Move the Road

On August 30, 2012 · 17 Comments

I’m not sure why it came to mind. I somehow remembered an odd series of jogs in a road I haven’t driven in several years. Here is an example:



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Each summer I drove along Occohannock Neck Road on Virginia’s portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. A friend’s family owned a summer cottage at Silver Beach on the Chesapeake Bay, and he would invite all of us over for a weekend of fun in the sun. This was the same place where one could observe a very rare East Coast sunset over water which has nothing to do with this article, which I note simply that for amusement.

The other geography-related item of interest to me, albeit much less remarkable than the sunset, was that road. In several places the route took sharp turns, right or left, for no apparent topographic reasons. Some of them approached 90 degrees and required one to slow down almost completely to a stop to avoid hitting a field.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia is flat. Its highest point is no more than 70 feet (21 metres) according to the County Highpointers Association. Roads here don’t need to accommodate elevation changes. There are wetlands along the shores however completely dry farmlands occupy the interior. There are absolutely no geographic obstructions that would prevent the construction of roads in absolutely straight lines if aligned with care.

The obvious conclusion is that roads out here following property lines. Long-ago farmers didn’t want roads cutting through their property. Authorities routed them around property boundaries and continued with their straight lines on the other side.

That led me on a quest to find the most extreme, most egregious instance.

A classic example often cited occurs in England. Stott Hall Farm sits in the M62 motorway median between Manchester and Leeds. You’ve probably seen this before.



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It’s not exactly what I’m seeking for a couple of reasons. First, the road barely curves to avoid the property. I’m looking for something akin to a series of very sharp 90 degree turns. Second, contrary to urban legend, the motorway wasn’t diverted around the farm due to property ownership issues. It’s because the surrounding terrain dictated this unusual route. I love this as a geo-oddity. However, it’s not what I’m hoping to find for my purposes today.

I consulted the Intertubes and I found a promising article. FlaglerLive.com explained How Old Kings Road Was Re-Routed for Walmart. It doesn’t exactly fit my model either. I was hoping to find an instance where an existing property triggered an unusual route. This is the opposite case. The road was perfectly fine beforehand and changed only because Walmart came along.



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I consulted the article and found the property in question in Palm Coast, Florida. The map clearly shows the re-routed Old Kings Road. It also shows the alignment of the previous road bed. Walmart will obliterate that residual path eventually, however, it’s still visible in the 2012 Google Maps imagery.

The change also seems like a gentle curve than a sharp angle. This one won’t do either.

An historical reference dangled another tantalizing opportunity before me. I found a wonderful reference on The West Houston Archives:

Harris County, particularly the western half, was largely rural farmland until the last half of the 20th century, and many of the major roads we drive on today started out as simple paths for horse-drawn vehicles. Because the land was mostly privately owned property, divided into squares, rectangles, and other similarly shaped blocks, the first roads had to be built around these property lines. Unlike today, when the state can buy out land for right-of-ways and build roads wherever they please, early road builders respected the rights of private landowners, and built roads according to what was available for them to use. This resulted in our early roads zig-zagging through the countryside at sharp right angles. It was north, south, east, or west, and very seldom anything other than a series of straight lines.

Yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Unfortunately the article then goes on to explain how these roads were straightened-out as Houston grew, largely obliterating any sharp right angles. I poked around for awhile amid what remained of rural Harris County on Google Maps and didn’t find what I wanted to see.

Maybe it would be helpful to draw what I consider the Holy Grail of road re-routing.

road ___________           ___________ road
               |           |
               |   house   |
               |           | 
               -------------

I searched further and found reference to a two-mile U-shaped detour and a Chinese spike house blocking a major road. Those won’t do either.

I found lots of decent also-rans although I never did find the perfect example. So now I turn to the vast 12MC audience. Can anyone find an instance where a road traveling in a completely straight direction is force to bypass a property with a series of 90 degree turns and then continue back on the same previous straight track? This will bother me until I find such a place.

On August 30, 2012 · 17 Comments

17 Responses to “Move the Road”

  1. anon says:

    Well what about Pennsylvania Avenue in your header – that has to make a series if sharp turns to avoid the Capital building (but I guess it was probably planned that way!)

    • You’re definitely on the right track, anon. I’m hoping to find something even more extreme, a road completely standalone without any other streets attached to it or around it as the route completes its detour.

  2. Bill Harris says:

    How about this:
    <iframe width="425" height="350" frameborder="0"

    http://goo.gl/maps/mojEo

    Barley Mill Road used to run directly into Route 141, but when the later road was modernized, Barley Mill Road was re-routed, complete with the 90 degree bend, to discourage through traffic through a residential area.

    BTW and totally unrelated to the re-routing, Vice President Biden's home is located a little wet of this bend.

  3. Jim McAndrew says:

    I think this is the rule when it comes to road construction in Pennsylvania. Most of the farm boundaries predate the roads around the farms. This seems to be a pretty good example:
    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=40.427643,-76.472952&ie=UTF8&hnear=0x89c8aa6e5c2e6d77:0xb8ddcfc781a759b1,%2B40%C2%B0+25'+39.82%22,+-76%C2%B0+28'+26.42%22&gl=us&t=h&z=15

  4. Ken says:

    While not a severe 90 degree turn, there is an instance along I 25 up north at the Berthoud exit, where the enire interstate jogs to the west and then back to the east. I have always presumed that it was to go around property lines, but I have never had that verified however.

    • When they built I- 25 in the ’60s the state deliberately included the “swerve” you mention to break up the monotony. As you know, I-25 from Colo Hwy 7 all the way northward is straight as an arrow. When it was built everybody wondered why they did it and that was the explanation. Regards Dave in 80918

  5. Peter says:

    A sharp southerly bend on the Northern State Parkway* in Nassau County, New York, obvious on maps, is known as “Objectors’ Bend.” When building the parkway in the 1930’s the state had to choose this strange routing in order to avoid going through the very rich community of Old Westbury. Residents of that community, being highly influential as well as rich, would have stopped the parkway from being built at all unless the state routed it elsewhere.
    A couple of decades later the state was able to route the Long Island Expressway through Old Westbury, though it required a lot of negotiation as well as a promise not to put any exits in the area.

    * technically known as the Northern Parkway, but everyone adds the “State” to its name. The same naming thing happens ten miles to the south with the Southern (State) Parkway.

  6. Fredrik says:

    Ok, this is not one of those 90 degrees turns, but a very special case. I know you have been to this area as well (from reading “To Hel and back”) so maybe you’ll find it interesting.

    When I was cycling from Sopot to Gdynia in Poland this summer along the main road between the two large cities, there was a point where a graveyard was standing in the median just like the farm in England. I don’t find any entry to it, so I’m just thinking “how on earth can people visit those old graves without risking their own lives???”. Strange case…

    http://goo.gl/maps/AgGQs

  7. Jon P says:

    This was the case with almost every curve of the Northern State Parkway on Long Island. Robert Caro’s amazing book The Power Broker, about the life of Robert Moses, goes into this in considerable detail.

  8. wangi says:

    You needed to try a bit out from Harris County… One particular road I know real well is Mixville Rd near Sealy in Austin County, TX… However just north of there is exactly what you’re describing – Lezak Road does that double dog-leg…

    See http://goo.gl/maps/L1M6z

  9. stangetz says:

    There’s one down the road from where I live. Its highly irritating, to be honest. However, when the state was creating their state highway routes, and straightening many in the process, a few were not straightened due to the farmers lands…

    http://goo.gl/maps/NRpGW

    Its not as extreme as the example above from TX, but close, right?

  10. Cary says:

    Try Vihlen Rd in Sanford, FL. Not only are there many series of sharp 90-degree bends, each bend has its only stop sign…for no reason! This is an old road and named after one of Sanford’s earliest settlers. There has since been development in the area, but you might be able to use the sliding time function in Google Earth to go back 20 years or so.

  11. Cary says:

    Also check out the intersection of Rinehart Rd and CR 46A in Sanford. Just east of it, the highway straddles a funeral home. The original 2-lane alignment used to be on the south side of the funeral home. When they expanded the road to 4 lanes, the original alignment became the eastbound lanes, and they added 2 westbound lanes on the north side of the facility. That was about 10 years ago I guess. (Use Google Earth time slider to see)

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