Truckin’ Through California

On February 12, 2013 · 1 Comments

This has absolutely nothing to do with the Grateful Dead although they were indeed from California and noted for Truckin’. It is literally about trucks in California. Feel free to listen to Truckin’ in the background if that would make you happy though.

It all started out more grandiosely. I recalled a particularly awful drive on Virginia’s Interstate 81 last November where it seemed like every other vehicle on the highway was a truck. Some were driving with extreme aggression and well above the posted speed limit. The rest were poking along well below the limit. I grew increasingly aggravated as I slalomed between them.

That incident later inspired an online quest to find a highway with the highest percentage of trucks primarily so I could forever avoid it. That quest continues. I haven’t given up that search. Meanwhile I do have an answer for California. I found a great page from the California Department of Transportation. I was able to download a spreadsheet of annual average daily truck traffic in 2011, which I then sorted appropriately to determine all California state highways with more trucks than cars. It happens rarely. Only a small handful of places throughout the state met that standard. Imagine the nightmare of routes where more than half of all vehicles are trucks, not "seems like it" but genuinely so, consistently, day after day, forever.

Of course I plotted the offending locations. I found it fascinating that almost all of them happen near borders.

View California Truck Routes in a larger map

I examined each area and I tried to determine what might account for an overabundance of truck traffic, paying particular attention to apparent clusters.

Calexico/El Centro

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The top spot went to Rt. 115 at its junction with Rt. 78 in Imperial County. Trucks composed an astounding 81.9% of recorded vehicle traffic passing this point in 2011. That is such an amazing statistical outlier — no other point in the California managed to crack even 60% — that I had to wonder if it might have been a typographical error. I checked the math and it seemed to work. Nearby, Route 98 at Cole Road in Calexico also scored high with 56.36% trucks.

All truck traffic crossing from Mexico into the United States along this particular stretch of the border uses the "Calexico East" Port of Entry. That might explain Route 98. I’m not sure it explains Rt. 115. It doesn’t seem to follow a logical path between the port of entry and the outside world. Farms and fields surround the junction. Maybe trucks address some sort of agricultural purpose here instead?

Los Angeles/Long Beach

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This one seemed more straightforward. The adjacent ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are the two busiest container ports in the United States. Add their volume together and they handle three times the cargo of the next busiest port, New York/New Jersey.

Two spots nearby both hit 57.52% truck traffic, on Rt. 47 where it crosses the Commodore Heim Lift Bridge and shortly thereafter where Rts. 47 and 103 split. Notice their placement on the map above. They are practically equidistant between two very active ports. A massive volume of containers heads in-and-out at any given time and this route serves a good option. It’s a wonder truck percentages weren’t higher.

Maybe the brief stretch of Interstate 40 from Needles, California to the Arizona state line falls within this same cluster, even though it’s completely across the state? The highway provides a straight shot between the ports and several distant metropolitan areas including Flagstaff, Albuquerque, Amarillo and even Oklahoma City. The southeastern interior of California wouldn’t account for much local traffic, and containers originating in Asia would need to roll east in a steady stream to distant inland cities.


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I was going to guess that truck traffic near Bakersfield might be serving agricultural needs until I drilled-down to the exact spot. The junction of Rts. 58 and 33 happens in McKittrick, which falls outside of the fertile San Joaquin Valley. The terrain looked rather rough and pretty much dug-up by human activity. Thank goodness for Wikipedia and the likely explanation:

The town is in the center of a large oil-producing region in western Kern County. Along State Route 33 to the south of the town is the Midway-Sunset Oil Field, the second-largest oil field in the contiguous United States; within the town itself, as well as to the west is the McKittrick Field; to the northwest is the huge Cymric Field; and along Highway 33 beyond Cymric is the large South Belridge Oil Field, run by Aera Energy LLC. East of McKittrick is Occidental Petroleum’s Elk Hills Field, formerly the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve.

I don’t know if every truck passing through here serves the oil industry, however it seems like a plausible reason for much of the 55.55% truck volume, absent further evidence.

National Forest

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Of all roads with greater than 50% truck traffic, only Route 161 in Siskiyou County fell outside of southern California. It’s about as far away from the others as possible. The anomaly recorded 55.25% truck traffic at the far northern extreme of the state. There might be an agricultural reason because of nearby farms. There might also be another reason, forestry: Winema National Forest, Fremont National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Shasta National Forest and Klamath National Forest are nearby as are areas accessible to commercial logging. Maybe the trucks are hauling logs?

A Week in Maine, Part I

On August 2, 2009 · 2 Comments

The Twelve Mile Circle has a split personality, part travelogue part geo-oddity freak show. I’m in Maine at the moment so I will be focusing on the former. Those of you who enjoy the trivia better than the travel may want to check back in about a week. I’m about to embark on a series of posts focused on southeastern coastal Maine. As is usually the case I will put more emphasis on photos than text, and will elaborate further at some later date on the permanent site.

Hartford Connecticut at Dawn

No, this isn’t Maine. Actually it’s downtown Hartford, Connecticut. We’re on a driving vacation and Hartford was about the halfway point where we stopped overnight. It’s dawn and we’re about to embark on the second leg of our drive up the northeastern corridor of the United States. Venus appears near the top, just right of center, in this image.

The previous evening we met Steve of the Connecticut Museum Quest in person. I’ve noted my interest in Steve’s CTMQ several times on my site, and he has commented many times on various posts here so his name is probably familiar to you if you’ve been reading Twelve Mile Circle for awhile. It’s always fascinating to meet Internet people in person, and our respective families had a nice dinner at a local brewpub (I can’t imagine how we came up with that choice). My kids were on their very rare best behavior so I breathed a sign of relief that Steve didn’t feel compelled to call Child Welfare on me.

Steve also reminded me that we’d driven within a couple miles of the New Jersey highpoint earlier in the day, and that it’s one of those rare highpoints that doesn’t require a climb. I’ve already warned the family that we might, ahem, have to take a slight detour on the way back. We’ll see. Their limit is usually one geo-oddity per trip. I’m not sure they would accept both the Southwick Jog and the New Jersey highpoint so we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Blueberry Cluster on a Bush

On to Maine we drove, along with everyone else in New England. This leg should take a tad under five hours under optimal circumstances. It took us about seven and a half. The highway around Boston froze into absolute gridlock. The map geek in me started coming out after it took us an hour to move ten miles. I’d rather be moving between points than sitting in place even if that ultimately takes more time. There had to be a better way, and between the GPS, a paper road atlas and some common sense we forged into the rural hinterlands.

We bailed from the highway, cut up into New Hampshire and attacked Maine from the west. Ultimately it was like taking two sides of the triangle rather than the hypotenuse. This seemed totally natural to me but apparently to nobody else. While we had to slow down to 35 mph at every little town we experienced no further traffic for the remainder of our trip and certainly experienced the countryside from a vastly different perspective than the Interstate Highway System.

We arrived at our home for the week and we were invited to take as many blueberries as we liked from the garden in the backyard. Maine is famous for its blueberries and this is the time of the year when they ripen. This was a nice touch.

Steamed Lobsters Ready for Eating

The Maine Lobster Festival is taking place in nearby Rockland this week, and I was ready for some lobster after that long drive. Lobsters met their fate in industrial-sized steaming vats nearby and went straight into the festival tent for serving. Earlier that day they’d been swimming in the Atlantic Ocean oblivious to their staring role a festival named in their honor. Now that’s what I’d call "fresh to the table."

My younger son had never seen a real lobster before. He thought it was a land animal and he kept warning me that lobsters were trying to run across the road as we drove along. Lobsters only go into the water to be cooked according to the logic of a 3-year-old.

Rockland Maine Lobster Festival

The festival featured the usual carnival foods (if for some odd reason one didn’t want lobster pulled fresh from the sea), in other words, fried everything. Carnies hawked their games of chance and manned the rides of dubious safety. The sun set on Rockland and its lobster festival, as the lights of the carnival rides twinkled along the waterfront. All was well.

Nasty Commutes

On February 6, 2009 · 4 Comments

The Washington Post published a recent article on bad commutes, "A Dubious Distinction: The Longest Ride in U.S." This was considered so significantly newsworthy that it appeared on the front page of their print edition on February 3, 2009. They determined that the sufferers of the worst average commute in the United States live in a distant exurb of the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

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The worst average commutes in the United States

One has to understand that this is a city of hard-charging achievers. There’s a small feeling of failure when someone else rises to the top of the charts, even when it’s something as boldly negative as snarled traffic. Every year the Texas Transportation Institute issues an Urban Mobility Study that examines traffic congestion. Los Angeles, California usually comes out on top year-after-year, with Washington, DC not far behind as a perennial runner-up. With the recent announcement there’s now something to grasp, some tiny hope, some small shred of empirical evidence to show at long last that Washington can claim the lousiest commute.

The Post based its assertion on 2005-2007 data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Doubters may question whether it’s an appropriate source for this purpose. The data are self-reported and averaged. Each unit is only a fraction of a metropolitan area. Are respondents exaggerating? Do conditions in a few individual neighborhoods transcend to an entire city? Is the sampling sufficient? But let’s set those thoughts aside and have a little fun.

The Census Bureau survey estimated a national average commute of 25.1 minutes. How is yours? Better? Worse? Remember, this is an average. Every neighborhood is made up of people who travel lots of different distances through varied traffic conditions to get to their jobs. Neighborhoods falling below the average have abundant jobs nearby. Those above the average don’t. They tend to be outer-suburbs on the fringe of metropolitan areas with cheaper land and affordable housing.

(1) BRISTOW / LINTON HALL, VA (46.3 minutes)

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The Post article focused much of its attention on this unincorporated town about 40 miles southwest of the city. That’s not surprising since the town now represents Washington’s new claim to fame. It’s within a swath of Virginia that has expanded rapidly in recent years. Road infrastructure and public transportation alternatives simply can’t keep up with the booming population. Bottlenecks and backups occur daily as drivers attempt to enter Interstate 66 at approximately the same time heading towards distant job centers further east.

MARLBORO, NJ (46.0 minutes)

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Marlboro, New Jersey is not a new town, in fact it dates back to 1685. What is new, however, is an explosion of McMansions. People must live a good 40 miles outside of New York City to be able to afford these large trophy houses. So these intrepid exurbanites face a daunting daily slog to Manhattan in return for square footage and a yard.

POINCIANA, FL (44.0 minutes)

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Poinciana, Florida is the only town in the top tier that isn’t located outside of Washington, New York City or San Francisco. The 2000 Census pegged its population at around 20,000. A recent article in the Orlando Sentinel sets the current population at 70,000. Imagine the infrastructure problems that would have to arise from such a mushrooming of families. It’s apparent why this one made the list. Poinciana is a massive master-planned community governed by a homeowners’ association. They are currently studying whether to incorporate as one possible way to meet an oversized demand for services. However, the largely working-class population has already been strained by recent economic conditions, and there’s concern that new taxes would cause hardships.

TRACY, CA (43.8 minutes)

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Tracy, California has 80,000 residents mainly because it’s incredibly expensive to live in the San Francisco Bay area. People have to push all the way into the Central Valley to find an affordable home with a little elbow room. Rich agricultural land gives way to subdivisions. Geography conspires to make the commute particularly miserable. Commuters need to find a way across the Diablo Range. Interstate 580 through Altamont Pass is about the only choice.

Here is the remainder of the Dirty Dozen nasty commutes:

5- Vernon, NJ (43.4 minutes)
6- Brentwood, CA (43.2 minutes)
7- Manalapan, NJ (42.7 minutes)
8- Fort Washington, MD (42.5 minutes)
9- West Windsor, NJ (42.1 minutes)
10- Los Banos, CA (41.8 minutes)
11- Clinton, MD (41.7 minutes)
12- Dale City, VA (41.3 minutes)

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