.
Let me shift topics just a little to comment on Google Reader. I think many of us were taken by surprise when Google announced their plan to shut down Reader on July 1, 2013. This situation has not been resolved as of the time I write this (on Thursday). It’s possible that Google may have had a change of heart when this posts on Sunday, or a better RSS reader alternative may have emerged. A huge number of 12MC readers follow this site on Google Reader. I use it myself to keep track of dozens of geo-geek sites so I face the same dilemma. I can say with certainty that the Twelve Mile Circle will continue to publish an RSS feed as long as people are able to read it, regardless of whether Google Reader exists or not.
I will also try to figure out other simple, reliable, convenient ways to share content with you. I guess I’m fortunate with the coincidental timing of my Twitter rollout because that’s one avenue the Intertubes are suggesting. G+ may figure into this too. Maybe Reddit would be another path. I will also explore whether I can set up an email subscription option. Your ideas and suggestions for sharing 12MC content in a world without Google Reader would be much appreciated.