Here are 13 really aggravating things about the map of the United States

Look at this mess. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

I've just returned from two weeks on the road in the United States. Mostly I was thinking about the election (and in the unlikely event you want to know what I made of that whole trauma, you can find out over on the New Statesman website), but obviously I also spent a lot of time thinking about maps.

Specifically, I was thinking about quite how ludicrous the map of those United States actually is. To whit:

Delaware

Why is it even a state? I mean, really? Ether it should get to have the whole of that peninsula it sits on, or it should stop mucking around and become part of Maryland. The current situation is just ridiculous.

 

You know how long it takes to cross Delaware by car?

 

Fourteen minutes, that's how long it takes.

The only reason they let Delaware be a state is because it was the first one to ratify the US constitution and now everyone's too embarrassed to tell them.

While we're at it:

That ridiculous peninsula that Delaware sits on

The Delmarva peninsula includes bits of three different states. Why? Just why?

I'll tell you why: because they named it Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) and now it's too awkward to change it. Think before you name, guys.

What’s more:

Maryland 

What the fuck is this?

Just look at it:

LOOK:

You know what this reminds me of?

Turns out, the US came pre-gerrymandered.

West Virginia

Okay, this one's not really a geographical point, but there are places in West Virginia, as there are all over the south, where you can find the Confederate flag.

Which is odd, in its way, because: West Virginia was never part of the Confederacy. More than that, the state only exists because it split from Virginia because it wanted to stay with the Union.

So today in West Virginia there are those who profess loyalty to the ideas of a rebellion that their forefathers explicitly repudiated. Which is nice.

The Florida panhandle

Fun fact! If that sticky-out-bit was part of Alabama and Georgia, as it very obviously should be, then Florida would have voted Democrat, and Hillary Clinton would, well, she'd still be nine electoral votes short of being president elect right now, but she'd be a damn sight closer. (Yes, I had to correct this bit after a reader pointed out it was wrong. Don't judge me.)

Upper Michigan

Look at this:

Dividing those two peninsulas are the Straits of Mackinac, which divide lakes Michigan and Huron. The straits are five miles across at their narrowest point – indeed, on some definitions, Michigan and Huron are actually a single lake.

Which begs the question: why is the northern of those two landmasses a part of Michigan at all? It should obviously be part of Wisconsin. This is a very poor show.

(Upper Michigan, incidentally, contains nearly a third of the state's land, but just 3 per cent of its population. Don't say we never teach you anything.)

Alaska

The southernmost tip of Alaska is approximately 510 miles from the nearest point of the continental United States. Alaska is "in" the US in the same way that Essex is "in" Switzerland. Give it up, guys, you're part of Canada.

Hawaii

Oh, Hawaii gets to be a state, but not Guam? It’s a US territory, and home to 160,000 people. Where's the love for Guam, guys? Why doesn't Guam get to be a state? Really at this point I'm just enjoying the excuses to keep saying Guam. "Guam".

Idaho

What.

Oklahoma

What.

New York

Okay you're just taking the piss now.

The entire west

Here's Utah, an apparently average sized western state, placed over New England:

I mean, it's about the same size, right? Except that New England contains six different states, and Utah contains just one.

It's like, the further west the US got, the less effort it could be bothered to put into creating new states. An area bigger than Great Britain? Shall we carve it up? Meh, who has the time. Just call it Nevada.

The sheer laziness of it.

The square states

The US has not one, but two, states that are, in effect, perfect rectangles.

The whole West is one big grid system. 

I mean, they're not really, because they're big enough that the curvature of the Earth comes into effect. But nonetheless – what kind of ludicrous country is this?

Anyway, I’m home now. It’s fine. Everything is going to be fine.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Maps courtesy of Google.


 

 
 
 
 

Seville has built its entire public transport system in 10 years. How has it done?

Just another sunny day in Seville. Image: Claude Lynch.

Seville, the fourth largest urban centre in Spain, was recently voted Lonely Planet’s number one city to visit in 2018. The award made a point of mentioning Seville’s impressive network of bicycles and trams, but it neglected to mention that it’s actually their ten year anniversary. The city’s metro opened just two years later.

This makes now an excellent time to look back on Seville’s public transport network – especially because almost all of it was completed in the middle of the global financial crisis. So, is it a good model for modern public transport? Let’s find out.

Cycle Hire

Seville, like any good metropolis, features a cycle hire scheme: Sevici, which is a clever portmanteau of the words ‘Seville’ and ‘bici’, short for bicicleta, the Spanish for, you guessed it, bicycle.

The service, launched in 2007, is run as a public-private partnership. Users can pay a flat weekly fee of €13.33 (£11.81) for unlimited rentals, as long as all the journeys last 30 minutes or less. For the fanatics, there’s a year-long subscription for €33. This makes Sevici cheaper than the London equivalent (£90) but slightly more than that of Paris (€29).

However, the reason why the bike hire scheme has gained particular praise in recent years is down to Seville’s network of cycle paths, snaking around the town centre and into the suburbs. The sheer scale of the scheme, 75 miles of track in total, has prompted comparisons to Amsterdam.

But there is a meaningful distinction between the two cases. First, cycling culture is such a big deal for the Amsterdammers that it has its own Wikipedia page. In Seville, cycling culture is a growing trend, but one that faces an uphill struggle, despite the city’s flatness. Around half of the cycle paths are on a pavement shared by pedestrians; pedestrians often ignore that the space is designed specifically for cycles.

A Sevici station in the town centre. Image: Claude Lynch.

Surprisingly, cyclists will also find exactly the opposite problem: the fact that bicycles enjoy the privilege of so many segregated spaces mean that, if they dare enter the road, motorists are not obliged to show them the same level of respect – because why would they need to enter the road in the first place?

This problem is only compounded by the Mediterranean driving style, one that takes a more cavalier attitude to objects in the road than that of the northern Europeans. While none of this makes cycling in Seville a write-off – it remains the cycling capital of Spain – budding tourists should bear in mind that the cycle paths do not extend far into the old town proper, making them a utility, for the most part, for budding commuters.

Metro

The metro system in Seville consists of a single metro line that travels from Ciudad Expo in the west to Olivar de Quintos in the east. It has three zones, which create a simple and straightforward fare system, based on the number of journeys and number of “saltos” (jumps) between zones, and nothing more.

The need-to-know for tourists, however, is that only three of the metro stations realistically serve areas with attractions: Plaza de Cuba, Puerta de Jerez, and Prado de San Sebastian. Given that a walk between these is only a few minutes slower than by metro, it shows the metro service for what it is: a service for commuters coming from the west or east of town into the city centre.

Some of the behaviour on the network is worth noting, too. Manspreading is still dangerously common. There are no signs telling you to “stand on the right”, so people queue in a huff instead. Additionally, there is no etiquette when it comes to letting passengers debark before you get on, which makes things precarious in rush hour – or if you dare bring your bike on with you.

On the plus side, that’s something you can do; all trains have spaces reserved for bikes and prams (and they’re far more sophisticated than the kind you see on London buses). Trains are also now fitted with USB charging ports for your phone. This comes in addition to platform edge doors, total wheelchair access, and smart cards as standard. Snazzy, then – but still not much good for tourists.

Platform edge doors at Puerta Jerez. Image: Claude Lynch.

The original plan for Seville’s metro, launched in the 70s, would have had far more stations running through the city centre; it’s just that the ambitious plans were never launched, due in equal measure to a series of sinkholes and financial crises. The same kind of problems led to Seville’s metro network being opened far behind schedule, with expansion far down the list of priorities.

Still, the project, for which Sevillanos waited 40 years, is impressive – but it doesn’t feel like the best way to cater to an east-west slice of Seville’s comparatively small urban population of 1m. Tyne and Wear, one of the few British cities comparable in terms terms of size and ambition, used former railways lines for much of its metro network, and gets far more users as a result. Seville doesn’t have that luxury; or where it does, it refuses to use it in tandem.

You only need to look east, to Valencia, to see a much larger metro in practice; indeed, perhaps Seville’s metro wouldn’t look much different today if it had started at the same time as Valencia, like they wanted to. As a result, Seville´s metro ends up on the smaller side, outclassed on this fantastic list by the likes of Warsaw, Nizhny Novgorod, and, inexplicably, Pyongyang.

Seville: a less impressive metro than Pyongyang. Intriguing. Image: Neil Freeman.

Tramway

The tram travels from the high rise suburb-cum-transport hub of San Bernardo to the Plaza Nueva, in the south of the Seville’s old town. This route runs through a further metro station and narrowly avoids a third before snaking up past the Cathedral.

This seems like a nice idea in principle, but the problem is that it’s only really functional for tourists, as tram services are rare and slow to a crawl into the town centre, anticipating pedestrians, single tracks, and other obstacles (such as horse-drawn carriages; seriously). While it benefits from segregated lanes for most of the route, it lacks the raison d'être of the metro due to the fact that it only has a meagre 2km of track.

The tram travelling down a pedestrianised street with a bicycle path to the right. Image: Claude Lynch.

However, staring at a map long enough offers signs as to why the tram exists as it does. There’s no history of trams in Seville; the tracks were dug specifically for the new line. A little digging reveals that it’s again tied into the first plans for Seville’s metro, which aspired to run through the old town. Part of the reason the scheme was shelved was the immense cost brought about by having to dig through centuries-old foundations.

The solution, then, was to avoid digging altogether. However, because this means the tram is just doing the job the metro couldn’t be bothered to do, it makes it a far less useful service; one that could easily be replaced by a greater number of bike locks and, maybe, just maybe, additional horses.


So what has changed since Seville’s transport revolution?

For one thing, traffic from motor vehicles in Seville peaked in 2007 and has decreased every year since, at least until 2016. What is more promising is that the areas with the best public transport coverage have seen continued decreases in traffic on their roads, which implies that something is working.

Seville’s public transport network is less than 15 years old. The fact that the network was built from scratch, in a city with no heritage of cycling, tunnels, or tramways, meant that it could (or rather, had to) be built to spec. This is where comparisons to Amsterdam, Tyne and Wear, or any other city realistically fall out of favour; the case of Seville is special, because it’s all absolutely brand new.

As a result, it’s not unbecoming to claim that each mode of transport was built with a specific purpose. The metro, designed for the commuter; the tramway, for tourists; and cycling, a mix of the two. In a city with neither a cultural nor a physical precedent of any kind for such radical urban transportation, the outcome was surprisingly positive – the rarely realised “build it, and they will come”.

However, it bears mentioning that the ambitious nature of all three schemes has led to scaling back and curtailment in the wake of the economic crisis. This bodes poorly for the future, given that the Sevici bikes are already nearing the end of their lifetime, the cycle lanes are rapidly losing sheen, and upgrades to the tramway are downright necessary to spare it from obsolescence.

The conclusion we can draw from all this, then, appears to be a double-edged one. Ambition is not necessarily limited by a lack of resources, as alternatives may well present themselves. And yet, as is so often the case, when the money stops, so do the tracks.

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