We think of Canada as a long way north – but half its population lives south of Milan

Toronto: same latitude as Nice. Who new? Image: Getty.

This article was originally posted on David Taylor's data visualisation blog Prooffreader.com in November 2013. David very kindly agreed to let us repost it here, which is pretty lovely of him.

Canada is farther north than the United States: everybody knows this, and for the most part it's true.

But an article in Monitor on Psychology says people tend to take these geographical mental shortcuts too far: most Americans are surprised to find that all of Florida is farther south than the Mexican border, for example.

So let's see how much of the United States is below Canada's most southerly city, Windsor, Ontario (I won't cheat and count the little islands in Lake Erie that belong to Canada):


For the record, the red area comprises 22 per cent of the surface area of the contiguous United States (38 per cent if you include Alaska), and 15 per cent of its population. Windsor is just 25 km further north than the California-Oregon border.

The paper also states that both Americans and Canadians tend to imagine Europe to be more southerly than it is in relation to them: they equating Spain's latitude with the southern states, for example. Let's have a look, without that pesky Atlantic Ocean in the way:


Once again using the online tool Mapfrappe, I've marked the Latitudes of Windsor and of the 60th parallel, which divides the Prairie provinces from Northern Canada.

You'll notice Windsor, which has some cold winters, is even with northern Spain, which decidedly doesn't. That's another mental shortcut we all share: north = cold. But it's not that simple when you have a nice Gulf Stream warming your coastline, as Europe does.

The geographical comparison was less surprising to me than the demographic one. In 2013, I posted a blog about Canadian population by latitude, whose data was a little coarse because Canada Post and Statistics Canada have copyrighted the most finely detailed geographical boundaries used in the census.

But a wonderful reader pointed me to the ISLCP II Project, which lists the population of the entire planet for every quarter-degree of latitude and longitude (albeit from 1995, but I'll take it). Have a look at the relative populations by latitude of the United States, Canada and Europe:

The most northerly Canadian city with a population of over 500,000 is Edmonton, Alberta: it's at about the same latitude as Dublin, Manchester and Hamburg. Around 15 per cent of Europeans live farther north than this. (The demarcation of Europe and Asia is fuzzily defined; I chose it as including Istanbul and Moscow, which is north of Edmonton.)


In fact, the median latitude of population in Europe is nearly 4 degrees higher than in Canada – that's around 400km.

Thanks to these histograms I realized I'm as susceptible to that misfiring geography heurism as anyone: in my mind, Hawaii was about the same latitude as Sacramento, California. But it's over 500km farther south than the mainland United States.

David Taylor is a Montreal-based writer, who runs the data visualisation blog Prooffreader.com.

Editor's note: the calculation that the median Canadian lives at between 45 and 46 degrees latitude, roughly on a par with Milan, is CityMetric's own. If we've screwed up, it's our error, not David's.

 
 
 
 

Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

Jonn Elledge was the founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.