Trap Streets

On November 24, 2013 · 9 Comments

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 Kansas
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.

Comedy Duos

On August 18, 2013 · 5 Comments

It may be reasonable to assume that most people have at least a passing familiarity with Abbott and Costello’s signature Who’s-on-First comedy routine, developed in the late 1930’s. I referenced a possible Who’s-on-First scenario recently in No Way! Way! thinking that most readers would understand the reference. It came from an era long before I was born — hey, I’m not that old! Nonetheless, it’s a timeless classic whether one has never heard of it before or is listening to it all again for the hundredth time.



N Abbott St & W Costello St, Washington Radley, Kansas

That made me wonder, made me hope anyway, could there possibly be an intersection of Abbott and Costello streets? Someone would be able to say, "I live at the corner of Abbott and Costello," and of course everyone would get a little chuckle out of it. Sure enough, I found an occurrence (map) in Washington Radley, Kansas.

What about other comedy duos from the classic age of Hollywood when color films were still a novelty, when married couples couldn’t be shown in the same bed and nobody ever dreamed of dropping the F-Bomb in a movie? There were plenty of successful duos or "double acts" that followed the familiar straight-man / funny-man precept. One person took a somewhat normal persona and the other acted like a fool. The straight-man served as a foil to the funny-man’s antics which heighten comedic tension and make it even funnier. It’s a somewhat faded formula although elements of it still exist (e.g., Chumlee as funny-man to Rick and other cast members as straight-men on Pawn Stars).

I knew my search for street intersections would be daunting. The odds of matching comedy duos randomly had to be low considering the endless variety of street names available. Sure, I’d find an odd housing development with a Hollywood theme with forced associations here-and-there, so I considered they would not count as much as places where matches happened naturally.


Laurel and Hardy



Laurel St & Hardy St, Macomb, Michigan

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy might have been the most memorable of all the double acts, and one of the few teams to transition easily from silent movies to the talkies. Their successful pairing lasted for more than a hundred films and their short movie "The Music Box" won an Academy Award in 1932. That’s the film where they spent the entire time pushing a piano up a flight of long stairs.

There had to be a Laurel and a Hardy street intersecting somewhere. Both sounded like feasible street names individually so I hoped for a coincidental paring, and finally located Laurel St. & Hardy St. in Macomb, Michigan (Street View)


Hope and Crosby


Intersection of Hope and Crosby
SOURCE: Screen grab from Google Street View image, Garden Grove, California, March 2011

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby paired-up repeatedly for the "Road to…" series, beginning with Road to Singapore in 1940 and lasting through Road to Hong Kong in 1962.

I found great success with the intersection of Hope and Crosby. Hope seemed to be an extremely common street name. That greatly increasing the odds of a random Crosby crossing. I found several.

  • Hope St & Crosby Ave, Altamont, Oregon (maps)
  • Hope St & Crosby Ave, Garden Grove, California (map)
  • Hope Ln & Crosby Ln, Redding, California (map)
  • Hope Cir & Crosby Dr, Fort Washington, Pennsylvania (map)
  • Hope Way and Crosby Dr, Knoxville, Tennessee (map)

The instance from Knoxville came from one of those Hollywood-themed subdivisions I mentioned. I granted it partial credit anyway because Lamour Street ran parallel to Crosby Drive and interested with Hope Way, reuniting Dorothy Lamour’s supporting role to Hope and Crosby for a final road trip. It seemed fitting that the trio from the Road pictures would be intertwined by roads, even if created artificially.


Burns and Allen



Burns St & Allen St., New Bedford, Massachusetts

George Burns and his wife Gracie Allen intersected in New Bedford, Massachusetts (map). They also served as namesakes for a major intersection on the campus of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. In the latter case, their names were applied to streets explicitly. The intersection’s full name was N George Burns Road and Gracie Allen Drive. Burns and Allen were major benefactors of the hospital according to The Hollywood Reporter. Cedars-Sinai additionally includes a Burns and Allen Research Institute.


And the Rest

I tried to find other classic comedy duos without much luck. That’s fine. I got the big names. My only true disappointment was failing to discover an intersection for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The best I could do was Marty Ln and S Lewis St, in Garden Grove, California (map).

I broadened the scope to include more recent decades. There wasn’t a Cheech and Chong, and in fact, not even a single Cheech. We might also have to wait another generation or two for a Harold and Kumar too.


Completely Unrelated

"Ross" sent me an email about the “Saatse Boot” (map), a place where travelers can legally enter Russia from the Schengen Area without a passport check and without going through any border controls at all. Estonian Route 178 includes a brief segment that clips Russian territory between two Estonian villages, Lutepää and Sesniki, providing direct access between them. There’s a catch: one can travel through the boot in a motorized vehicle only — no pedestrians — and drivers cannot stop. Still, this might be an easy way to "visit" Russia without any paperwork.

Ross mentioned that the source topic came up in Reddit’s MapPorn subreddit and he forwarded a link. I’m not going to post it because I’m still angry with MapPorn for stealing peoples’ work (although let me emphasize – I have no issue with Reddit in general, just its MapPorn subreddit). I’ll leave it at that. All credit to Ross and none to MapPorn.

Thanks Ross! I love little geo-oddities like that.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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