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.
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.
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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).
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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.
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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.