I run into various oddities as I prepare 12MC articles so I catalog them and pack them away for future exploration. This happened recently as I compiled International Capitals in the USA. I poked around a promising area in Brooksville, Florida and found something completely unexpected. A street called Public Street.
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This struck me as absurd. Wouldn’t just about any street clearly marked with an identifying name, lacking a No Trespassing warning or a chain across its width, generally be considered a public street? Doesn’t naming a public street "Public Street" feel completely redundant? That logic led me to proclaim that Public Street was the lamest, laziest street name on the planet.
Except that there are OTHER Public Streets and variations on that same theme! And how did I respond?
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… by creating a map of every Public Street, Road, Avenue, Way, Lane, Circle, or Highway that I could find. I think there are 36 separate instances on the map, give-or-take. I don’t think the list is exhaustive by any means. Google Maps makes it very difficult to find streets with the same name. There isn’t any feasibility ability to query data comprehensively. I could only type in "Public St." and other variations into the search bar to see what Google recommended as autofill options.
Old Public Road Leads to… Public Road
The autofill algorithm appeared to favor locations closer to the geographic starting point of the search. Thus, I repeated searches in various places spread throughout the country, hoping to tease out additional examples. I noticed heavy concentrations in Illinois and New Jersey. However I doubt that those clusters represent true concentrations, and may more accurately reflect the peculiarities of Google’s autofill.
They Call This Clever?!?
I had several favorites:
- Brooksville, Florida – the aforementioned Brooksville also had an Easy Street nearby. Originality, apparently wasn’t their strong suit. (map)
- Evansville, IL – Public Street had a public library so I think I should cut them a little slack (map)
- Winslow, IN – Public Street intersected with E. North Street (map). I’ve mentioned other instances like this on 12MC before. How can it be both east and north at the same time? Usually it’s because the street was named after someone with the surname North but it still amuses me.
- Wheeling, WV – The city deserves accolades for being uninspired for multiple generations because Public Road adjoins a different street named Old Public Road. (map)
- Epping, NH – Public Circle isn’t a circle, and in fact I’m not even sure it’s a road (map)
- Bellmore, NY – Public Highway by no means resembles a highway (map)
- Clever, MO – If people in Clever are so clever, then why couldn’t they come up with something more original than Public Avenue? (map). I also noticed Mop Rd. and Old Wire Rd., so it’s not helping them make their case for cleverness.
I don’t use a GPS blindly as a crutch. I have a good sense of direction, a general idea of where I’m heading before I ever get into a car, and I keep paper backup maps available just in case. Still, it’s nice to have a GPS calling out turns and street directions at appropriate times.
My old trusty Garmin Nuvi GPS that I’ve used on many of the roadtrips featured on 12MC finally wore out the other day. I wondered what I would find to replace it. In desperation, and to help me get to a work-related meeting in a distant suburb yesterday, I decided to try Google Navigation on my Android phone. Wow. That worked great: nice turn-by-turn instructions, no annoying "recalculating" in a snooty voice; and a familiar set of maps. It looks like I found my replacement — wish I’d tried it a lot earlier although I didn’t really have much of a reason until the Nuvi died.
I used the Zero Milestone marker in Washington, DC as the center of my circle a few weeks ago in Odds and Ends 6. It occurred to me that maybe I’d not talked about the marker before. That seemed odd in itself as I include the marker on my DC tours for friends and family when they come to town. Forget the museums, we’re gonna see the Zero Milestone marker and the American Meridian Marker! Strangely enough, they don’t seem to mind or at least they don’t express any disappointment, or maybe they save their complaints for a time when I’m not within earshot.
Let’s focus a little love on the Zero Milestone marker.
SOURCE: Flickr by By theAVclub via Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
It’s so impressive because nobody pays much attention to it unless it’s pointed out to them, even though it’s front-and-center on the Ellipse with the Washington Monument in the distance and directly in front of the White House (map). It looks like just another bollard to the uninitiated eye in a land of concrete security barriers.
The ultimate source of information for this marker is the Federal Highway Administration’s Zero milestone page. The site contains more detail than one could ever imaging including a full set of vintage photographs and even a song. That’s right, the marker has it’s own song. "Welcome we this knightly host; in such grandeur of thought is freedoms spirit wrought; June Twenty Three marks history!" Catchy, huh? I hope Virginia Monro and Wilmuth Gary didn’t quit their day jobs after the dedication of the permanent milestone marker on June 4, 1923.
The placement was outgrowth of the Good Roads Movement. It was supposed to serve as the starting point for all road measurements in the United States like ancient Rome’s Milliarium Aureum, although it never quite caught-on like that. The marker is indeed used for local measurements closer to Washington, DC even today, just not for the entire U.S. Still, it has it’s own song, lame as it may be, and that should count for something. Does anyone read sheet music and want to take a stab at recording it? All kidding aside, I’d love to hear it.
Zero Mile Marker Route 1
Zero at Zero
I also enjoyed my stop at Route 1′s Zero Mile Marker when I visited Key West a few years ago. It’s one of those obligatory Key West oddities that tourists feel compelled to pose against and snap a photo. Oftentimes, as far as I could tell, alcohol was involved. I was completely sober but I’m a geo-geek so that was my excuse. One can find the marker across from the Monroe County Courthouse (a place very difficult to reach for some Monroe County residents).
Route 1 stretches 2,369 miles (3,813 km) along the eastern coastline of the United States from Maine to Florida, generally following the fall line where the Atlantic coastal plain meets the Piedmont. My favorite section is the scenic Overseas Highway running 100 miles atop and amongst the Florida Keys although traffic can be miserable at peak times on holidays and weekends.
Honestly, it’s probably not any more impressive than any other zero mile or zero kilometre marker found elsewhere except that the number of the highway is 1 and Key West probably has better weather and wilder times than the others.
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Zero Milestones aren’t a new concept that some silly modern road builder dreamed up one day. I mentioned the Milliarium Aureum — Latin for Golden Milestone — so I guess I should devote a few words to it. This was the point in ancient Rome referenced by the maxim "All Roads Lead to Rome." Caesar Augustus was responsible for designating the location and all lands near and far throughout his impressive empire were measured from that single point. Nobody is completely sure where it sat precisely although "many scholars think that it was located at the southeast corner of the podium of the Rostra Augusti on a symmetrical axis with the Umbilicus Urbis Romae." Maybe that’s helpful to 12MC readers who are familiar with Rome. It sounds like gibberish to me.
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The Byzantine Empire did the same thing a few centuries later with the Milion marker erected in Constantinople in the 4th Century. I wonder if our ancient geo-oddity forebears paraded their visiting friends and family past the Milion instead of showing them the temples?
There are so many other examples, ancient and modern, that I better stop now. There’s no sense replicating the list (although I will note for the record that it doesn’t contain the Center of the Universe marker). I’d enjoy hearing about 12MC reader visits to these or similar points, though.
All due credit for the article today goes to a reader using the pseudonym "Wangi." He sent me an email message offline noting an interesting situation, which by implication suggested the basis for another contest. I even stole the title of the current article from him. Thank you, Wangi!
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There’s nothing unusual going on here, right? This is a one mile (1.6 kilometre) stretch of motorway outside of Edinburgh, Scotland. Open that map in another tab though, reverse the directions (the little button with the up and down arrows next to the origin and destination information) and notice the result. A simple 1.0 mile trip from Point A to Point B becomes a 16.3 miles (26.2 km) odyssey when returning from Point B back to Point A. The lesson to be learned with this simple exercise: a motorist taking the wrong exit near Edinburgh will have a bad day.
Wangi wanted to know, "what’s the longest round trip for what should be a straightforward 1 mile?" I’ll take my shot at a roundabout answer and then turn the same question over to the 12MC audience playing at home. The key, I think, is embedded within the design of limited access highways. Find a roadway with the longest distance between exits and one stands a pretty good chance of solving the puzzle. There might be other situations causing lengthy reverse trips and I’ll get to some of those momentarily. I’ll concentrate on limited access highways first.
U.S. Interstate Highways
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I’ll stick with what I know and examine the Interstate highway system in the United States. That leaves the rest of the planet to 12MC readers worldwide to scour for better examples. I had a hazy recollection of the longest distance between exits somewhere in western Utah, an interesting situation brought to my attention by a reader after my drive through the Bonneville Salt Flats a couple of years ago. I also noted that I’d experienced a similar situation when I drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana. Get on either of those roadways and it’s going to be a long time before one will be able to loop back to the start.
Notice the Bonneville example, above. This solution leverages a 37 mile (59.4 km) gap on Interstate 80 between Exit 41 at Knolls and Exit 4 at Bonneville Speedway. It’s one mile heading east-to-west and then 74.1 miles (119 km) to return to the original starting point. A fictional trip taking 48 seconds in one direction will take about 1 hour and 4 minutes when reversing Google Maps’ directions.
A one-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway trip, by the way, would take 47.9 miles (77.1 km) when reversed. That’s a healthy distance (map) although it falls well short of Bonneville. It’s also not an Interstate highway segment, which leads to the next slice to be considered.
U.S. Limited Access (Non-Interstate) Highways
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Florida’s Turnpike includes an insanely long segment without exits between St. Cloud and Yeehaw Junction, formerly known as Jackass Junction. The 48.9 mile gap is reputed to be the longest in the United States of any road. Miss that exit and one will feel like a Jackass because reversing a one mile trip will take 104 miles (167 km) as Google Maps displays it.
In reality, the Canoe Creek Service Plaza (map) sits between the lanes and caters to traffic heading in either direction. One could flip sides there safely. No physical barrier seems to prevent it. It’s still going to be a humongous detour, just not as bad as it may appear at first glance. Nonetheless, Google Maps does not recognize it as an option which leads me to wonder if it’s legal. Toll roads sometimes have odd rules. Does anyone have first-hand experience with Florida’s Turnpike and know the answer?
Other Possibilities Worth Exploring
My stop at the Alpine Visitor Center several years ago
What’s the longest reverse direction that doesn’t involve a limited access highway? I’ve already mentioned an example that involved a bridge, and there may be longer ones. Another possibility might be one-way scenic loops. There are several in the National Park system. I’m personally familiar with Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (my visit). It’s limited to uphill traffic because it’s narrow, gravel and full of switchbacks. Eventually it arrives at the Alpine Visitor Center at an elevation of 11,796 feet (3,594 metres) and connects there with the Trail Ridge Road. Google seems to think Old Fall River Road allows two-way traffic (map) — it does not — so I can’t calculate the the exact reverse distance easily. I’d estimate it to be about 25 miles give-or-take.
I’d be curious to find the most extreme distance reversal differences in a urban setting. The one-way roads that users offered in Just Keep Turning offered some interesting possibilities. Reader "Pfly" highlighted a good example in Rome with a fairly significant percentage difference when reversed (map).
I think this should be examined in categories: biggest differences for limited access motorways; for bridges; for loop roads; for urban environments and whatever else seems meaningful. It’s not fair to compare Florida’s Turnpike to Rome.