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.

Quantico: the Ultimate Gated Community

On February 25, 2009 · 2 Comments

Imagine a community ringed by an impenetrable perimeter, a compact neighborhood patrolled vigorously around the clock by highly-trained armed guards, motivated by mission and granted the full authority to challenge intruders with lethal force if necessary. The privacy afforded by this level of security could only be the exclusive domain of the ultra-rich and privileged, correct? Actually, no. The 295 households that receive this service are decidedly middle class and they don’t pay a cent. Uncle Sam foots the bill.

This is Quantico, Virginia. It’s not the Quantico that probably comes to mind – one of the largest United States Marine Corps bases on the planet – but rather Quantico the little town along the Potomac River that’s surrounded on every other side by the Marines. The only way to get to Q-Town (as it’s affectionately known) by road is to go through the gates of the Marine Corps base. Q-Town is but a 0.1 square mile speck within a 100 square mile military facility. Nonetheless, all land within town is all privately owned and controlled.

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Quantico, the Town

It wasn’t always this way. Quantico was once just another little spot along the river at the turn of the last century, catering to a weekend crowd of Washingtonians seeking amusement and relaxation like so many similar spots. A shipyard rose nearby in the years preceding the First World War and it grew quickly in importance and profitability as the conflict unfurled. Quantico’s military importance soon eclipsed its tourism appeal. It became an attractive location when the Marine Corps needed a new base in the Washington, DC area to support the war effort.

It did not make sense to exercise eminent domain powers to seize Q-Town and pull it into the base. In fact it would have been counterproductive. Q-Town was already well established and could provide a convenient supply of nearby civilian labor for the many non-military services the Marines needed. Where else would it be easier to find civilians in what was then a remote, rural outpost? It didn’t really matter that the town had been surrounded by the base. Security was much less of an issue than it is today.

Q-Town developed in splendid isolation for many decades, never able to grow beyond its original borders as other towns around Washington exploded in size and stature. It resulted in curious adaptations, perhaps good, or bad or both depending how one chooses to reflect upon it. It remains a small town by definition with all that this entails; a generational throwback to an earlier rural Northern Virginia with barely five hundred souls, separated by chance from the other five million inhabitants of the metropolitan area.

Real estate transactions present a unique challenge. Buyers need to appreciate small town virtues. They also must be willing to deal with checkpoints that can take up to an hour to traverse before driving to their homes. Available lots filled out years ago so homes in Q-Town tend to be smaller, older and of lower value than comparable homes in neighborhoods ringing the base. Perhaps because of this, most of the homes are rentals rather than owner-occupied, leading to inevitable issues of maintenance and upkeep. Some feel the town could use a fresh coat of paint and a little TLC, while others see this as part of the charm and a way to keep Yuppies from moving in and ruining everything.

Nonetheless change might be on the way. The Department of Defense will move three thousand new jobs to Quantico as part of the base closure and realignment effort. This will provide plenty of new opportunities for Q-Town to tap into what is essentially a captive audience. The Unofficial Town of Quantico page[1] already lists a surprising number of restaurants, retail establishments and barber shops (Marines have to get their hair cut all the time, right?). Imagine the impact of another three thousand potential customers who won’t have enough time to leave the base for a quick lunch or an errand.

Change may also be on the horizon due to of transportation. Amtrak maintains a train station within the Town of Quantico’s tiny borders, and both the Carolinian and the Northeast Regional lines rumble through. Perhaps more importantly, Amtrak operates Virginia Rail Express commuter trains under contract, and those trains stop right in Q-Town too. The station had 12,422 boardings/alightings in 2004 and 21,113 in 2008. Geographic isolation could begin to dissipate as commuters hop onto trains bound straight for Washington, DC each morning. Perhaps Quantico could turn into just another bedroom community. Ridership trends show that this is not beyond imagination. Inhabitants don’t have to be tied at the hip to the Marine Corps to make a decent living when they can a train to distant job centers.

Now, before you think the train might be a gaping hole in the security of the base perimeter, consider this statement from the VRE website:

… for the next few weeks a Military Police Officer will be stationed at the station and will conduct ID checks on 100% of passengers detraining at the station. Following that, random ID checks will be instituted on detraining passengers.

Nonetheless, this would certainly be less time consuming than sitting in backups, trying to get onto the base by car from Route 1.

Q-Town gets a fair amount of local press coverage because of its unique situation. Here are a couple of fairly recent articles in case I’ve piqued your curiosity and you would like to know a little more:

[1] This website has one of the best disclaimers I’ve ever read: "This webpage is maintained as an unpaid hobby: I take no responsibility for it’s [sic.] accuracy and frankly assume some things may be wrong. The majority of the input is done over Saturday morning coffee while preventing my cat from climbing on the keyboard." If you struck the word cat and replaced it with kid, you’d have a perfect disclaimer for my website too!

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