Just Keep Turning

On February 10, 2013 · 16 Comments

I think it’s time for another participatory article. The 12MC audience seems to its like little puzzles and challenges. I had to drive to a local shopping center a couple of miles from my home yesterday afternoon to pick up my wife. An Interstate Highway stood between the two locations, acting as a natural barrier, with no direct straight-line route between them. This created a situation requiring the use of several roads both to find an underpass below the highway and then to snake my way back to the desired endpoint.

Once back home again, it occurred to me that I’d taken 9 completely different roads to move from Point A to Point B. The detours and turns increased the driving distance to 3.2 miles (5.1 kilometres). Thus, with some quick math, my little trip involved 2.8 roads per mile (1.7 roads/km). That’s a lot of roads and a lot of turns in a very short distance. Certainly I could find better, though.

Reston, Virginia

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I’m hamstrung by my own neighborhood because it’s built on a grid. Usually that’s a good thing. The most efficient path between two points rarely involves anything more than maybe three or four roads. Only an odd situation such as an inconveniently placed Interstate Highway could raise the count so I needed to look elsewhere.

There are large planned communities on the outer perimeter of my area, built in the style of the now largely discredited cul-de-sac model of urban sprawl. Those seemed ripe for better examples. Some residents have to take multiple roads to get anywhere, even to exit their housing developments. I picked a particularly remarkable occurrence on the metropolitan edge, Reston, Virginia, and quickly improved my result. That’s not intended to pick on the fine residents of Reston of course — I could have selected any of several other communities — it was the first one that came to mind.

The result: 7 roads in 1.2 miles = 5.8 roads/mile (3.6 roads/km).

Kissimmee, Florida

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What might confound the road network more than a planned community like Reston? How about a gated community combining the effect of two awful design elements: cul-de-sacs and limited access. I seemed to recall numerous gated communities in and around Orlando, Florida, and quickly found two such communities adjacent to each other in Kissimmee to wonderful effect.

The result: 9 roads in 1.2 miles = 7.5 roads/mile (4.7 roads/km).

Hot Springs Village, Arkansas

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Then I got greedy. If a gated community produced a great result then the largest gated community in the United States should score even better! That place is reputed to be Hot Springs Village, Arkansas (albeit without a citation). Sometimes assumptions aren’t scalable and this one may be an example. It’s one gargantuan gated community, that’s obvious, with an absolutely spellbinding spaghetti network of roads. The various water features and golf courses also increased road complexity and raised my hopes. However it was more grid-like than it appeared at first glance, using circular patterns rather than rectangles. I generated a decent score although I couldn’t raise it up to the level of Kissimmee or beyond.

Incidentally, when does a gated community grow so large that the alleged benefits of gates become meaningless? Hot Springs Village is 55.7 square miles with a population of nearly 13 thousand. I would have to assume that at some point along the continuum it reaches a semblance of equilibrium with the outside world.

The result: 8 roads in 1.1 miles = 7.3 roads/mile (4.5 roads/km). Good, not best.

Diamondhead, Mississippi

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I discarded size and seized upon the obstacle element introduced by Hot Springs Village. What about a planned, gated community with the addition of internal through-road barriers such as golf courses? I have family that live along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and some of them are located in a community called Diamondhead that seemed to match the criteria. It’s a nice community that happens to have particularly weird streets. I nearly get carsick driving through Diamondhead with all of its crazy turns and switchbacks that drill to the depths of the development. In addition the oddity of Hawaiian-themed names in Mississippi has always confounded me although that’s not particularly germane to the topic today. I’ll just note the dissonance and move along.

I produced my best score yet. Just as importantly, I can reasonably expect to replicate this route in person some day.

The result: 8 roads in 0.8 miles = 10.0 roads/mile (6.2 roads/km); and a variation with 7 roads in 0.5 miles (map) = 14 roads/mile (8.7 roads/km) (if only Malino Place changed names at the T!).

The Contest and the Rules

It’s pretty simple. Try to improve upon 10.0 roads/mile. Feel free to use any of the communities I’ve explored already. I didn’t mine them exhaustively so better examples may be lurking in there. Alternately, feel free to examine places more familiar to you.

  • As always, the default route on Google Maps is the final authority. No additional manipulations are allowed. You can specify only the two endpoints (using lat/long to shorten the distance on the beginning and ending roads is fine).
  • A given road can be counted only once even if Google Maps says "bear left to remain on road X" or "turn right to remain on road Y" or "do a U-turn on road Z" or whatever. You’ll notice that I tossed the second instance of Manoo Street in my Diamondhead example (even though it approximated a turn)
  • Let’s not get silly. We can all find better examples using only three roads. I won’t place a minimum on the number of roads, however, anything with fewer than 7-or-so roads begins to lose credibility. The goal is to produce an example of ridiculousness without becoming a ridiculous example.
  • What if an arrow-straight road changes names multiple times as it crosses town boundaries? I guess it would count although it does conflict with the spirit of the effort. That might be a good idea for a different contest, though.
  • You may conduct your examination using whatever measurement of distance makes you happy. Use chains, nautical miles or astronomical units for all I care, however, please convert your calculations both to miles and kilometres when presenting results. Google has easy converters (e.g., mi to km and km to mi).
  • The results need to be repeatable. Provide the map link or embed the map itself within your comment.
  • In the event of a roads/mile tie, the "better" result will be the one that involves more roads. In other words, 20 roads in 2 miles would be a lot more impressive than 10 roads in 1 mile.
  • Extra kudos will be bestowed upon anyone who has actually walked, biked or driven the submitted route in person.

I would say that any example meeting or exceeding double-digit mileage results (10.0+ roads/mi) or an equivalent (6.2+ roads/km) is pretty impressive. You should feel free to pat yourself on the back and call it a day. I know that my best score can be improved upon however, and I wonder by how much. I need to find a community shaped like a maze or the capital on an Ionic column.

On February 10, 2013 · 16 Comments

16 Responses to “Just Keep Turning”

  1. Henry says:

    You can do a lot better in Boston – an erratic street layout plus lots of one ways. I beat your best on my first try. Here’s the best I could do in a few minutes: 9 road in .3 mi (30 roads/mi)


  2. Henry says:

    A slight modification gets it down to 7 in .2 mi (35 roads/mi) but I find this one less impressive.

  3. Brian C. says:

    Here’s an 8 in 0.4 = 20 from the Adams Square neighborhood in Glendale, CA: http://goo.gl/maps/AS70z

  4. Peter says:

    Incidentally, when does a gated community grow so large that the alleged benefits of gates become meaningless?

    Statistically, at least, the answer is “always.” There’s ample evidence that gated communities do not have any lower crime rates than nearby un-gated neighborhoods.

  5. David Kozina says:

    Your article reminded me of something I heard on 99% Invisible:
    (Episode 51 – The Arsenal of Exclusion)

    Starting Point: 490E 42nd St, Baltimore MD
    Ending Point: 4096 Underwood Rd, Baltimore MD

    Driving: ~1.0 mile ~4 mins or Walking: ~150 ft ~34 secs

  6. wangi says:

    “What if an arrow-straight road changes names multiple times”… which is the norm in these parts! Could get easy 5 or 6 “roads” travelling in a straight line for a mile on a few roads hereabouts in Edinburgh.

  7. Joe says:

    Best I’ve found so far is 9 in 2,107 feet (~0.4 mi) which equates to 22.5 roads per mile.


  8. January First-of-May says:

    I first tried to search in Karmiel, Israel (a planned community built in a very hilly area, also known as where my grandmother lives). The best I could find (for 7 roads) was a relatively lame 700m with a driving path (http://goo.gl/maps/zB2LR) and 550m with a walking path (http://goo.gl/maps/qB5SX).
    I then remembered a particularly twisty section of Moscow… well, really, most of the old city area is. Very soon, I found a walking path of 600m (http://goo.gl/maps/73txI), which isn’t quite as good as the one in Karmiel but close enough; and now I knew what I was searching for: a surviving medieval city.
    So now I turned my attention to central Vilnius. Sure enough, I soon found a 7-road walking path of 450m (http://goo.gl/maps/21TjS)! Okay, it’s kind of a cheat, because it’s two halves of the same road separated by a part of another road, but still.
    And even while writing this post, I found a driving path of 7 roads – with three instances of the same one – that only went 400m (http://goo.gl/maps/Z4CDX). It’s basically going around a block full of one-ways… sounds innocent enough, but most blocks are much larger and/or don’t have quite so many roads around them! At 28 roads/mile it doesn’t quite beat the Boston example, but it’s still cool enough (and, I’ve never been in Boston, but I have been in Vilnuis).

  9. Gary says:

    This is something that is the exact opposite. When I was a kid in Rhode Island, my family and I went on a long vacation one summer to North Carolina, Oklahoma City, Lubbock Texas, Estes Park Colorado, and back home from Colorado. From where we were in North Carolina to just north of Lubbock in Amarillo, it would be Interstate 40 the entire way through NC. TN, AK, OK and Texas for almost 1100 miles on the same highway. Coming back home, we took I-70 from Denver all the way to Columbus, Ohio when you get a different road and that would make roughly 1200 miles just on I-70 through six states (CO, KS, MO, IL, IN, OH). And my mother got a speeding ticket in Colorado, too. 🙂

  10. stangetz says:

    Ha! Reminds me of this:

    Some artist renditions of impossible communities… a planner’s nightmare

  11. stangetz says:

    whoops, wrong-ish link… here;s a better one:

  12. Pfly says:

    There’s always downtown Manhattan. Here’s two with 12 or so street in a mile. I say “or so” due to things like, in one of them you are on Broadway twice, but with many other streets in between…

  13. Pfly says:

    Of course in places like Rome it can get ridiculous fast. This one is over 20 streets/piazzas/corsos/vias in just over a mile (2.2 km).

  14. Kandice says:

    What are the rules for using the same road two different times?
    I found an example in Tybee Island that either uses 6 or 7 roads in 0.2 miles (30 or 35 roads per mile), depending on whether or not Inlet Avenue counts once or twice.


    Interestingly, if you’re staying at the Atlantis Inn, it takes longer to drive to Chu’s Convenience Mart than it does to walk.

    Here’s an 11 road 0.4 mile (27.5 roads/mi.) routing in Newport, Wales:

    Here’s a 9 road 0.3 mile (30 roads/mi.) routing that spans two nations:

    Here’s a 13 road 0.4 mile (32.5 roads/mi.) routing in Lucca, Italy:
    Just don’t try to drive it in an SUV.

  15. GreenElephant says:

    My first thought was. “Hmmm. sounds like my neighborhood, so I checked and found this example. I actually walked it, because my house is directly on the route. It has seven roads in 0.2 miles (35 roads/mi or 21.75 roads/km):

  16. Frozen says:

    I humbly submit my cookie-cutter neighborhood of Surprise, Arizona: 11 turns in .7 miles. Mind you, most of the impressive routes I’ve seen insofar in the comments involves one-way roads. This is all pure neighborhood.


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