Plans change. I gamble when I choose to mull over a thought and allow it to percolate in my mind. Sometimes the delay results in a better article. Other times, ideas not acted upon decisively will be overtaken by events.
Loyal reader "Rhodent" and I were communicating by email about a potential offshoot of "NOT as the Crow Flies." The contest would have focused on the greatest time or distance differences between walking and driving to a common point, where walking would have provided a distinct advantage. Ariel Dybner posted a comment just as we were structuring the query.
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Ariel found a location in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the "one-way twisty Rich Mountain Road out of Cades Cove." The drive would last 1 hour and 23 minutes. The walk would take 21 seconds. Checkmate. Abundant kudos to Ariel, and well played, and for being prescient enough to claim victory before we ever began. Now it’s back to the drawing board for 12MC though.
I decided to keep the pedestrians and ditch the automobiles. Where are places that motorized vehicles cannot go? Trails, certainly, although I’m on a bridge fixation at the moment. I’ll focus on some impressive pedestrian-only bridges, also commonly known as footbridges.
IMPRESSIVE PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES
Notice that I didn’t use the title "longest" pedestrian bridges. Longest is surprisingly subjective and it abuts several definitional issues that I’m choosing to deflect. If one simply must put a fence around the topic then I guess Guinness World Records would be suitable: "On 3 October 2009, the 2.06-km (6,767-ft, or 1.28-mile) Poughkeepsie Bridge (also known as the Walkway Over the Hudson State National Park) in New York, USA, was re-opened to the public as the world’s longest pedestrian bridge. Hornibrook Bridge across Bramble Bay in Queensland, Australia, was longer but demolition started in the summer of 2010."
Let’s go there.
Walkway Over the Hudson; Poughkeepsie, New York, USA
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Guinness mentioned the salient points. I’ll fill in some of the details.
Walkway Over the Hudson began service as a railroad bridge spanning between Poughkeepsie and Lloyd in New York, crossing the Hudson River to connect with the larger rail network. Originally it carried a less romantic name, the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge. It opened to rail traffic in 1889, served as a major corridor for passengers and freight, and closed after a fire in 1974. I’m not sure how a steel and iron truss bridge catches fire. I’ll assume there were wooden elements — perhaps track ties that kept the rails at a proper gauge — and offer the civil engineering historians in the audience an opportunity to ponder likely scenarios. It caught fire. It closed.
The bridge stood as a decaying hulk, a metaphor trapped in a post-industrial world, until a group of citizens reinvented it as a pedestrian park. They formed the nonprofit Walkway Over the Hudson to secure public and private funding for an adequate restoration. The bridge reopened in 2009 as the linear Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, a dizzying 212 feet (65 m) above the Hudson River.
Walnut Street Bridge; Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
SOURCE: Flickr by fdtate via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Check a search engine for the longest pedestrian bridges and the Walnut Street Bridge (map) will land near the top of the results. It spans 2,376 feet (724 m) with a deck 100 feet (30 m) above the Tennessee River. That’s quite impressive although it’s nowhere near the magnitude of the Walkway Over the Hudson.
A website with the creative name East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism describes the history:
The Walnut Street Bridge is Tennessee’s oldest non-military highway bridge still in use today, restored and revitalized as a pedestrian bridge and linear park. In only a generation, The Bridge has become the centerpiece, and a vital connector of Chattanooga’s riverfront renaissance… Since 1978, when it was closed to traffic for safety reasons after serving Chattanooga for 87 years, the Walnut Street Bridge sat disabled, deteriorating, dormant, and yet another reminder of the city’s decaying downtown. By the late 1980s, the city had taken steps to demolish the downtrodden bridge, but lacked the funding.
Geotourism. I might have to steal that term.
A private organization, The Parks Foundation stepped-in and saved the structure. The 1890 relic reopened as a pedestrian-only bridge in 1993. The deck was changed from asphalt to wood planking in 2010, and added to the charm. Where would we be without private nonprofit groups and foundations to rescue our historic landmarks?
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge; Omaha, Nebraska – Council Bluffs, Iowa, USA
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Aficionados of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge remark that it’s the longest footbridge that spans between two states. One must find superlatives where one can find them, I suppose. Even so it spans 3,000 feet (914 m) across the Missouri River with a deck of 60 feet (18 m), and that’s mighty impressive.
There are two points that intrigue me. First, this is a modern bridge (opened 2008) designed specifically as a footbridge. It is only fifteen feet wide which is sufficient clearance for legs and bicycles. It will never carry motorized vehicles. In that sense it reminds me of the Sundial Bridge although it’s more than four times longer. Second, the builders constructed a marker on the state line so that visitors can show-off when they’re standing in two states at the same time.
There’s a third element and I have mixed feelings about it. The walkway was built with Federal dollars so it’s a shining example of an earmark, or should one prefer a more derogatory term, pork. They named it for the Senator who secured the funding. I’m not pointing a finger at him personally because all politicians regardless of affiliation do the same thing.(1) I’ll simply note that this bridge cost on the order of $20 million footed by taxpayers living primarily outside of Nebraska and Iowa. I’d contrast that with the DIY approach used by nonprofits and foundations mentioned previously. It’s a beautiful structure that probably adds to the ambiance of the waterfront, maybe leading to economic growth and new tax revenues, so maybe it all works out in the end? Maybe.
SkyTrail; Outlook, Saskatchewan, Canada
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0) license
SkyTrail "Canada’s Longest Pedestrian Bridge" (map) represents another claim on the continuum of Internet glory. It began as a railway trestle, 3,000 feet (914 m) long and 150 feet (46 m) above the South Saskatchewan River. The first Canadian Pacific Railway trains rumbled over in 1912 and continued to use it until 1987. It was converted to pedestrian use in 2003 and forms a part of the Trans-Canada Trail.
I like the name of the town, Outlook. The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan explains, "the railway named the location Outlook for its spectacular vantage over the river valley." I need to walk that bridge someday.
Hornibrook Bridge (R.I.P.), Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
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I’m not even going to comment on the unusual name of the bridge. It reminds me of the old joke about the similarity between cheap beer and a canoe.
Once it was considered the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, longer even than the Walkway Over the Hudson. While it existed, it spanned 8,806 feet (1.67 miles, 2.684 kilometres) across Bramble Bay, a solid couple thousand feet longer than the current claimant. Hornibrook Bridge was razed recently so that’s all moot now. It had been a popular attraction for fitness and fishing from its 1979 closure to automotive traffic to its demolition. Alas, no more.
Pedestrians were offered a convenient alternative and it always lacked a certain dramatic visual impact anyway, so that may have lessened the blow. The Houghton Highway runs immediately to the east and a second bridge was added to the highway in 2010. It included a protected pedestrian lane separated from vehicular traffic by a concrete barrier.
Google Street View coverage features an interesting period during the timeline, January 2010 (view). Catch it while it lasts, it’s destined to be overwritten someday. Currently, as of the publication of this article, it shows Hornibrook prior to its demolition plus the new Houghton Highway lanes (the Ted Smout Memorial Bridge) under construction and nearly completed. It’s easy to see why Brisbane added the new bridge — Street View shows two-way traffic on a three lane bridge, without any lane barriers to separate traffic coming at opposite directions and only an overhead crossbar with green and red lights to prevent head-on collisions.
Smout is amazingly close to Smoot. It must be a bridge thing.
(1)Even 12MC’s possible secret admirer does that. Go back to the article that started it all if you’re unfamiliar with this long-running 12MC gag.
It started out as it often does through a chance encounter with a roadmap anomaly. I happened to be examining a stretch of highway online. Then I spied an uncharacteristically wide split between the westbound and eastbound lanes of Interstate 84 directly outside of Pendleton, Oregon.
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It seemed quite remarkable. A mountain ridge forced opposing lanes to split and separate by an unusual distance. I used mapping tools to measure a line directly across the opening to estimate the greatest separation, which I calculated at around 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers). This required a level of subjectivity. I attempted to measure between equivalent points on opposing lanes, measured almost horizontally in this instance. Obviously longer distances could be calculated by angling the line. That felt like cheating though. I decided to stick with my original estimate, giving or taking a small amount to account for eyeball-level accuracy, and wondered whether I could discover roads with greater separations.
Likely candidates went by different names such as
duel carriageway, freeway, motorway or divided highway, based upon linguistic variations of English-speaking nations. Likewise the separation between opposing lanes might be called a central reservation in the United Kingdom or a median strip in the United States, as examples. These terms could be mixed-and-matched to target online searches for better candidates.
Let’s dispel with the knee-jerk candidate right away.
Exibir mapa ampliado
An Intertubes mythology has coalesced around Brasília’s Monumental Axis ("Eixo Monumental"). This impressive roadway defined a core for Brazil’s capital city, a feat certainly worthy of recognition. This also created an uncorroborated notion that Monumental Axis was either the widest road or the widest central reservation on the planet. Clearly it is neither. I measured the median at 0.25 miles (0.4 km). That’s a wide spot for Brazil perhaps although completely unremarkable when compared to the Pendleton split.
I wasn’t the first to ponder this question. Others blazed a trail before me and recorded numerous instances, including the Pendleton example I felt so smug about "discovering" a few days ago. A roadfan discussion and an FAQ proved to be particularly helpful so I stole from those sources liberally. Examples going forward should be ascribed to people who mentioned them there. I was too lazy to find any other instances on my own.
My crude measurements suggested co-champions, one in Canada and one in México.
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The Trans-Canada Highway presented a paradox, a 2.6 mile (4.2 km) separation for no apparent geographic reason, located outside of Ernfold, Saskatchewan. There weren’t any mountains to bypass. Muskeg wouldn’t be an issue this far south. I did notice a number of small lakes and ponds within the vicinity although those should have been negotiated with ease by highway construction crews.
I may have found the answer. The original highway, now the westbound lanes, swung to the north and passed through Ernfold. The eastbound lanes came later. Those lanes took a more direct path, avoiding further traffic through a residential area while reducing construction costs.
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Down along the border between México and the United States, a common geographic formation created dueling companion instances with the more impressive one located in México.
I measured the Interstate 8 median strip east of San Diego, California at 1.5 miles (2.4 km). The distance between opposing lanes of Mexican Federal Highway 2D as it stretched from Tijuana to Mexicali came in at around 2.6 miles (4.2 km). That was the same as the Canadian example, once again within the margin of error of eyeball precision. I am sure one or the other occurrence could claim the crown with improved criteria and measurement.
One other United States location often surfaced in discussions, a stretch of Interstate 24 outside of Monteagle, Tennessee (map). I measured the width of the median at 1.7 miles (2.7 km), the same as Pendleton, so I’d call these a tie for the greatest US distance unless someone finds a better location.
Sometimes examples from the United Kingdom surfaced. They did not compare favorably.
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The M6 at Shap near Junction 39 received frequent attention. One source noted that " Junction 39 is the highest junction on the M6 being less than half a mile from Shap summit, the highest point on the M6." That would seem promising. I measured it at 0.2 miles (0.32 km) which was even as much as Brazil’s Monumental Axis. Others suggested the A611 at Annesley (map). The central reservation appeared to have a similar width. They were both noteworthy for the UK although neither contended for the world title.
Canadian and Mexican examples, both with 2.6 mile (4.2 km) median strips, were the best that I could find during my cursory search. Certainly we can do better.
The Twelve Mile Circle continues to generate all sorts of interesting search engine queries, an endless stream of potential article topics. I remember back in the early days of the blog I had to come up with everything myself. That’s rarely an issue anymore. Case in point, someone wanted to know the shortest way to drive from Canada to Mexico.
I don’t know why someone would necessarily want or need this knowledge. One would have to cross through the United States any which way one slices it. This led me to conclude that perhaps my unknown visitor had an issue with the United States. He didn’t like it for some reason. Maybe he was a wanted criminal or an aging Vietnam War draft-dodger? Are the U.S. military authorities still looking for those guys? Never mind. Let’s just say they are for the sake of this exercise.
Maybe he’s a smuggler concealing something of particular value to people in Mexico but not to people in the United States? The query didn’t provide specifics so I’ll make them up. Let’s help our draft-dodging smuggler of Chinese counterfeit soccer balls make it through the United States as quickly as possible. He’ll have to obey speed limits to avoid police attention and he’ll have to use default routes generated by Google Maps as a proxy because he’s unfamiliar with the dangerous U.S. territory he will cover.
At first I wanted to set up a matrix. I intended to calculate both the distance and time between every U.S. border crossing with Canada and Mexico. I abandoned that when I counted 117 Canadian and 47 Mexican possibilities (117 X 47 = 5,499 combinations, both for time and distance). As much as I enjoy and respect the 12MC audience, it’s not productive for me to calculate 10,998 different numbers simply to determine the absolutely minimal times and distances. I took some educated guesses instead. It’s possible that others may improve upon these marginally, and perhaps even meaninfgully.
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Residents of Vancouver, British Columbia probably have it the best. Traveling via the Douglas, BC crossing to the Tijuana (West) crossing in Baja California would take 22 hours and 43 minutes over a distance of 2,223 kilometres (1,381 miles). That’s less than a day! Also, now that we realize Google Maps overestimates travel times, one could probably shave another hour or two from that figure with continuous driving and make it to the safety of the Mexican border posthaste.
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I wondered if I could discover a shorter Pacific Coastal route. The original one swings out to the west albeit it takes complete advantage of an efficient and swiftly-moving Interstate 5. Would a shorter route, one more closely aligned with a line of longitude make a difference? Actually, no. I replicated the exercise starting from the Paterson, BC border crossing instead. Oddly, it was both longer and less timely. Examining the map (above) it seemed to unfold this way because of the wobbly nature of obscure roads selected for the trip. Notice several jogs east and west that increased the total distance (2,305 km / 1,432 mi) and time (25 hours).
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There was another route. It surprised me how closely it challenged the Pacific Coastal route, although it wouldn’t benefit many Canadians. Maybe residents of Regina, Saskatchewan could use it. Otherwise it’s fairly remote from population centers. This one ran from the Oungre, SK border crossing to Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the Bridge of the Americas crossing. Google maps predicts that the U.S. transit would cover 2,220 km (1,379 mi), over 23 hours 18 minutes. See what I mean? Three kilometers shorter although 45 minutes longer.
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Finally I attempted a diagonal route, taking advantage of the southern boundary dip following the contours of the Great Lakes. It’s a little longer (2,596 km / 1,402 mi) and couldn’t be done in a single day (27 hours). However, potentially, many more Canadians could take advantage of it due to its relative proximity to Toronto and Montréal. This one goes from Windsor, Ontario to Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
The worst option? It’s probably Campobello Island, NB to Tijuana (West). That’s 5,438 km (3,379 mi) over 55 hours (map).
Hopefully this will offer plenty of options for my Canadian draft-dodging soccer ball smuggler.