Trap Streets

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.

Odds and Ends 10

I have an abundance of half-formed story ideas, an overflowing mailbag and a cornucopia of reader suggestions. That means it must be time once again for Odds and Ends, my recurring series of features and topics not quite large enough to fill an entire article on their own.

A couple of interesting items came to my attention via the @TheReal12MC Twitter account, undoubtedly an increasingly important way to share geo-oddities. The first one was a tweet from @wikitravel that linked to an article in Travel and Leisure,

New Zipline Connects Spain and Portugal

International Zip-Line

This one struck a lot of my interests simultaneously. First, it was a zip-line. Need I say more?

The company LĂ­mite Zero made the adventure so much more interesting though. The line crosses the Guadiana River, the international border between Spain and Portugal. Even better, the two nations are located in different time zones. Adventurers go back in time by an hour as they zip from east to west. At the far end in Portugal, riders then take a ferry for the return trip to Spain.

A zip line, an international border, a time zone anomaly and a ferry? I need to include this adventure near the top of my international travel plans.

@Clarker sent a tweet with a photo that he found from Twelve Mile, Indiana. I’ve simulated the approximate scene in Google Street View.

Twelve Mile, Indiana

That brought back some great memories. Twelve Mile, Indiana, made an appearance in the very early days of 12MC. It’s the renowned location of the annual Twelve Mile 500 lawnmower race.

I also received input from a more traditional route, the 12MC email box. Case in point, "Joe" sent an article link, The Forgotten Giant Arrows that Guide you Across America

Go Thata Way

It was a fascinating story focused at the intersection of the U.S. Postal Service and the early days of flight in the 1920’s. As the article explained, "… the federal government funded enormous concrete arrows to be built every 10 miles or so along established airmail routes to help the pilots trace their way across America in bad weather conditions and particularly at night, which was a more efficient time to fly." Some of those arrows continued to exist nearly a century later, as confirmed by the Google Satellite Image provided in the article, and reproduced above.

I can never predict when an article will become popular. I’m almost certain that I noticed these same arrows in another article from a different source several years ago. This time however it seemed to catch-on with the public. I’ve now seen several other people reference the giant arrows although Joe was the first to tell me about it so I’m giving him credit for passing it along.

Reader "Nigel" had a question and it confounded me as well. I would have created an entire article around it if I could have solved the mystery. Reluctantly, I’ll turn it over to the 12MC community to see if anyone out there may be able to provide an explanation for the mysterious and repeated appearance of Heterodox View Avenue.

Heterodox View Ave., Houston, TX

Nigel asked, "I noticed this odd street name first as what appears to be a driveway behind a hospital in Houston. But when typing it into Google Maps, I see others all over the country. Any guesses what this could be a reference to?"

I found the same thing. Heterodox View Avenue — and it was always Heterodox View Avenue; not street, not drive, not boulevard, only avenue — appeared in various random places throughout the United States. Only rarely did it run through a residential neighborhood. Generally it led either to a park or to a shopping center. Often it seemed to be cloaked, not necessarily appearing as a named street in Google and seemingly more an access road. Nigel’s example followed a similar pattern. The avenue ran along the edge of the hospital parking lot and next to a helicopter pad.

Heterodoxy refers to beliefs that are out of alignment with prevailing opinions or interpretations, often religious. The term also turns up in the vocabulary of economists. Thus, a heterodox view would be considered unorthodox or unconventional, although not so extreme as to be heresy. I considered this an odd choice for a street name at the very least. In addition, the use of Heterodox View Avenue (and only avenue) seemed too coincidental; a single individual or organization must have had a hand in it. However I could not find any logical connection between the occurrences. That disappointed me because I think there could be an interesting story hidden behind those heterodox views.

Thank you everyone for the great suggestions. Please keep them coming by tweet, by email, or even by by carrier pigeon if you like.