Many municipalities have considered or have already started to provide broadband services to their residents directly, bypassing numerous commercial enterprises that specialize in those functions. There were more than 100 cities doing that already just in the United States alone in 2011. Reasons included control over speed and pricing, as well as a desire to provide service directly to every residence within its boundaries. In Chattanooga, Tennessee earlier this year for instance, Governing.com noted that the city had:
… leapt to the forefront of American cities with ultra high-speed broadband service and has accomplished the feat in a surprisingly old-fashioned way: the city’s municipally-owned electric utility provides the service. Tennessee’s fourth-largest city is now a member of a small, but elite group of world-class cities that can offer residents and businesses Internet service of up to one gigabit per second, 200 times faster than the average broadband speed in America.
I thought it might be interesting to take a look at that "old-fashioned way" and see how it was doing today with another communication medium, the land-line telephone. While somewhat maligned now and overtaken largely by cellular and Internet technologies, wired telephony was a leading-edge technology in the previous century. Back then towns and cities worldwide built and owned their own local telephone systems for many of the same reasons why they’re exploring municipal broadband today.
I wondered if any municipalities still provisioned their own telephone service. Very few, it turned out. I confirmed only three instances. I’m certain a handful of others must exist in small pockets elsewhere, particularly in the non-English speaking part of the world that I found difficult to parse with typical Internet searches.
Pineville, North Carolina, USA
Pineville, North Carolina
The Pineville Telephone Company bills itself as,
… a full service telecommunications provider, which has supplied quality service to Pineville’s business and residential community since it was established in 1937. PTC is currently one of only two municipally owned telephone companies operating in the United States. Because PTC is municipally owned, we are able to offer our residential customers some of the lowest rates in the state.
Pineville was once a distinct location although it’s largely evolved into a suburb blended within the larger Charlotte, North Carolina metropolitan area, and wedged-in by a state border with South Carolina. Its practically unique telephone system harkened back to an earlier time when Pineville was a more isolated pocket of population drifting upon a rural landscape. I’m not sure how Pineville knew that there were only two occurrences in the United States, however that’s all I could find so there might be some truth to their statement unless someone else can uncover another one.
Barnesville, Minnesota, USA
Barnsville, Minnesota, USA
Barnesville, unlike Pineville, continued to retain its original rural charm, with an annual Barnesville Potato Days held each August as an example. The bare-bones City of Barnesville Municipal Telephone website explained its entire set of offerings on a single page, and explained,
In 1901 the City of Barnesville became the first city in Minnesota to own a municipal phone service. The phone service has always generated substantial revenue, and profits from the system have helped keep property taxes lower… Municipal ownership of these important utilities ensures resident of cutting edge technology at affordable prices.
Barnesville also provisioned its own cable television network so municipal ownership was a model that obviously worked well for them. The city seemed have a good set of reasons to retain their telephone system. That didn’t prevent the vast preponderance of other municipalities similarly situated from divesting over time, however.
I also noticed a statement on the Barnesville site that happened to reference two municipally-owned telephone systems in Minnesota without additional explanation. If true, I couldn’t find the other one.
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
There might be only a single remaining example in all of Canada, at Thunder Bay, Ontario. The Thunder Bay Telephone Company, which has since been renamed Tbaytel, traced its origins back to 1902. If it’s not the only municipally-owned telephone company in Canada it’s certainly the largest, and its likely larger than either of the remaining examples in the United States. Tbaytel also expanded into cellular service with a significant subscriber base throughout Northern Ontario.
There were other examples in Northern Ontario until recently. The Kenora Municipal Telephone System (KMTS) became a division of Bell Aliant in February 2008 as did the Dryden Municipal Telephone Service (DMTS) in January 2013. Many Internet sources were still catching-up with that news.
Kingston upon Hull, England. Nope.
Kingston upon Hull, England
Kingston upon Hull, frequently referred to simply as Hull, retained a municipally-owned telephone system for a very long time, a final holdout from British Telecom, BT. Somehow Hull resisted national utility consolidations successfully. Hull’s municipal provider, Kingston Communications, traced its origins back to the earliest days of the 20th Century. Later it became KCOM Group, and its history page explained what happened next: In 1999 "The Kingston Communications Group was partially floated on the London Stock Exchange, with the City Council retaining its interest with a 44.9 per cent stake." Then in 2007, "Hull City Council [sold] remaining stakeholding in the Group." KCOM Group became a fully publicly-traded company at that time. It maintained its practical monopoly on telephone services in Hull albeit no longer as a municipally-owned entity.
White Classic Phone Boxes of the Hull Telephone Company Hull Town Centre East Yorkshire Sep 2013 by calflier001, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license
The most interesting and visible quirk, in my opinion, was that Kingston upon Hull did not field the iconic red British telephone box because BT did not provide service the area. Rather, Kingston Communications fielded a box that had been described either as white or cream. Telephone boxes have become such an anachronism that perhaps even that one simple individualistic distinction will fade over time as well. Look at them while you can (e.g., Street View image that I expect to disappear someday).
The Twelve Mile Circle examined freeways and motorways with the most lanes previously. That was a measurement of potential capacity. Would those massively-wide behemoths continue to reign supreme once someone posted actual traffic volumes? That wasn’t the case albeit with one notable exception.
Comparisons weren’t easy although Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) seemed to be a prevailing standard. In simplest terms, "it is the total volume of vehicle traffic of a highway or road for a year divided by 365 days." It can be a tedious exercise comparing values unless one enjoys wading through hundreds of pages of tables or spreadsheets — oftentimes not easily sortable — looking for the highest AADT. I can’t guarantee that I found the absolute highest traffic measurements in the world because I wasn’t that thorough, although I do believe I uncovered many of the more impressive values. Also I had to be careful to double-check that I was looking at AADT, a measurement for a specific point along a specific road, and not other measurements such as the complete traffic volume for the entire road.
Ontario Highway 401′s Busiest Segment
A segment of Ontario Highway 401 (a.k.a., King’s Highway, MacDonald-Cartier Freeway) definitely held the distinction of the highest traffic volume in North America, and possibly the world. I included that qualifier because it was the highest AADT I found anywhere on my own and because numerous sources with much greater knowledge of this subject yielded nothing higher. Maybe there could be a place in a highly-populated corner of Asia so I left the claim with a little asterisk.
The 401 was the notable exception mentioned earlier, appearing on the list for extreme lanes (20-ish) as well as AADT (400,000+). The maximum lanes occurred near Toronto Pearson International Airport while the traffic extreme happened a few kilometres farther east in what used to be the municipality of York, which became part of the City of Toronto in 1998.
Specifically, according to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, the 1.5 km segment of 401 between Highway 400 and Weston Road recorded an AADT of 403,300 vehicles in 2010. If that sounded bad, consider that it was closer to 450k in 2004 and sometimes peaked above 500k.
United States of America
Interstate 405′s Busiest Segment
The United States posted some pretty impressive vehicle totals, too. A table from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration listed Most Traveled Urban Highways for the nation, specifically those with an AADT above 250,000. California utterly dominated the results with six of the top ten busiest roadways.
Top honors went to Interstate 405 in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana metropolitan area. I cross-referenced the FHWA table with data available from the California Department of Transportation’s Traffic Data Branch. The spot on I-405 with the highest AADT in the U.S. seemed to correspond to a segment between Rt. 22 and Seal Beach Blvd., in Seal Beach, California. It ran adjacent to the northern edge of the Naval Weapons Station there. About 377,000 vehicles passed through that brief corridor on an average day in 2008.
My little corner of the world, the Washington, DC metropolitan area, scored "only" 297k on Interstate 95; reaching 16th place. I kept that in mind for context as I explored other urban areas.
M25 Motorway’s Busiest Segment
I saw some impressive claims for the M25, the London Orbital motorway, although I couldn’t find a credible source for an AADT above 200,000. I did uncover a wonderful interactive map for areas throughout the UK and went off on a tangent exploring that for awhile. However I wasn’t about to click on every greatly-traveled road segment just to find the highest value. Rather, I punted and went with Wikipedia’s claim of 196,000 "recorded in 2003 between junctions 13 and 14 near London Heathrow Airport."
There were higher AADT values on continental Europe including 257k for the A4 motorway in Paris, France; 216k for the A 100 in Berlin, Germany; and 200k for the A23 in Vienna, Austria. None of those came anywhere near Canadian or American values so I didn’t pursue them further.
Sydney Harbour Bridge
I couldn’t determine a solid Australian candidate, and offer a challenge to the 12MC audience to help me find it. Sydney seemed to have the requisite population density so I focused there as a proxy. The highest value I found was 157,138 on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. That was all the way back in 2002 so values would have changed in the meantime. Interestingly, the same bridge had higher values a decade earlier (180k-ish). I learned that AADT dropped significantly on the bridge after the Sydney Harbour Tunnel opened in 1992, which seemed logical enough.
Auckland Southern Motorway’s Busiest Segment
I wasn’t searching specifically for New Zealand although I stumbled upon a claim and decided it was significant enough to feature. The segment of Auckland Southern Motorway between Khyber Pass Rd and Gillies Ave was generally considered to have an AADT of about 200,000. My examination of official numbers found a value considerably lower albeit fluctuations were common so it’s possible that the conventional wisdom on the Intertubes came from an earlier time period.
I spent quite a long time, probably a solid couple of hours going through the British Roads FAQ on Chris’ British Road Directory. I found map locations for those that fascinated me the most. The FAQ was extensive and I’ve shared a small sample of questions and explanations below, with links and all due credit to CBRD of course. I embellishing them with additional facts and figures complied from various other Internet sources. I left plenty of wonderful morsels untouched so go to the FAQ and have fun.
Where is the highest section of motorway in Britain?
CBRD noted that the very highest point was the "M62 Summit… in the wilds of Saddleworth Moor" (map) between Manchester and Leeds. A sign placed at the summit signified its prominence as the highest motorway in England at 372 metres, or 1221 feet. Various other sources considered this to be the highest motorway in the entire UK. Maybe the Highways Agency decided to play it safe by specifying England only?
Also note that this pertained to motorways; certainly other roads (those not motorways) climb higher.
Where is the narrowest section of motorway in Britain?
This was a a true oddity, a unique situation for British motorways. The southern portion of the Carnforth Spur, A601(M), was the only part of the system that’s a single carriageway (one lane of traffic going in each direction). This segment, lasting only about a third of a mile, was also discussed on Pathetic Motorways which called it "… probably the section of motorway with the lowest standard in the UK."
With only two lanes, and being the only segment of British motorway where that occurred, it would have to be considered the narrowest section of motorway by default.
What’s so bad about the Hanger Lane Gyratory?
Hanger Lane Gyratory by diamond geezer, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
I liked this one primarily because I’d never seen the term gyratory before so that was a new one for me. I didn’t even know it was a word. I consulted The Free Dictionary which defined it as "Having a circular or spiral motion." From what I could determine, a gyratory in the context of British roadways signified something considerably larger and/or more complicated than a typical roundabout or traffic circle. Mostly I wanted an excuse to type gyratory.
The Hanger Lane Gyratory was designed to handle traffic at a point where the North Circular Road, Western Avenue and Hanger Lane all came together in London (map). The answer about why it was so bad, as summarize by the FAQ, had to do with its particularly poor design.
Two additional points piqued my interest:
- The interior of the gyratory circle included the Hanger Lane tube station, which was above ground even though part of the London Underground. An oddity within an oddity!
- The BBC reported that this specific gyratory had been voted the scariest junction in Britain.
What’s so bad about Spaghetti Junction?
Spaghetti Junction became a well-known Birmingham traffic landmark because of its stunning complexity. The M6, A38 and A38(M) all joined together at Gravelly Hill in spectacular manner (map). The same poll naming Hanger Lane the scariest junction voted Spaghetti Junction as second place.
Spaghetti Junction even had its own entry on Yelp where contributors rated it four stars. One reader stated, "Yes, Yelp, I actually am a fan of Spaghetti Junction. Firstly, it’s called Spaghetti Junction. That’s awesome. What other stretches of motorway are named after pasta shapes?" Actually there were lots of others named for pasta although that didn’t make Birmingham’s version any less awesome. Spaghetti Junction has terrified motorists for over forty years.
What’s the secret “Works Exit” on the M4?
View Larger Map
I’m not sure why this one caught my interest other than I’m always fascinated by a good conspiracy theory, and this location had a bunch of them. CBRD investigated the mysterious motorway egress and noted its "signs have red borders, implying a military exit." Indeed it once served as a back entrance to a Royal Air Force Station, RAF Welford (map) although it’s no longer in use. The Google Street View car actually took the exit until stopped by a gate. Another back entrance ended in restrictive fencing and razor-sharp concertina wire.
Wikimedia Commons: RAF WELFORD, United Kingdom – A crew from the 420th Munitions Squadron add munitions to a container.
U.S. Air Force photograph in the Public Domain.
The main presence at RAF Welford in recent years was actually the Air Force of another nation, the United States. The USAF stores bombs in vast quantities at this facility to be rained down on conflicts around the globe, supporting the Global War on Terrorism as an example. Consider the size of the Welford bunker in the photograph released by the USAF, above. Then ponder the number of bunkers in the satellite image. Those roads lead to tremendous firepower.