The Chunk That Got Away

Social Circle, Georgia would seem to hit all of the highpoints necessary for coverage on Twelve Mile Circle. It has an odd name (Social Circle?). It has the word "circle" in its title just like the humble 12MC itself. It is one of those unusual Georgia towns with an actual circular shape, with a radius of two miles (3.2 km) in this instance. It’s a geo-oddity trifecta. And yet… and yet… those don’t come close to being the most remarkable recent feature of the ever-fascinating Social Circle.

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Let’s deal with the name so we can sweep that aside and focus on the good stuff. Nobody really knows why Social Circle came to be known as Social Circle. The State of Georgia said basically the same thing although with a few more words and a bit more tactfully:

Incorporated as a city in 1904, Social Circle offers two possibilities for its naming. One local legend has it that a traveler, much impressed by the townspeople’s kindness, remarked in passing, “This sure is a social circle?!” Another, less colorful, version of the tale has it that a new resident proposed his old village’s name.

The USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) lists only a single populated place called Social Circle — this one in Georgia — so let’s assume a previously-named village no longer exists or the current one was indeed filled with bands of friendly people a century ago. No matter. Let’s move along and take a look at the shape of Social Circle today.

View Social Circle Annex in a larger map

The map displays some complexity so let me walk through it.

  • Social Circle, as it largely exists today (2012), is the blue-shaded area.
  • The heavy black line is the Walton County boundary. Walton County is north of the line. Newton County is southwest and Morgan County is southeast. All but a small chunk of Social Circle falls within Walton County.
  • The area that caused the big fight is approximated by the light green space. I’m not sure those are the exact boundaries although they should cover most of it.

Each of these features will figure into the story which I stumbled across quite by accident. I noticed the Social Circle map posted on the city website differed from Google Maps. Essentially Google included a dangling appendage hanging towards the southeast. It turned out that the city posted an outdated map. If one drilled-down further into their website the dangling appendage appeared on their accurate 2011 zoning map.

I started searching for "Social Circle annexation" and similar phrases to see if I could find an explanation. I uncovered mounds of information although it was all amazingly convoluted. It took me awhile to figure out that the dispute centered on the light-green area, not the dangle. I still don’t know how the dangle came into existence other than Social Circle apparently annexed the area and nobody complained which is remarkable as you’ll learn if you keep reading.

Social Circle based its ongoing viability on moving its border continuously southward towards Interstate 20, with Route 11 as a gateway, like its own miniature Manifest Destiny. The town began to annex rather aggressively in that direction starting right around 2006. This generated a tremendous amount of local news coverage, with a nice timeline summary published in the Newton Citizen in a two-part article, on March, 24, 2010 and March 25, 2010. Here’s what happened as best as I could piece the facts together:

  • Several land owners requested that 1,200 acres in Newton County (the other side of the black line on the map) be annexed into Social Circle in 2006. Upon annexation the land would then be zoned for a mixed-use business park.
  • Newton County objected to the incursion, mediation failed to provide a solution and Newton County sued Social Circle.
  • There were errors in the annexation so Social Circle repealed it in March 2008 and the lawsuit dropped.
  • One of the land owners requested annexation again in July 2008. He wanted to build a motorsports complex with a drag strip. The other landowners joined the request in 2009.
  • Social Circle expanded again.
  • The thought of a motorsports complex and a drag strip upset a lot of local residents who opposed the new annexation. Newton County wasn’t thrilled either.
  • Social Circle de-annexed the properties again in May 2010 in the face of fierce opposition. Once more there was a technical flaw (a one-acre parcel was left out of the description).
  • Drag racing dreams were crushed.

Meanwhile, state legislators representing Newton and other nearby counties managed to shepherd a number of bills into law to restrict towns from annexing land on the other side of a county line. As noted in the Morgan County Citizen,

The genesis of House Bill 2 is in the annexation several years ago of some 1,150 acres of Newton County land by the City of Social Circle. Social Circle, which is in Walton County, faced significant objections from unincorporated residents, and subsequently went through several non-binding mediation exercises. Ultimately, however, current law placed few stumbling blocks in the way of incorporation… The new law may at least slow down land speculators who purchase land, push annexations through a municipality, then sell the land for an elevated price.

The city attempted to annex a completely different property in April 2012. That fell through too for (wait for it…) technical reasons.

Someone must be trying to tell them something.

Longest Distance in an Hour

It’s the easy questions that seem to be the most difficult to answer sometimes. The search engine query captured in my web logs appeared to be a simple affair. "What is the longest distance someone can drive in an hour." I figured the answer would probably be the portions of the Autobahn in Germany that don’t have a set speed limit (albeit 130 kilometres per hour / 81 miles per hour is recommended) and the new section of Texas highway that has been fixed at 85 mph (137 kph).

I established some ground rules. First, I’d stick with measurements as applied by specific nations. Thus, for countries that post their speed limits in miles per hour — primarily the United States — I’ll specify miles per hour first with kilometers per hour in parentheses. I’d flip the order for other nations. Second, I’d keep it to legally-recognized speeds. Third, I’d use Google Maps as my arbitrator. Whatever Google Maps said could be covered in an hour was what mattered for this investigation.

Here’s the interesting thing. The distances Google said could be covered in an hour were generally less than the posted speed limits, and sometimes considerably less. Also, I checked some of the exact same segments a second time and they would change slightly. Don’t blame me if what I stated below differs from what you see on the map when you open it. I’m beginning to think that perhaps Google changes its calculations on-the-fly depending upon local conditions.

I’ll start with Texas first, not Germany. The reasons will become obvious soon enough.

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I distinctly remember reading about a spot in Texas with an 85 mph (137 kph) speed limit. Unfortunately it appears I jumped the gun by a few weeks. The New York Times reported that Texas is Reclaiming the Title of Fastest in the Land. Unfortunately that 41 mile (66 km) segment between Austin and San Antonio won’t open until November 2012. This could become the one-hour distance champion depending on how traffic flows on either end of that stretch. I’ll try to check it in a few weeks and provide an update.

Thus out of necessity I shifted to other parts of Texas that currently have 80 mph (129 kph) speed limits. Those are practically on a par with recommended speed limits for unrestricted sections of the Autobahn. The best Texan example I discovered was a section of Interstate 20 in the vicinity of Pecos. Google Maps estimated that 72.4 miles (116.5 km) could be covered in one hour.

See what I mean? The speed limit is 80 mph and Google estimates that a driver can be expected to cover only 72.4 miles during that interval. Maybe that calculation would make sense for a long journey, however I’m pretty sure I could put the car on cruise control at 80 mph in this empty quadrant and drive for a single hour without stopping for a meal or a restroom break. I could probably get away with more than that, and likely would if I ever attempted this segment in the physical world. However, let’s remember the ground rule about obeying the law for this exercise.

Nonetheless, I relied upon Google as the decision-maker with the assumption that whatever algorithm they developed would level the playing field to account for "real world" conditions as opposed to theoretical maximums. I guess I can see their reasoning. Certainly there have been plenty of times when I’ve gotten stuck in heavy, slow-moving traffic where the posted speed limit taunting me like a cruel joke.

Portions of Interstate 10 in West Texas also feature 80 mph speed limits. I calculated a 72.3 mile (116 km) distance over an hour west of Fort Stockton (map) and 71.6 miles (115 km) east of Fort Stockton (map).

Utah has a 20-mile segment allowing an 80 mph speed on Interstate 15. The best I could do there was a theoretical 68.4 miles (110 km) over the hour-long period (map).

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Germany was a huge disappointment. Sections of the Autobahn may not have speed limits per se, however try arguing that with Google Maps. It won’t work. I found a nice resource detailing unrestricted sections of the Autobahn (legend) and attempted various map segments. The best I could produce was a portion of A20 and a portion of A24 that both returned values of 109 kilometres (68 mi) for the fictional hour (above and map).

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Poland and Bulgaria both have 140 kmh (87 mph) maximum speed limits. My attempts to find decent results in Poland were a bust. Bulgaria was much better and produced a value esentually equivalent to Texas. The best result was 115 km (71.5 mi) over that imaginary hour.

Finally I turned to Australia, somehow figuring that areas in the Northern Territory zoned for 130 kmh (81 mph) over wide open spaces would generate excellent results. They did not, or I didn’t find them, or something. Google Maps didn’t like the Northern Territory at all. 81 kilometers (50 mi) for an hour on the Stuart Highway in the middle of nowhere (map)? Really?

Let me know if you find anything better than the Texas and Bulgaria results.

Totally Unrelated

Regular reader "Josh" thought the 12MC audience might enjoy a website with 9,308 photographs of North Dakota. I did, and I found the premise even more interesting. The photographer visited every single dot on the map of North Dakota and took at least one photograph. Wow!

Thanks Josh!

Cut the Corner

Longtime reader James S.[1] has an interesting experience every time he drives along Interstate 75 between Georgia and Florida. There is a spot along that highway where one can observe two county entrance markers simultaneously.

Take a close look at the Google Street View image and the signs can be seen as blurry white lettering on a green background, one nearby and one on the horizon.

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Someone traveling north on I-75 heading towards Macon will leave Peach County, cross into Crawford County, and somewhere between 770-800 feet later cross into Bibb County. James wanted to know if there were other places where one could see two “entering” signs simultaneously.

I love the way they managed to post that billboard within the narrow band, too. Crawford successfully attained a little tax revenue from their tiny chunk of Interstate Highway.

Seriously, is there any reason that little neck of Crawford actually needs to exist? It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose, yet Georgia has an overdose of small, misshapen counties like this one. I experienced a similar situation on I-20 earlier this year when I clipped Walton County, Georgia. That was nowhere near as remarkable as James’ accomplishment however, as my trip through Walton lasted closer to 7,800 feet.

Let me pause momentarily for a small rant. I don’t like how the new Mapquest handles embedded maps, the only viable option when I wish to feature a geo-oddity involving county lines. These are the steps: first one has to specify a location rather than perform a simple drill-down task; then hunt for the option hidden behind the “Send To” button and the “Your Website” tab. Mapquest will finally generate a code but it doesn’t provide any preview or customization function. I had to drop it into my website, make a best guess and then adjust the code from within my blog by hand. That’s unbelievably inconvenient and unresponsive.

Plus, embedded Mapquest images don’t appear in Google Reader. If you don’t see bunch of maps and you want to understand what I’m talking about, you’ll need to leave Reader and come to the website.

But let’s get back on track and consider James’ question. I turned to the excellent Mob Rule website that caters to the County Counter community. The site provides a page called "Difficult Questions" that attempts to determine whether certain major roads touch specific counties or not. There I found some really interesting situations.

Drivers heading northbound on U.S. Route 19 through Fanning Springs, Florida will enter Gilchrist County, but drivers heading south will not. The county border splits this mile-long road segment down the middle.

Do travelers on Interstate 294 outside of Chicago, Illinois enter DuPage County? No, they don’t. However, those heading southbound on I-294 who then exit eastbound onto I-290 will clip DuPage County for maybe five hundred feet.

There is a stretch of Interstate 80 in Nevada that rivals the Georgia example but falls just a bit short. Heading east, travelers go from Washoe, to Storey, to Lyon county in a distance of about a half-mile.

West Virginia has a section of Interstate 79 that cuts a corner of Gilmer County for less than a hundred feet. Just to the west, however, there’s another section of Gilmer that one enters for several hundred feet.

There are plenty of other examples on the Mob Rule page and I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t check them all. If I’d had time to do that, then perhaps I’d have seen better examples than the one James discovered during his travels. With that admission, I don’t know of other instances on Interstate Highways or major (two digit) U.S. Highways with shorter distances between three counties. Sure, I bet we could find some back-country road, but a highway?

How about it, folks? Is James onto something? Are there equally remarkable instances (other than the one in Washington, DC)? What about international examples?

Thanks again for the tip, James.

[1]James is working on a new website. He says it’s still under development so I plan to bookmark it and examine it again later.