512px-2008-07-23_Lucky_Strike_towers_in_Durham

Fun with Highways: North Carolina

Today our “primary highways” series brings us to the state of North Carolina.

Crossing from Virginia into North Carolina on I-95 (which I most recently did in 2009 under cover of darkness), one gets the sense that “now we are really in the South.” It’s perhaps a combination of the vegetation, terrain, but especially the name “Carolina”.

 

That particular trip involved traveling southward along I-95, and then later returning to the state near the coast on US 17. The contrast between the different corridors was quite apparent. The US 17 corridor, when when it was not exactly on the coast, was surrounded by shorter vegetation in a lighter shade of green. As we got closer to Wilmington and I-140, it was hard to tell whether we were in a quiet coastal region or in an outer suburb with lots of highways but relatively little visible development. From 17/I-140, we turned onto I-40 and headed north. But if I the time for a proper visit, I would have continued up US 17 back towards the Outer Banks.

One can talk a particularly scenic trip through the Outer Banks on North Carolina Highway 12, which stitches together many of the barrier islands via bridges, causeways and ferries with fantastic views. The road goes through the Hatteras National Seashore. It also goes through Kitty Hawk, often credit as the location of the Wright Brothers’ first flight, though it was actually in nearby Kill Devil Hills. One of the most prominent landmarks, in addition to the continuous stretches of beach, is the Hatteras Lighthouse.

The Outer Banks are part of a beautiful and quite fragile environment, and one that is quite prone to being hit by hurricanes and subject to storm surges and flooding. Consider this breach of the islands and the highway that occurred in 2011.


[Photo from NCDOT on flickr.]

If we leave the Outer Banks and head northward and eastward on I-40, we eventually come to the Raleigh, the state capital and one of the main cities of the Research Triangle together with Durham and Chapel Hill. The Research Triangle is home many technology companies (both in the Research Triangle Park and beyond), and is anchored by Duke University, University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University. These schools are also known for their basketball teams. Raleigh is a much larger city and the center of state government, and sports both an inner and outer beltway, I-440 and I-540 respectively, though the latter is only partially built. Durham, to the north and west, looks from images as a grittier city that might attract my interest, especially with the old tobacco-factory buildings that have been converted to mixed use.


[GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is also home to a large and vibrant African American community with a long history of successful businesses and a neighborhood once dubbed “The Black Wall Street.” It was also a center for early Civil Rights activity including some of the earliest “sit-ins.” Already in decline by the late 1960s, the neighborhood appears to have been torn apart by the construction of the Durham Freeway (NC 147) through the center of the city. It is a familiar sounding story (like the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York).

From Durham, I-85 and I-40 run concurrently to the city of Greensboro. Greensboro includes one stretch of I-40 which is signed with no fewer than six different highway numbers.

From Greensboro, we take I-85 south and west towards Charlotte, the state’s largest city. Charlotte has become a major banking center, most notably it is home to “way too big to fail” Bank of America. It has prospered and underwent a major construction boom with a large jumble of post-modern skyscrapers.


[By Riction (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte is the “tallest building between Philadelphia and Atlanta.” It is the one with the green lights on top in the photograph above. This sculpture, Arnaldo Pomodoro’s Il Grande Disco sits on Bank of America Plaza. It is known locally as “The Disco Wheel.”


[Photo by Antonio Viva on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

Bank of America is having its shareholder’s meeting this week, and a large protest is expected tomorrow to coincide with the meeting, presumably converging at this very plaza.

We return to Greensboro and head west on I-40. The development becomes sparser and the landscape more hilly and scenic as we approach the Blue Ridge Mountains. And more treacherous as well. We turn onto I-240 to the town of Asheville.

While I have not yet been to Asheville myself, it sounds a little bit like the resort towns here in northern California, with music, arts, and old-style downtown turned upscale, and new-age types. But for me it is most notable as the home of the late Bob Moog, the great synthesizer pioneer and of our heroes at CatSynth. Asheville continues to be the home of Moog Music, Inc, which makes both hardware synthesizers and one of my favorite musical iPad apps, Animoog. The independent but related Bob Moog Foundation is building a museum and cultural space in Asheville, and they are involved in education outreach and teaching students the science and art of electronic music with programs, with specific efforts in western North Carolina.

We conclude by turning north onto I-26, a relatively new and quite spectacular highway through the mountainous border region between North Carolina and Tennessee. The highway, which opened in its current Interstate form in 2003, winds it’s way through mountain passes, alongside cliffs, and even through a tunnel. This video gives a sense of what it is like, even though it is traveling in the opposite direction, from Tennessee back to North Carolina.

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Fun with Highways: Washington, DC and Maryland

Today our “Primary Highways” series continues with a visit to our nation’s capital and the neighboring state of Maryland.

The oft-used phrase “inside the beltway” literally means inside the Capital Beltway (I-495 and I-95), which forms a wide circle outside of Washington, DC through the surrounding suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.

From the western side of the beltway, we begin on Interstate 66 and US 50 heading east from Virginia over the Potomac River. I-66 turns north while US 50 continues eastward as Constitution Avenue, passing alongside the National Mall and all the national memorials and monuments, which are arranged around the mall and the parkland along the Tidal Basin.


[By Alex Boykov (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

On the north side of US 50, opposite with Washington Monument, is the Ellipse, a public park that borders the iconic south lawn of the White House. This building and the privilege of occupying it are the nominal reason we are doing this series.

Past the White House and Washington Monument, US 50 meets US 1, and the two continue as Constitution Avenue alongside the eastern half of the Mall. This section of Mall houses the many museums of the Smithsonian Institution. As a child visiting Washington, DC, the “Smithsonian” was synonymous with the Air and Space Museum. It was of course exciting to connect with all things space. Years later, I visited the Air and Space Museum again with my family (and saw a Star Trek anniversary exhibit), but also was enticed by a welcoming sign to the interesting circular building that housed the neighboring museum. The Hirshhorn Museum is the center on the Mall for modern and contemporary art, and a place I try to visit when I have time alone in the capital. It’s a been a while, so I would like to visit again sometime soon. You can see the Hirshhorn in the image of the Mall shown above as the cylindrical building just left of the center. At the far eastern end of the Mall is the Capitol.

The huge building serves as model for many (though as we have seen, not all) state capitol buildings. Though it had a long history of designs and changes before acquiring its current design and the large iconic cast-iron dome we know today. You can read more about this history here. Of course, the institutions housed inside have served as models as well, sometimes in a less-than-ideal way.

The Capitol is surrounded by several blocks of grounds, including the Capitol Reflecting Pool. While wandering around these grounds on foot, one would probably not suspect that there was a major highway passing underneath. I-395 traverses the center of the city in the long Third Street Tunnel, connecting to US 50 (New York Avenue) in the northern sectors. The densely packed residential sections of the Capitol Hill neighborhood can be found to the east, and a lively urban neighborhood to the northwest around Logan Circle.


[By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Black Cat, and institution for independent music that also happens to have a great name.

South of the Third Street Tunnel, I-395 continues towards Virginia and a junction with the Beltway at the Springfield Interchange (aka, the Mixing Bowl). Before crossing the Potomac, it intersects with I-695, a short connector to the Anacosta Freeway in the southeast section of the city. It is signed as I-295 and also as DC 295. It is the only signed DC highway that currently exists, but it is another thing that gives the District of Columbia the trappings of a state, except of course that it isn’t a state and doesn’t have voting representatives in Congress. Hence another state-like item, the district’s license place, continues to bear the Revolutionary War slogan “Taxation without Representation”.

DC 295 continues northeast to the border with Maryland…


…where it continues as Maryland Route 295, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The parkway is partly maintained by the National Park Service. In this segment, it is a wide road through wooded surroundings, although industrial and suburban areas are never far away. Further north, it becomes an expressway through the suburbs south of Baltimore as it heads towards that city. The parkway ends at a I-95. Nearby, a larger and impressive junction over water takes the short I-395 (completely unrelated to the one we just left in Washington, DC.) until downtown Baltimore, passing by Camden Yards and just to the west of the Inner Harbor.


[By Fletcher6 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0; or GFDL;], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Inner Harbor is considered an urban planning achievement, turning a moribund harbor in a major tourist and business destination. It look quite vibrant, with modern buildings and attractions like the National Aquarium.

Baltimore has quite a diversity of architecture and landscape. It is most well-known for its rowhouses. A particularly unique set is the colorful row in the Charles Village neigbhorhood:

Perhaps more typical are the long stretches of similar brick rowhouses. Sadly, many seem to be in disrepair, as along this street in a neighborhood west of the Inner Harbor.


[Photo by larrysphatpage on flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

One interesting view in the same neighborhood features this full overhead sign along an abandoned ramp that is used by pedestrians.


[Photo by larrysphatpage on flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

US 1 is in fact nearby, so the sign is accurate, but it could still be considered an example of a Thomasson, a maintained architectural feature that no longer serves its original function. It was part of the cancelled I-170 highway.

Baltimore is also home to Johns Hopkins University. It is of course a renowned research and medical university, but the division I know best is the Peabody Institute, as several musical friends and colleagues have studied there, particularly in their classical and music-technology programs.

We head south from Baltimore towards the Chesapeake Bay on I-97, where has the distinction of being the shorted two-digit interstate. It passes through hills and suburban towns to US 50 near Annapolis, the state capital. I remember visiting Annapolis in 1999 and 2000. The 1999 visit included walking around the historic district and into the statehouse, one of the oldest in the country with a distinctly colonial look about it, and watching July 4 fireworks on the bay. It was also during an intense heatwave, with some days over 100F. I didn’t mind the heat too much, and it made it great weather for swimming. The towns and cities along the bay, including Annapolis, seemed intimately connected to the water.

US 50 (with US 301) continues east on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to Maryland’s eastern shore region. It then heads south, avoiding Delaware, before turning east again towards the Atlantic Ocean. It’s final terminus is in the resort town of Ocean City. The highway has a cerimonial terminus at MD 528, not far from the Ocean City beach and boardwalk, with a sign stating that is 3072 miles to its western end of Sacramento, California. I have seen the companion sign on the Sacramento side stating that is 3072 miles to Ocean City. Apparently that sign is stolen quite often.

Back in Baltimore, we return to the western neighborhoods, not far from the rowhouses we explored earlier, and head west on US 40. Just past Gwynns Falls / Leakin Park, we come to a parking lot that is the eastern terminus of Interstate 70. It was originally planned to go further through the city, but that extension was ultimately cancelled. In this case, we take I-70 westward out of the city.

This part of the state is quite sparse west of the Baltimore metropolitan area is quite rural and sparse, and in some ways would seem to be a separate state, more in common with West Virginia. I-70 and US 40 run together or nearby for much of the region. As I-70 heads northwest into Pennsylvania, I-68 continues with US 40 west through the Appalachian Mountains, including this cut through Sideling Hill.


[By Analogue Kid at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons]

This does seem a world away from Ocean City, and from Baltimore and Washington, DC., but in total Maryland is actually a fairly small state.

This concludes this edition of Primary Highways. We will next be visiting Wisconsin.

Fun with Highways: Super Tuesday Part 1 (Vermont, Virginia, Tennessee)

Ahead of the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, we at CatSynth will try to virtually visit many, though not all, of the states involved.

We begin in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont along State Highway 114. It winds its way from the most remote northeastern corner of the state and The Kingdom State Forest eventually into the towns and lakes of the region.


[Photo by Dougtone on flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

The scenery as seen in images often is lush and green, when it isn’t brightly colored in the autumn. It is not surprising that the Green Mountains and the state of Vermont were given their verdant names. It’s also interesting to note how different the terrain and scenery is from neighboring New Hampshire. As a reader noted in our New Hampshire edition on DailyKos, the Connecticut River that divides the two states also separates radically different geological structures between the Green Mountains of Vermont (an extension of the very old Appalachian Mountains) and the younger, rockier mountains of New Hampshire. The geography lead to very different settlement patterns, different economies (farming in Vermont versus industry in New Hampshire) and perhaps into the modern political contrasts as well.

In terms of life in The Northeast Kingdom, I often turn to the blog meeyauw, who has over the years mixed great photography from her nearby landscape with cats and mathematics. I did enjoy these recent pictures from the author’s home near Barton Mountain, not far from Highway 16.

We can follow VT 16 back to Interstate 91, the main highway in and out of the “The Kingdom”. Heading south on I-91, the terrain looks a lot like eastern New York, hilly and forested. We turn off the highway onto US 2 and head west to Montpelier, the state capital. It has the distinction of being the smallest state capital in the U.S.


[By Jared C. Benedict [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is in Montpelier that we turn onto Interstate 89, which crosses the state diagonally from New Hampshire in the southeast to the Canadian border in the northwest. Along the way it connects the capital to the largest city, Burlington. Although I-89 never enters the city, it is easy to connect to the downtown via US 2.


[By Jared and Corin (Church Street, Burlington, Vermont) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Probably more than any other place in Vermont, Burlington defines the state’s current political reputation. It is home to Bernie Sanders, onetime socialist mayor of the city and current U.S. Senator. We at CatSynth have long been fans of Sanders, not only for his political views but also his strong Brooklyn accent. Burlington is also the birthplace of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. The city itself is on Lake Champlain, and one can look out from its waterfront across the lake to New York State.

Lake Champlain contains several large islands, particularly in its northern half. US 2 traverses most of these, including Grand Isle via a network of bridges and causeways before heading west at the north end of the lake, where Vermont, New York and Quebec all meet.


[Photo by Dougtone on flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

The islands themselves have small bays and interesting geography, including one bay called “The Gut.”


From Vermont, we jump to Virginia, the other state that begins with the letter “V”. We begin just south of Washington, DC at the notorious Mixing Bowl Interchange.


[Click image to enlarge.]

The Mixing Bowl, also known as the Springfield Interchange, connects I-95, I-495 (the Capital Beltway) and I-395. The latter heads north into the center of Washington DC, while I-495 casts a wide circle through the suburbs. The interchange is complex-looking enough and well-known enough to have even gotten its own “Fun with Highways” article back in 2009. While the interchange in its current configuration is complicated, the aerial view is even more so because of the “ghosts” of ramps that were removed during a massive reconstruction project.

We can stay in Virginia on I-495 heading “west” (though what is west on a circular highway?) and turn west on I-66. The highway is quite crowded in the growing suburbs of northern Virginia, but starts to quiet as one moves westward. Along the way, one passes Bull Run and Manassas of Civil-War battle fame. There was not one but two major battles here. I am pretty sure there are more Civil War sites in Virginia than any other state, and many in the northern part of the state like Manassas are likely getting absorbed into the expanding suburbs. I-66 continues west towards the Appalachian Mountains, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains that form the eastern edge of the range. Before its end, we can turn southward to Shenandoah National Park and tour the Skyline Drive.


[Wallygva at en.wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons]

Skyline drive runs for 105 miles and offers spectacular views of the mountains. I have heard (and seen photos) that suggest it can at times get quite foggy as well, though. Nonetheless, doing the entire drive seems like it would be rewarding if one is not in a hurry. In addition to the views, there are details such as the rather narrow Mary Rock Tunnel. The southern end of Skyline Drive connects to I-64. One can head east towards Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia and one of the country’s shrines, Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello.


[By YF12s (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons[]

The geometric aspects, symmetries and design are quite interesting, as are some of the inventions and features inside. One can tell it was a labor of love (and obsession) for its owner. For some reason, one thing that stuck with me when visiting is the idea of “a home within a home”, a much more modest actual living space almost self contained within the grander designed building.

Back on I-64, we can head west onto Interstate 81 which runs along much of the Appalachian Mountains. It passes through hills, valleys and towns along the way, and is indeed a major corridor for the interior eastern US, connecting the northeast with the south. As such, it connects to our next state.


We continue on I-81 into Tennessee, where it ends at I-40. Here we leave the interstate and head south first on TN 66 and then US 441 to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It has the distinction of being the most visited national park in the U.S. It offers great views of the southern Appalachian mountains, both scenic vistas of the mountains and details such as streams and waterfalls.

The other thing I remember from a visit as a teenager was encountering black bears. Even as one is cognizant of the fact that the bears are potentially dangerous wild animals, there is something quite endearing about them.

We did also go to the top of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Smokies and the highest point in Tennessee.

We can west from the park on US 441 to the city of Knoxville.


[By Kg4ygs – Jeffrey Paul Prickett (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

I do like the Sunsphere, though it looks quite out of place, a future retro design from a past era (or maybe a disco ball). It’s the sort of thing one expects to see abandoned as in the New York Worlds Fair, in a delightfully dystopian setting like Alexanderplatz in East Berlin. However, the Sunsphere sits in a well-maintained green park and has been reopened with an observation deck, cafes, and what I am guessing must be quite unique office space .

Continuing westward on I-40 through the state, our focus shifts to music. Nashville is of course a major music-industry center, both in terms of records and musical instruments, and is synonymous with country music (though in fairness the city is home to other types of music as well such as alternative rock). But I think I would identify more with its neighbor to the west, Memphis. Memphis is home to important early blues, but I think it is the later Electric Blues, early Rock-and-Roll and Memphis Soul (as epitomized by Stax Records) that most interest me – even as a mostly “experimental” composer, the sounds of these genres are a strong influence. I can’t personally speak to an I-40 musical rivalry between Nashville and Memphis, but perhaps some readers may be able to contribute here.

Indeed, I-40 is named the “Isaac Hays Memorial Highway” on its eastern approach to Memphis. Long before he was Chef on South Park, Isaac Hays was a leading figure in Memphis Soul on Stax. I-40 and I-240 together form a beltway around this city’s outer neighborhoods, but its downtown and many of its most famous landmarks lie further west, between I-240/I-69 and the Mississippi River. Just off this highway south of downtown is the Stax Museum on McLemore Avenue. Further north on off I-240/I-69 is large exit for Union Ave, which carries several number designations all at once (US 51/64/70/79). Union Avenue was once home to Sun Records which produced many of the earlier Rock-and-Roll artists of the 1950s. Union Avenue also provides access to Beale Street.


[Photo by ChaseGorden on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]


[By Jack E. Boucher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

It is a major tourist destination now with blues clubs, based on its historic significance in the development of the music. But it did go through a rough period before it was revitalized as the original music industry and the area in general went into decline in the 1960s. Consider this picture.

The Daisy Theater is still visible, but other than that the street looks run down – but somehow “authentic.” It is perhaps best to think of the new revitalized touristy street as just another phase of its history.


Because we are attempting to visit many states at once, each one will inevitably get less attention (this is true of the political process that is happening in parallel). As always, it is great to get feedback and ideas of places we missed. So please don’t be shy about leaving us your comments.

In tomorrow’s installment, we will explore a few more states, in particular Ohio and Idaho.

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Fun with Highways: Florida

We begin our tour on US 1 in Coral Gables, where it is known as the South Dixie Highway. I was actually in a pub along here on Election Night 2004, watching the results with friends and colleagues from the International Computer Music Conference (ICMC). For the most part, the election was quite disappointing – and we didn’t even get to enjoy a controversial Florida result to experience first-hand. So after a night of beers and commiseration, we turned our attention back to the conference itself, and to points north. Heading up US 1 towards Miami, we come to the rather unassuming freeway ramp that marks the start of I-95, the main north-south highway along the east coast. It’s a modest beginning for a such a major road. I-95 is an elevated urban highway through downtown Miami, as is the spur I-395 which took us over the city to the MacArthur Causeway and onto Miami Beach as A1A, one of the more oddly numbered highways in the country.

In Miami Beach, A1A continues as Collins Avenue, though the Art Deco district of the South Beach neighborhood.

[Photo by wyntuition on flickr. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).]

The Art Deco architecture of many of the area’s buildings dates back to the 1920s. One see a certain modernist quality in it, with the details of traditional architectural ornament reduced to simple shapes, but unlike mid-century modernism, such ornament (albeit more abstract) remains. The design of the buildings, the bright colors and the neon lighting are all part of the neighborhood’s character. This was a fun place for food and drink, and to access the beach (it is Miami Beach, after all). The most notable thing about beaches in Florida is that the water is warm, even into the evening. For someone who has lived near beaches in northern California, actually going into the water like this is a bit of a novelty.

The next day I ventured out on my own using public transit into Miami, primarily using the elevated rail line. I stopped at Calle Ocho (8th Street) and walked its length through the heart of of Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. The street carries the final section of US 41 towards downtown Miami. I think it was most curious to explore it because of my experience a few years earlier in “Big Havana” (i.e., in Cuba). Probably the main visual feature of the street were the frequent rooster statues along the side, including this somewhat “patriotic” specimen:

By the time I had gotten to downtown, where US 41 terminates at US 1., it had begun to rain. I did make it as far as Bayfront Park where I came upon this sculpture.

North of Miami, I-95 enters the Golden Glades Interchange along with Florida’s Turnpike, FL 826, US 441, and FL 9. As one can see in this photo, it is quite a tangled mess.


[Click to enlarge.]

From here, one can continue north on I-95 along the coast, or veer inland towards Orlando on the Turnpike. We will continue north on I-95, which brings us to Cocoa Beach. This is beach where I first experienced Florida’s atlantic coast as a child, the water, the sand, the seashells. Of course, the reason we stayed here was that it is part of Florida’s “Space Coast” and quite close to Cape Canaveral.

The epicenter of the American space program loomed large in the imagination – even though the moon landings were long over, space was still a powerful draw and the vehicles, structures and devices that made space travel possible were quite exciting to see up close and could even mask the fact that so much of this technology was on the edge and quite inaccessible to most of us. In that sense, space has never really entered into our lives the way computer technology (which also started as remote and rarified) has done so. That is a bit sad. Despite all the joking about a certain presidential candidate’s recent “moon base” proposal, I have to admit I wish we were more ambitious again about expanding into space. We never really solved the problem of efficiently getting into orbit, and thus haven’t been able to make it truly route and accessible. There are those working on this problem, on the Space Coast and elsewhere, but that is a topic for another time.

As one continues up the coast towards Daytona Beach, I-95 meets I-4, which heads westward and southward through the center of the state. It crosses Florida’s turnpike just south of Orlando and just next to the Walt Disneyworld Resort. Everyone knows Disneyworld. I had last been there as a teenager. EPCOT center was visually interesting (in terms of the buildings and structures), although it was already quite “retro” when it was completed in the 1980s. And the rides were not particularly compelling. I can only imagine it seems very dated now, but that could add to its visual charm.


[Benjamin D. Esham / Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/us/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons]

It would be interesting to photograph. But perhaps as interesting from a photography perspective is another, now defunct, theme park just down the road. Splendid China, built and sponsored by the Chinese government, was a theme park that featured scale models of famous Chinese landmarks, including among others a miniature Great Wall. The park was never popular and closed in 2003. Since then, it has fallen into disrepair and is a frequent target of vandalism. I only found out about it as a result of a 2009 exhibition in San Francisco that included photographs by Thomas Cheng documenting the decay.


[Thomas Chang. Great Wall. Splendid China Theme Park, Orlando, Florida.
Image courtesy of the CCC online gallery. Click image to enlarge.]

I-4 continues southwest towards Tampa Bay, crossing I-75. I-75 is another major north-south national highway, and south of Tampa it largely follows along Florida’s “left coast.” It does, however, abruptly turn and become and east-west highway at the northern edge of the Everglades. This is the famous Alligator Alley. Along this section of I-75 is the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge, home to the critically endangered Florida panther. There are perhaps around 200 left.

The highway cuts through the panther’s habitat, but the rebuilt version includes passageways underneath for panthers to travel safely. It also facilities the movement of other wildlife. Of course, one does find alligators along the highway.

Returning to the beginning point of our virtual tour, one can travel south on US 1 to the southern tip of mainland Florida, where it becomes the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys. The highway links together a series of bridges and causeways through the keys.


[Averette at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

Some of the structures of this beast were part of an older railroad, and have since been replaced. But old sections remain.


[By Elkman (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]

US 1 eventually comes into Key West. It makes a final right turn onto Whitehead Street, passing by the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. Among the current residents of the home and museum are “Hemingway’s Cats”, who are descended from the author’s cats and many of whom are polydactyl with extra toes in their paws.


[Averette at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge.]

Hemingway was quite fond of these cats, and the museum has become a permanent home for them – we of course hope it stays that way.

Only a few blocks away, US 1 ends. This “end” assembly with Mile 0 marker is probably one of the more photographed ones in existence.


[Photo by CedarBendDrive on flickr. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)]

It probably gets stolen quite a bit, too.

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Fun with Highways: South Carolina

We continue our tour of primary states with a visit to South Carolina. It is an interesting state, and if Google Analytics is to be believed, we have quite a few readers there (South Carolina has been in the top 15 U.S. states for visitors for a while). It is also a place I personally visited in the recent past.

We begin on US 17 as it exits Charleston on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, otherwise known as the “Cooper River Bridge.”

This beautiful bridge opened in 2005, and its clean modern geometry is in stark contrast to the much more traditional architecture of Charleston. I could help but focus on it even when surrounded by the historic buildings of the city’s waterfront and shadows of the Civil War. I think it’s a great addition to the city’s skyline. One of the other things I most remember about Charleston is that it was hot and humid in August, which suited me fine. The heat and humidity was personified by the ubiquitous Spanish moss.

Heading north on US 17 past the bridge, the landscape and texture changes dramatically. Small commercial buildings dot the side of the highway sporadically as we enter the Lowcountry. For a while, the highway is close to the coast – it is really 17 rather than US 1 that is coastal highway in the southeastern U.S. – as it winds between forests on one side and coastal islands and marshes on the other.

As the highway approaches Myrtle Beach, one can stop at Brookgreen Gardens, which has a large collection of sculptures in a landscaped setting. Their focus is on a combination of sculpture by American artists and local flora of the Lowcountry region. Most of the sculptures were figurative, but within this context there were a variety of styles and subjects, including some that combined abstract and modern elements.

The second sculpture (with the three female figures and the squares) is St. James Triad by Richard McDermott Miller. Unfortunately, I don’t have the information for the first sculpture.

In the Monday (January 16) Republican debate, the “I-73″ corridor was mentioned, though I cannot recall amidst all the ranting what the context was. But a quick Internet search suggests that the unbuilt I-73 is supposed to begin at U.S. 17 just north of Myrtle Beach and follow SC 22 and then split off and head northwest, crossing I-95 and then into North Carolina. It looks like there is not only a “future I-73″ in the Palmetto State, but also a “future I-74″. Who knew?

Back in Charleston, one can head west on I-26 towards the interior of the state. We cross I-95, which crosses the state as part of its role as the major north-south highway along the east coast. It does cross Lake Marion on a long causeway, where an older bridge next to the highway serves as a pedestrian walkway and fishing pier. Traveling over the causeway in 2009 heading to Charleston, I assumed this was an inlet rather than an inland lake, and did not realize how far away we were from the ocean.

[Pollinator at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons]

Back on I-26, one eventually gets to Columbia, the capital and largest city. A spur, I-126 takes you from the main freeway into downtown.

[Photo by silicon640c on flickr. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)]

The view above is from Finlay Park overlooking the downtown skyline. It is a relatively recent feature of the city, only about 20 years old. The main library in Columbia also dates back to this time, and features a very modernist design. And only a block away on Main Street, the Columbia Museum of Art, with the sculpture Apollo’s Cascade in its front plaza.

[Photo by huggingthecoast on flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

[Photo by sayednairb on flickr. Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)]

These elements stand in stark contrast to the city’s more traditional architecture, starting with the state capital itself; and also to some of the darker moments of its history. Columbia and the surrounding area were devastated at the end of the Civil War. It does not seem like there are many scars left in the city itself (readers, please correct if I am wrong about this), but just outside the city US 76 are the eerie ruins of Millwood Plantation.

We continue northwest from Columbia on I-26, eventually veering off onto I-385 towards the city of Greenville in the northwest corner of the state. The highways goes all the way into the downtown, where it continues as a “business spur” that ends at US 29. A few blocks south is one of Greenville’s major features, a natural waterfall that runs through the town center:

[By CantoV CantoV Yousef Abdul-Husain (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.]

The region around Greenville and Spartanburg has a reputation as being more conservative even in a conservative state. Admittedly subjective, but probably an effect of the proximity to Bob Jones madrassa University. But Greenville itself does have a progressive community that we hear about through a friend and fellow blogger Daisy Deadhead, and even its own Occupy movement, which you can read about.

And, finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Barnwell, South Carolina. It’s a bit out of the way, due south of Columbia and due west of Charleston, but it is the birthplace of one of my musical heroes, James Brown. I am proud to have what I am sure is the only computer-science doctoral dissertation that cites him as a reference.

Joshua Lutz Meadowlands, and First Thursday SF

Initially, I had not planned to attend First Thursday this month, given all the music shows and such. But at the last minute I decided to venture out on a very rainy evening and found some surprises.

First, I visted Robert Koch Gallery, where I have found several interesting photography exhibitions over the past year. This month they were featuring the Meadowlands series by photographer Joshua Lutz.

The Meadowlands is a sprawling area of marsh and landfill in northern New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City. Growing up in New York, it was a place I passed by countless times on the New Jersey Turnpike, but really did not know. This is an experience that many New Yorkers have had with the Meadowlands, including Lutz. His photographs are part of a decade-long project that features both the natural and artificial landscape of the area (and how the two are irrevocably intertwined) as well as portraits of its residents.


[Photos by Joshua Lutz, provided courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery. Click to enlarge.]

The are the highway structures over the marsh, familiar to the “drive by” experience, but also small-town storefronts and businesses, and portraits of individuals. These people and places are only a few miles from New York City but are a completely different world. And as Lutz points out, it is relatively challenging to get into and out of the Meadowlands from the highways, and easy to get lost inside. (I have my own experience taking wrong turns off the roads near the George Washington Bridge and having a hard time finding a way to get back on). One photograph I picked up on featured an older Indian man sitting among some plants near a truck stop, which was an interesting mix of subject, and seemed at once posed and spontaneous. Some of the places seem quite natural, with streams and trees, but there is always something from the human world that intervenes, a highway in the background, train tracks, the remains of a car, etc. Many of these images are reminiscent of decaying urban (and suburban) landscapes that tend to get my attention when I travel on my own. Lutz has turned his similar interest to other locations beyond the Meadowlands, and the exhibition also featured several photographs from his recent series Am✡Dam. You can see more examples at his or the gallery’s exhibitions page.

As a side note, we realized that we both grew up in the same town just north of New York City at about the same time. Small world indeed!


James Castle. Courtesy of Gallery Paule Anglim

Across the street at Gallery Paule Anglim, I saw their exhibition of the work of James Castle. Castle was born deaf, never learned signing or lip reading, and apparently lived a very quiet and somewhat isolated life in a rural homestead near Boise, Idaho. He created unique works on small found objects and materials, such as bits of paper, matchboxes, and soot. Many of the pieces include both drawings and text, as in Unititled (3 Z $). The content, text and small images reminiscent of icons, feels very contemporary, although the materials and the texture of the work give it a more aged feel.

Jack Fischer Gallery featured Josedgardo Granados’ incredibly intricate drawings. Although one can see many examples on his website, it is really impossible to see the detail except in real life. Even at full scale, one needed a magnifying glass (conveniently provided by the gallery) to see the individual lines of the drawings, which placed natural and sci-fi elements against detailed skies and landscapes.

Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art presented “State of the Union”, a group exhibition in which artists presented images and interpretations on “events of the present and recent past at home and abroad.” Francesca Berrini’s maps of imaginary places, including Tributary and Lazy River, are created from torn maps of existing places – I was able to pick out some locations in North Africa and the Middle East.
Alessandro Busci’s Rosso is an image in red featuring construction cranes over what appears to be a ruined landscape.

The (now closed) exhibition Five Year Plan at Steven Wolf Fine Arts included large representation of a crossword puzzle by Kent and Kevin Young that caught my attention. The clues are missing, which of course makes the puzzle all but impossible to fill out.

Fun with Highways: Springfield Interchange (“The Mixing Bowl”)

Reader Beth @ 990 Square recommended that we check out “The Mixing Bowl” on the Washington D.C. Beltway. Here it is:


[Click to enlarge.]

The Springfield Interchange (as it is more formally known), is in northern Virginia and connects I-95 coming from the south to the beltway (I-495, left to right in the image) and I-395 north to downtown Washington, D.C. Part of the reason this interchange looks as complex as it does is that it was recently rebuilt, and contains the “ghosts” of the old interchange. Consider the following diagram:


[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]

The blue lines are the current interchange, while the red lines represent the pre-construction roadways. As one can see, several of the “red” pieces are still visible, such as the loop and ramps in the upper-right quadrant.

It seems the construction is not completely done, particularly along the beltway where there is still a lot of work going on. Or at least that was the case when I traveled through the interchange late on a Sunday night this past summer and got stuck for several hours.

Florida (Miami Beach)

We emerge from our brief hiatus to resume our campaign-highways series. Tonight we visit Florida, focusing in on Miami Beach:

Miami (which is a separate city from Miami Beach) is the southern terminus of I-95, the big north-south highway on the east coast of the US. It just sort of comes to an end at a ramp onto US 1. Much like the campaign of Rudy Giuliani. Somehow he figured he could cruise down I-95 and hang out in Florida while other actual contests were going on, and still win. I'd like to think his defeat wasn't just this rather dumb strategy, but also the rest of the country getting to know the real Giuliani that we knew in New York, without the 9-11 veneer. The man was a psycho and always needed someone to go after. That included things so integral to New York as pedestrians. Not to mention the racial tensions, the tabloid personal life. His concession speech after losing his first bid for mayor included “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please shut up!” Actually, I thought that was kinda cute. But I doubt the rest of the country would feel that way.

Interestingly, I was last in Miami during the 2004 election. Sitting in a pub and watching W get re-elected was a major downer for myself and my colleagues at the conference I was attending. But there was still plenty to do that well. A day later, we were heading downtown, over the I-395 causeway over to Miami Beach, and into the heart of the South Beach Art Deco district for an evening fun and entertainment.

I can't recall the live music being all that great. But you can't go wrong with drinks and good company. And it's warm at night in November. And the water was warm enough to swim in. How cool is that? Here in California, it gets cold at night. And the water is always cold.

The main drag through Miami Beach is Collins Avenue, part of Florida Highway A1A. A1A actually spans the length of Florida's Atlantic coast, passing through towns and beaches. It would be interesting to compare to our own Highway 1 along the Pacific coast in California. The coasts are so different, not only in climate, but in culture and history and natural terrain. Less of the spectacular cliffs and pristine natural beaches, and more private development. But it's not without its charm, and the water is warm enough to swim. Add it to the growing list of road trips not yet taken.

Bruckner Interchange, again and again

In writing about my trip to New York, where better to begin than with our old friend the Bruckner Interchange:

Most of my trips to New York pass through this interchange, which connects to and from JFK Airport via I-678 (the Whitestone Bridge and Van Wyck Expressway); and north into Westchester via Hutchinson River Parkway. However, this trip involved more encounters that most, and indeed a “complete” tour of the major connections. First, north via Whitestone Bridge via the Hutch on arrival. On departure, we came east along the Bruckner Expressway (I-278) and again to the Whitestone. Our family events involved travelling from Westchester to Long Island, again via the Whitestone Bridge. For the return trip, we took the Throgs Neck Bridge (I-295) and the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-295, I-95).

I almost always use the Whitestone for travel to and from Queens and Long Island, so it had been years since I travelled on the Throgs Neck Bridge. It seems in dire need of maintenance. Big rust spots do not give one a sense of confidence when travelling on a major bridge 150 feet above water. I would expect folks to take maintenance very seriously after the Minneapolis bridge collapse this summer. Especially after I find articles like this

Fun with Highways: CT 34, New Haven, Connecticut

This has been a pretty lousy day. I haven't even felt up to posting here at CatSynth. So when all else fails, a “fun with highways” post is usually in order. Tonight, in a collision of nostalgia and highway enthusiasm, we visit New Haven, home of my alma mater Yale University. In order to get there, one generally uses highway 34, either from the north where it's the surface street Derby Ave. that goes by the Yale Bowl, or from the south as the Richard C. Lee Connector, a short freeway connecting I-95 and I-91 to downtown New Haven.

From I-95 (lower left to center right), 34 is the freeway in the upper left heading towards the downtown. However, the highway ends pretty abruptly after three exits at a parking garage, known as the “Air Rights Garage” (hey, we don't make this stuff up), near Yale-New Haven Hospital.

This aerial shot is from Greg Amy's Connecticut Highways page, where he remarks:

Seems rather odd that four-lane Route 34 ends under a parking garage in downtown New Haven. Did that building get dropped there by a UFO or something?

More detail on the non-extra-terrestrial history of the CT 34 Expressway, which was originally supposed to extend west to the town of Derby, but like many ambitious projects in the 1970s never got built. The following 1979 diagram of the proposed extension can be found on Kurumi's highway site:

There is a section of empty land past the garage that marks the right of way for the never-built extension. One often ended up there after getting lost driving to or from Yale. In a 1999 article, The New Haven Chronicle (quoted via Kurumi and NYCRoads) reminded readers of the emptiness along the unbuilt CT 34 Expressway corridor through New Haven:

The (Oak Street) Connector is by far the greatest scar on the face of New Haven. Between Frontage Road and Legion Avenue, north of the official highway, you can still imagine ghosts of neighborhoods that were demolished to make way for the Connector. The older trees that used to line the long-gone streets are still there, now marching solemnly across the median, indicating the old streets' paths. The old roads, interrupted by the violent swath of the connector, remind us of this urban mistake.

Aesthetic issues aside, this is probably the least of New Haven's problems. When I arrived in 1991, the town had a rather nasty reputation for areas of poverty (particularly in the south and west) and violent crime. I always thought it got a worse rap than it deserved, and things did improve somewhat in the 1990s.

Overall, very little has changed about the town and its geography, demographics and infrastructure, and a lot of things at least looked the same when I returned for a visit in 2005. The notable exceptions included the commercial area on Broadway and York Street near Stiles College, where I lived while at Yale, and the campus itself (which finally seemed to have brought the insides of its buildings up to modern standards).

As for the highway, it doesn't seem like much will happen. A piece of the right-of-way has been sold to Pfizer, makers of Viagra and other popular drugs (I wonder how long it will take before the jokes show up in the comment section), and of course the general trend is remove rather than expand such truncated highways, such as previously discussed Central Freeway in San Francisco. So for now, this one-mile expressway remains as is:


[Greg Amy]

You know, I never did find out what that cool-looking building was…

More information:
nycroads: CT 34 Expressway
Kurumi: Connecticut Route 34
Connecticut: Highways to Nowhere