Posts Tagged ‘primary highways’

Fun with Highways: North Carolina

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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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Primary Fun with Highways: New York

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It seems that all the interest in the primary season has faded, with the outcome all be inevitable. And perhaps our primary highways series could fade as well. But I would be remiss if I did not at least cover New York. It is a different experience to try and observe one’s home state and try and condense that experience into a short road-centric article; and experience familiar places and note those that are left out, as many others have for their own states over the course of this series.

My experience of New York has revolved around New York City, “The City” which still sets my personal standard for what a city is.

Here we see one of New York’s most iconic landmarks, the Empire State Building, from the vantage point of one of the newest landmarks, the High Line. The High Line is a public park built on an abandoned elevated rail line in the formerly industrial west side of Manhattan. It is now an integral part of the Chelsea neighborhood and the area still known as the “Meatpacking District”. I spend quite a bit of time here during my NYC trips to walk the High Line and visit the many art galleries.

And in terms of landmarks there is the Brooklyn Bridge:

In this photo, taken from the very trendy Brooklyn waterfront, we see not only the venerable bridge, but many newer buildings of lower Manhattan. The tall twisty building in the center is a new Gehry-designed residential tower. In the back we see the incomplete but already quite tall One World Trade Center, the main building in the new complex.

It is interesting to see how much the city changes every time I return, especially in comparison to what things were like in the 1980s and early 1990s. The neighborhoods that we are looking at these photos, Chelsea, Lower East Side, DUMBO in Manhattan, were nothing like what they are now. There is a bit of nostalgic charm looking at the old run-down scenes that I remember, but I know this is probably for the best.

Another thing that makes talking about New York different from talking about other cities in this series is that there aren’t many highways to talk about, especially in Manhattan. New Yorkers take the subway. But there are still highways even in some of the denser areas of the city. The FDR Drive along the eastern edge of Manhattan is narrow and winding but offers good views of the East River and the changing skyline of the city as it passes underneath the bridges.


[By Bob Jagendorf from Manalapan, NJ, USA (Downtown) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

On the Brooklyn and Queens side, there is the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, (I-278, the BQE). It zig-zags through some of the densest areas of Brooklyn on a narrow double-decker path among tall buildings. With the contemporary focus on Brooklyn, the highway has also taken on a significant identity for those who live and work there. There are even multiple art and music pieces dedicated to it, such as this piece from Performa 2009.

It is impossible to in an article like this to even scratch the surface of the city’s cultural offerings, both large institutions like the Museum of Modern Art as well as the numerous galleries and small performance spaces. So with limited space, I share with you one of my own performances in New York, at Theater Lab near Union Square in late 2011.

I could not discuss New York City without giving a shout-out to The Bronx, the borough to which I have the most family connection. Though once the “new” section of the city with fancy apartments lining the Grand Concourse, the Bronx fell into deep decline in the 1960s through the 1980s, with scenes of derelict and burnt-out buildings particular in the South Bronx commonplace. Charlotte Street perhaps was the most infamous of all such scenes.


[By User Incantation on en.wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Having only seen the Bronx since the 1970s and 1980s, this is what parts of it looked like. It was just part of the landscape. And I wonder if it influenced my deep interest in the aesthetics of urban decay. But these images never told the whole story of the borough, either at its nadir or during its current rebound. The Bronx has long been home to respected institutions like the Bronx Zoo and Wave Hill, and newer cultural gems like the Bronx Museum. The museum is part of the revitalization of the corridor along the Grand Concourse in the central and south Bronx.


[Wave Hill]


[The Bronx Museum of the Arts.]

The Bronx is bisected by Interstate 87, the Major Deegan Expressway, which travels with length of the borough south to north, passing by Yankee Stadium. As it crosses the city boundary into Westchester County, I-87 becomes the New York State Thruway. The Thruway cuts through the southern part of the county before meeting I-287 and crossing the Hudson River on the Tappan Zee Bridge.


[By Sev! on Flickr [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

This is the Hudson River Valley, known for its scenery and for inspiring the “Hudson River School”. The paintings may look rather trite and dated now, but the scenery that inspired them is still quite spectacular. One of the more dramatic points along the river is the Bear Mountain Bridge, which carries US 6 and US 202 from Westchester on the east side to Orange County and Bear Mountain State Park on the west side, spanning large hills on either side.  It also connects up NY 9D on the east and US 9W and the Palisades Interstate Parkway on the west.


[By Ahodges7; cropped by Beyond My Ken (talk) 19:13, 27 June 2010 (UTC) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

On the west side of the Hudson, one can continue north on the Thruway to Albany, the state capital. However, on the east side, one could take the scenic Taconic Parkway. It begins in suburban Westchester County just north of the city and not far from where I grew up, and then continues north through picturesque rural landscape for the remainder of its route. It is in fact the second-longest continuous road listed in the National Register of Historic Places after Virginia’s Skyline drive.


[By Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand. Cropped and color-corrected by Daniel Case 2009-12-31 prior to upload (Taconic Parkway, New York, 7 Nov. 2009) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

In Albany, we turn onto I-787, which parallels the river through the downtown. This circle-stack interchange connects to US 20 and to the Empire State Plaza.


[By Foofy at en.wikipedia ([1]) [CC-BY-SA-1.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

The Empire State Plaza, conceived and built by then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller, is a huge government-building complex built and arranged in the futuristic international style of the 1960s, a bit like Brasilia. As a result, I am quite fond of it. Nearby along US 20 is the State Capitol building, which is quite different from most others. It is not the Classical style with columns and a large dome or rotunda, but instead looks more like a rich family mansion that one might find in New York in the 19th century. It is a mixture of Roman, Renaissance and Victorian styles all put together.


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

From Albany, one can continue on I-87 north towards the Canadian border. Along the way, the highway passes through the Adirondack Mountains. In the northern part of the Adirondacks, one can leave the interstate for smaller roads like Highway 86 through the mountains to Lake Placid of Winter-Olympics fame, and nearby Whiteface Mountain.


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

Meanwhile, the Thruway continues west from Albany with I-90, through many of the other cities that dot western New York, such as Syracuse and Rochester, passing north of the Finger Lakes. The longest is Cayuga Lake. On the south end is the town of Ithaca, home of Cornell University whose campus is on a hillside overlooking the lake, and whose official school song references the lake. Near the northern end of the lake is Seneca Falls, a famous location in the history of women’s rights in the United States. From Seneca Falls, we can also follow the Erie Canal westward. The canal, which was an important transportation route in the nineteenth century, runs largely parallel to the present-day Thruway. It is known for its complex series of locks, such as these at the appropriately named town of Lockport.


[By Leonard G. at en.wikipedia [see page for license], from Wikimedia Commons]

The Erie Canal and the Thruway continue westward to the city of Buffalo. We leave the main Thruway and continue on I-190 towards the downtown on the shore of Lake Erie. It is the second largest city in New York State, but I have yet to visit it. It’s location on the edge of the Great Lakes and its industrial past make it seem much closer to the cities of the midwest, such as Cleveland and Detroit, than to the rest of New York. Indeed, one of the city’s landmarks, Buffalo Central Terminal reminds me a bit of Michigan Central Station in Detroit: a once grand art-deco station that has been abandoned and fallen into disrepair.

And yes, Buffalo wings do come from here.

We can head north from Buffalo on I-190 to Niagara Falls.


[By Victor Ip (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

This image contains the smaller American falls, with the larger Horseshoe falls off frame. Next to the falls is the Rainbow Bridge, which connects to Canada, and concludes our trip to New York. Even as I finish writing this, I think of all the comments I could write about what was missed in this brief trip. But I know I will be writing about New York again in the future.

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Fun with Highways: Wisconsin

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Our “Primary Highways” series continues apace with the state of Wisconsin. We begin with the state capital, Madison, which I wrote about during last year’s protests. We begin with a image of those protests. It looks very cold there, but also quite exciting. Some of us watched these protests in the hope that it would be the start of a resurgent progressive movement.


[Photos by Lost Albatross (Emily Mills) on flickr. Shared under Creative Commons license.]

In the eastern section of the capital, we encounter aptly named “Badger Interchange”, in which no fewer than three major interstates converge, I-90, I-94 and I-39. The interchange also includes state highway 30, a short freeway that connects to downtown Madison.

Highway 30 ends at US 151, which traverses the isthmus that holds downtown Madison and separates lakes Mendota and Monona. I don’t know of too many other cities concentrated on an isthmus like that. Certainly, the location between the two lakes makes for interesting views and architectural opportunities. Consider this view from Lake Monona featuring the State Capitol building book-ended symmetrically by large buildings and standing behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace.


[By Emery (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

The city is also hope to the University of Wisconsin, and an arts and music scene. It might be a good place to play as part of that mythical “upper Midwest tour” that I keep saying that I want to do.

It of course did not take long for us to encounter a building by Frank Lloyd Wright, a native of Wisconsin. His summer home and studio, Taliesin, is in Spring Green, west of Madison. We take US 14 west from the capital through a green hilly landscape – it’s not hard to see why this might been inspiring for Wright’s prairie style architecture, with its use of horizontal lines and low angles that reflect the expanse of the landscape. Taliesin Preservation, Inc. now occupies the estate and is dedicated to the architect’s legacy.


[By Marykeiran at en.wikipedia [GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

If we head north from Madison along I-39 to its end near the city of Wausau, we can see several examples of Prairie School architecture, including additional Wright houses. This one has a more distinctly modern feel than Taliesin, with more emphasis on straight lines.


[By Originally uploaded by Americasroof (Transferred by Arch2all) (Originally uploaded on en.wikipedia) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

We return to Madison again, and this time stay with I-90/I-94 westward after they split from I-39. The highway goes by Wisconsin Dells, which looks like a major tourist trap. But the name actually comes from the interesting sandstone rock formations along the Wisconsin River. Skip the amusement parks and head to the river.


[Dells of the Wisconsin River taken in May of 2002 by Amadeust]

These formations which are vaguely reminiscent of the higher-elevation features in the southwest, were supposedly cut during catastrophic flooding as an ancient lake drained. The wide river and lush green vegetation, however, make it quite a different environment.

It was along I-90/I-94 that I also had a chance to sample Wisconsin’s famous dairy products in its basic form: milk out of a carton at a truck stop. I was skeptical that it would really be that much different, but I have to admit that the chocolate milk was better than anything I had in college (or public school before that). My time on that trip was limited, so I didn’t have a chance to explore the real product I was interested in: cheese. Of course, one can get Wisconsin cheese here in California, and I can live vicariously through blogs like Cheese Underground until I get a chance to go back.

Next, we head east from Madison on I-94 towards the state’s largest city, Milwaukee. As we approach the city, we pass through the Zoo Interchange, one of the states oldest and busiest. It currently serves as the junction of I-94 with I-894, the “Zoo Freeway” and US 45. I like the name “Zoo Freeway”. Of course, the name of both the freeway and interchange derives from proximity to the Milwaukee County Zoological Gardens.

I-94 continues towards downtown, passing through another large interchange, the Marquette Interchange with I-794, I-43, and US 41. It does look like a complicated tangle.

Heading north on I-43 from the interchange, we exit at WI 145 to see the former Pabst Brewery Complex, a shrine to contemporary hipsterdom.


[Taken by Jeramey Jannene, on September 8th, 2005 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (CC BY 2.5)]

The complex closed in 1997. I have to admit, the derelict buildings of the brewery appeal to me at least as much the beer would have. Another great place to photograph, and this one is the National Register of Historic Places so it can’t be torn down (at least, I don’t think it can). Sections have in fact been reopened recently as a “Best Place” and there is a major redevelopment project planned for the entire complex. It is certainly possible to have modern, functioning business inside of a post-industrial shell, so I hope this place does not lose its charm in the development process. I would love to hear from people in Milwaukee about what is happening here.

Just to the east, we approach the downtown area and the Milwaukee River. The urban riverfront has pedestrian access via the Riverwalk.


[Image from Wikipedia. Licence:http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/]

This looks like a great way to see the city and its connection to the river, with buildings coming right up to its edge. The walk continues is segments north and south, including into the historic Third Ward with its older buildings, wedged between the river and I-794 (the Lake Freeway). We can travel along the lake on I-794, and then continue north on city streets back into the downtown. Here we can see the spectacular modernist wing of the Milwaukee Art Museum (designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava) jutting out onto Lake Michigan.


[By en:User:Cburnett (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Milwaukee’s traditional architecture is more of the decorative style we see from American cities that grew in the early 20th Century, but also reflects the city’s German heritage (along with the beer).


[By Illwauk at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-2.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

From Milwaukee, we head north back into the state on US 41 towards Lake Winnebago, the state’s largest inland lake and the only lake in the U.S. named after a recreational vehicle. Along the lake, we pass the well-known towns of Fond du Lac and Oshkosh. This sunset view is looking from the east side of the lake towards Oshkosh, which is hidden below the setting sun.


[By Royalbroil at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-2.5], from Wikimedia Commons]

US 41 passes the town crossing over Lake Butte des Morts (named for a nearby Native American burial ground) and the Fox River, continuing around Lake Winnebago and heading northward towards Green Bay.

There is one primary reason most of us are familiar with Green Bay: it is home of the successful NFL team, the Green Bay Packers, and the only major team is non-profit and community owned. And quite successful, too. Their fans wear cheese-shaped hats. You can see the approach into downtown Green Bay on US 41 via this video:

We turn south onto I-43 (which ends in Green Bay) over the mouth of the Fox River and come to the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, a large urban nature preserve. It is an opportunity for people in the city and beyond to see wildlife up close, in addition to being a center for the rehabilitation of local wildlife. Of course, we must feature one of the wild cats.


[Photo by tyle r on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

US 41 continues north along the western side of the Bay of Green Bay (as distinguished from the city of Green Bay), passing by more natural landscape before entering into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Wisconsin does not have much shoreline on Lake Superior compared to its neighbors – in particular, Michigan extends quite a bit westward along the south shore of the lake, but it does have the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. We can get there from Michigan on US 2, passing along the edge of Chequamegon Bay before turning north onto WI 13 along the waters edge to the Apostle Islands. In addition to wildlife and great views of Lake Superior, the islands have unusual “sea caves”, such as these at the edge of Sand Island.


[By Jordan Green JWGreen (en:Image:Apostles sandisland.jpg) [GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

In some ways they resemble the Dells that we saw much earlier in this article. We conclude with this lighthouse on the same island, one of several here that guide ships along this edge of the Lake Superior.

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Fun with Highways: Washington, DC and Maryland

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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.

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Fun with Highways: Louisiana

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Our “primary highways” series continues with a visit to Louisiana. It combines my own visit to New Orleans with a “virtual visit” through other parts of the state.

We start in New Orleans, which I visited in November of 2006, during the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Coming in from the airport on I-10 we approached the downtown. The highway comes close to the Superdome and the downtown buildings. A large interchange connects to Business US 90, which heads over the Mississippi River via the Crescent City Connection. It was good introduction.

I stayed in the Garden District along St. Charles Avenue. The streetcars which had traditionally run along the St. Charles were still out of service, so I made my way between my home base and Tulane University by walking and enjoying the warm weather. To get downtown, I either walked or used whatever form of transportation I could access. I of course visited the French Quarter, and sampled the food and drink.

But it was also fun to wander the smaller streets, and find odd stores and corners. An occult store, where I found black-cat fur for good luck. An old book store with a resident cat as a host. And an artist selling these cat-themed jazz pictures (does one sense a theme here?).

Being interested in art, I headed up Canal Street on a still function streetcar line to the city park and the New Orleans Museum of Art. The park had suffered extensive damage from which it was still recovering, but the museum had weathered the storm quite well and reopened after a few months.

I spent most of my time in the city sculpture garden adjacent to the museum, which included several modernist works.

On the trip back along Canal Street, I paid closer attention to the buildings along the road. Particularly south of the park but north of the I-10 overpass, there was quite a bit of damage visible, with boarded up houses and entire bulldozed lots. Indeed, throughout the trip is impossible not to see the scars of Katrina.

Just east of the French Quarter was the Fauborg Marigny district. It was a bit funkier, and in retrospect and had that feel I enjoy in many neighborhoods of New York and San Francisco (think Lower East Side, the Mission, etc.). It was here that I sought out opportunities to hear local music. At The Spotted Cat I heard quite a few musicians both in traditional jazz idioms and other styles – this seemed to be music for a local crowd rather than for tourists, which is what I was looking for. And it had a cozy, dark, feel, with quirky lighting and artwork.

I did set aside some time to see what had become of the Lower Ninth Ward. In a rented car, I headed east on Claiborne Avenue (LA Highway 39) and crossed over the canal into the district.

I had of course followed the news and seen many images of the Lower Ninth Ward, but it’s another thing entirely to see it in person. And it’s not just one example, it kept going in all directions. And there were very few people around. It was eerily quiet, just me, the ruined buildings and the occasional car passing by. But the Ninth Ward’s history goes back far earlier than Hurricane Katrina, as it was the site were a certain Homer Plessey was removed from a train for sitting in a white car, leading to the infamous Supreme Court case Plessey v. Ferguson.

After the Lower Ninth Ward, I headed back across the canal and north to the edge of Lake Ponchartrain. The lake is huge, one can’t really see across it, especially on an overcast day. The waves and wind made me think of the windy Pacific coast of California.

Here, too, there were signs of what happened to the city, all the more ominous with the gathering storm clouds.

I did not actually leave New Orleans on that particular trip. If I had, I could have headed north over Lake Pontchartrain, which is no small feat. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is 23.83 miles long, and is ctonsidered the longest bridge over water in the world. (Though there is some dispute of the record the the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in China.)

One can also cross the lake via I-10 on the Twin Span Bridge. At a mere 5.4 miles, the Twin Spans are dwarfed by the causeway, but it is still a respectable length. The original bridges were heavily damaged in Hurricane Katrina and have been replaced with newer spans. The lake itself tapers off to the east towards The Regolets, which connect the lake to the Gulf of Mexico. The Regolets pass helps regulate the flow of salt water and fresh water into and out of the lake. As Daily Kos member Crashing Vor points out, it “is one of the rare estuarial passes where, at the right time of day, you can fish for salt water species out of one side of the boat and fresh water from the other.”


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

It is hard to escape from the regions food while exploring its geography. And in truth, why would one want to.

The eastern edge of New Orleans and Lake Ponchartrain is also home to NASA’ Michoud Assembly Facility, where many of the rocket and spacecraft engines have been built, including the first stage of the Apollo Saturn V rocket, and the external fuel tank of the Space Shuttle.


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

Continuing on I-10 and US 90 east, we could head to Mississippi where we began our article on that state. But instead, we return to New Orleans and the banks of the Mississippi River.


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

The river, too, is quite wide an impressive as it passes by the Crescent City – the nickname in fact comes from the bend in river as it passes by the city. We cross the river on the Crescent City Connection to the “west bank”, which is actually south here. We continue on US 90 Business and turn south onto LA 23 towards the town of Belle Chase. LA 23 crosses the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway via an old bridge and tunnel pair, and then hugs the west bank of the Mississippi to the mouth of the river.

The geography of southeast Louisiana is strongly shaped by the interaction of the river and the Gulf of Mexco. This is certainly true of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain, but it is most dramatic where the river literally pushes into the gulf. The small fractal-like slivers of land are really just a boundary between the two overlapping bodies of water.

LA 23 ends at the town of Venice, which is the last town accessible by standard automobile. The town really is just wedged on one of these fibrous tendrils of land up against the river. Of course, the remainder of the delta is accessible by boat, including the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and the Pass A Loutre State Wildlife Management Area. The natural environment of the delta, as well as towns such as Venice, have been hit twice in the last decade, first with Hurricane Katrina and then with the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010.

New Orleans continues to function as the hub for this particular virtual exploration. We next head west on I-10 and turn south onto I-310, which crosses the Mississippi on the cable-styled Hale Boggs Bridge.


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

We then head north (back on the east bank of the Mississipp) via US 61 to the town of Laplace. I was disappointed to find out this was not named for the Laplace transform in mathematics and signal processing, but on the plus side it is known as the “andouille capital of the world”. And we would be remiss if we did not stop here to sample the famous and tasty sausage.

We continue on I-10 past a junction I-12, which covers the northern side of Lake Pontchartrain, and arrive in the capital Baton Rouge.


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

The Louisiana capitol building is quite distinctive. Rather than the typical Greek-inspired dome and columns, it is an Art Deco skyscraper. It in fact looks quite a bit like City Hall in Los Angeles. This capitol building was the “pride and joy” of Governor Huey Long. It is also where he ultimately met his demise in this hallway.


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

We then cross the Mississippi again and turn south on Louisiana State Highway 1. At first, it follows the west bank of the river, but then heads southward, beginning a long parallel with LA 308 on opposite banks of Bayou Lafourche. We pass the town of Belle Rose, which I had written about in a post last year in an art-damage moment because it contained Highway 998 and fit well with a poem I had written called “998″. Continuing on LA 1 along the bayou, we come to the town of Thibodaux.


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

As in New Orleans, the cemeteries are above ground here as well.

South of Thibodaux, we turn west on US 90. The is a major highway and being upgraded to interstate standards, passing by the Bayou Teche National Wildlife Refuge as well as several towns. We turn south onto LA 329 to Avery Island. This actually is not an island at all, but it is a salt mound that rises in an oddly circular fashion from the flat landscape. It is most known for being the home of Tabasco hot sauce. We at CatSynth are of course fans of all things hot and spicy, and so visiting this factory and a tasting session would be in order.



[Photos courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

We continue on US 90, which passes the towns of New Iberia and St Martinsville, on the Bayou Teche.


[Photo courtesy of Crashing Vor on Daily Kos]

We then come to the city of Lafayette, where we cross I-10 and continue northward on I-49. The area along the highway was part of an ancient flow of the Mississippi that apparently was wider and further west than it is today. Heading northward, the wet environment of southern Louisiana gives way to a drier landscape. Via LA 1 we come to city of Natchitoches, which has the feel of an older historic town.


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

We continue north on I-49 to its end at I-20 near Shreveport, the third-largest city in the state. The bypass highway I-220 spans nearby Cross Lake on a graceful modern bridge. The view from below with the arches is an interesting optical effect.

These dogs in a kayak are also quite admiring of the I-220 bridge.

And we end back along the Mississippi River with this video tribute.

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Fun with Highways: Illinois

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Our primary highways series continues today with a visit to the state of Illinois.

Throughout this series, I have been drawn to many of the large cities of the Midwest and Great Lakes. And none of these looms larger than Chicago. And none is taller. Chicago is home to the tallest building in the United States, the Sears Tower (officially, it is now called the Willis Tower but I doubt too many people call it that).

Downtown Chicago is a true vertical city, with not just a few tall buildings, but the densely packed skyscrapers that form deep canyons, much like Manhattan. But the presence of the Chicago River cutting a channel through the middle of downtown is quite unique. The buildings seem to come up to the water’s edge.


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

The Chicago River connects to Lake Michigan, but thanks to the miracles of human engineering, it actually flows in the other direction away from the lake (UPDATE: thanks to an astute reader on DailyKos for the correction!). US 41, Lake Shore Drive crosses at the mouth of the river in this unusual double-decker drawbridge. (The Aon Center is the tall building in the background. It reminds me a bit of something else.)

US 41 / Lake Shore Drive continues north and south of bridge as a scenic expressway with city buildings to one side and beaches along the lake to the other. The south end of the expressway is in the Hyde Park neighborhood, home of a certain Barack Obama.

Back in downtown, we find the complicated Circle Interchange, where I-90 and I-94 intersect with I-290 and the Congress Parkway. This interchange, which is often considered one of the worst bottlenecks in the country, connects the downtown to the lakefront and to the suburbs south and west of the city.


[By Stratosphere (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

If we take I-290 west from this geometric oddity of an interchange, we come to the suburb of Oak Park. It was here that Frank Lloyd Wright began his storied architectural career. His home and studio in the town is a landmark, and there are numerous early examples of his prairie-style houses. Looking at his home and studio, one can see the elements that would be later refined in prairie style.

There is so much in Chicago I could go on about with regards to art, architecture, music and culture, but space is limited. I do have to give a shout-out to the Art Institute of Chicago, however. It’s collection is large and encyclopedic, but they do have sections that focus on both American and contemporary art. I would particularly like to see the new modern wing, both the building and the art contained within. For music, I invite readers to share the ideas and suggestions of what to explore in the city.

Back at the Circle Interchange, we head south on I-90/I-94, the Dan Ryan Expressway., one of the widest and busiest highways in the country. It has wide sections for both local and express lines, and a line of Chicago’s “L” runs down the center. I-90 veers off onto the Chicago Skyway, but I-94 continues south (though designated as “east”) on the Dan Ryan Expressway until the junction with I-57.


[By Zol87 from Chicago, Illinois, USA (http://www.flickr.com/photos/zol87/2721964632/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

Continuing south on I-57, we pass by our friend I-80 in the southern suburbs of Chicago and eventually come to Champaign and Urbana after crossing I-74 – it does seem that Illinois has a lot of interstate highways. This cities are home to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, the flagship campus of the University of Illinois. It hosts the NCSA (The National Center for Supercomputing Applications) that created the first graphical web browser Mosaic.


[By Ragib Hasan (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

It’s hard to imagine life without this technology now, it is ubiquitous and integrated into so much of information, communication and entertainment. Of course, without it you would not reading this article, and I would probably not be writing it. Earlier in its history, the University was home to ILLIAC. At the time it was activated in 1952, it was the largest computer built and owned by an American university. This huge vacuum-tube based machine had 5 kilobytes of main memory and 64k of drum memory. For perspective, consider how much more memory and computation is in an iPhone now.

Before we overdose on computer history, we exit Champaign-Urbana on I-72 heading westward. (Did we mention that Illinois has a lot of interstate highways?). This view along the highway suggests just how flat the landscape is in this region, with the road completely straight.


[By Dual Freq (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons]

Continuing on I-72, we come to Springfield, the state capital.


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

Springfield is steeped in the history and mythology of Lincoln, probably more than any other city in the state. He lived there for 24 years and launched his political career there. And his final resting place, Lincoln’s Tomb is in Springfield.


[Lincoln's Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois, 2006. Robert Lawton (self), via Wikimedia Commons.]

We also find another well-known Frank Lloyd Wright home in Springfield, the Dana-Thomas House. It has rather large and often considered a “prairie mansion”. It does contain the horizontal forms and low angular ceilings characteristic of prairie style, but the most notable features that distinguish are the windows.

We head south from Springfield on I-55, on another incredibly straight stretch of highway through very flat landscape. For those who have lived among hills our entire lives, these flat plains are a novel experience. It’s not only the land, but also the sky.


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

There is a significant break in the flat landscape of western Illinois along the Illinois River. Illinois Route 100 runs along the the west bank of the river amidst trees and bluffs. It then crosses a bridge and continues along the east side until the Illinois River meets the Mississippi River.

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

IL-100 continues along the Mississippi as part of the the Great River Road. As one can see, the landscape here is no longer flat.


[By Kbh3rd (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The Great River Road continues past the end of IL-100 and into the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. As the landscape along the river becomes more suburban and then urban in St. Clair county, the road bounces around many other designations, including I-70 in East St. Louis. From here we can continue across the Mississippi to St. Louis itself, or continue southward on the Great River Road as IL-3.

We opt for the latter, passing through towns with Egyptian sounding names until we come to Cairo, at the southern tip of the state, where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet. We meet I-57 again and then continue into the town itself on US 51. Cairo (pronounced KAY-RO) was once a significant center of trade along the rivers. But it has been in a long decline, and now has a population of about 2,800. Indeed, some views of the town make it look nearly abandoned.


[Photo by gobucks2 on flickr. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

The photo almost looks like something from Doug Rickard’s series. It’s sad, but also quite interesting in a way. It’s a long way between Chicago and Cairo, but it would be great to see and photograph both of them in one big trip across the state.

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Fun with Highways: Puerto Rico

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This installment in our “Primary Highways” series takes us to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is not a state, but it is part of the United States. Dealing with that concept is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, we choose to visit like we would any state in the U.S.

We begin in the capital, San Juan. Specifically, in the old city of San Juan, which was started on a small island just off the main island of the territory. The narrow alleys and colorful buildings are a common feature of colonial cities in the Caribbean, and indeed these images remind me a bit of Havana.

The narrow streets and buildings seem ideal for walking around and observing architectural details. And with the small size of district, the bay and ocean are part of its visuals. Just to the north of the old city, facing the ocean, is Fort San Felipe del Morro.

[By Mtmdfan at en.wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

At the eastern edge of Old San Juan, two of the streets merge for the start of PR 25, the Avenida Juan Ponce de Leon, which continues east past the Capitol building of Puerto Rico. PR 25 and PR 1 leave the island of San Juan via a pair of causeways to the main island, where PR 1 becomes a major freeway. As it curves around the central city, we observe a very different kind of architecture. The modernist curving Puerto Rico Convention Center has won numerous awards.


[Photo by chente922 on flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

We exit the city east on PR 26, which becomes PR 66 in the city of Carolina. And after the freeway ends we continue on PR 3. Eventually we turn south onto PR 191, which is the goal of this side trip from San Juan. This small highway winds its way upward into the El Yunque Rainforest. It is the only true tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System


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

While I have been more drawn to the desert over the years, the textures, lush colors and imagined warm humid climate pique my interest. El Yunque has unusual vegetation even for a tropical forest (including the unique “dwarf forest”), waterfalls, and the ever popular frogs known as the coquí.


[By United States Department of Agriculture (en.wiki) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]


[Photo by Jmoliver. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

One the sides of one of the peaks is Yokahu Tower.


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

The shape gives it an appearance of an old castle (or perhaps a chess piece), and cracked paint set against the tropical vegetation adds an air curiosity. But it’s main function is as an observation tower, providing spectacular views of the hills and forest.

Returning to San Juan, we can head west on PR 2 along the coast to Arecibo, home of the Arecibo Observatory.

The observatory conducts radio astronomy and has attracted attention for its use int he SETI@Home project for crowd sourcing of potential intelligent signals from space. It has also been involved in many scientific discoveries related to our Solar System, and two exotic astronomical objects like pulsars and neutron stars. It has struggled with funding in recent years (sadly, certain groups target both public funding and all things scientific at the same time), but it is still operating.

Back in San Juan, we head southward through the center of the island on PR 52. This is a busy toll expressway, but outside the cities it stretches across hilly countryside in the interior of the island. As we approach the southern coast, we can stop at one of Puerto Rico’s few highway rest stops and see both human-made and natural landmarks, the Monumento al Jíbaro Puertorriqueño and Las Tetas De Cayey.


[By Roca Ruiz (http://www.flickr.com/photos/roca-ruiz/5358901411/) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

PR 52 ends in the city of Ponce on the southern coast. The city is known on the island as a major center for the arts, and ishome to many museums including Museo de Arte de Ponce.


[By Oquendo on Flickr (appears to be Jose Oquendo here.) (Flickr.) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The building itself is a work of art, built in the 1960s and designed by architect Edward Durell Stone. Their primary collection is traditional European Art – something that sounds at first description a bit jarring for the building. But their signature piece is more modern, the 25-foot Pinceladas al vuelo (Brushstrokes in Flight) by Roy Lichtenstein.

With on in mind, we continue west from Ponce on PR 2 – this is the same PR 2 we encountered in San Juan, as it traces the coast on the western half of the island – and stop at the ruins of the CORCO refinery.


[Photo by cavenaghi9 on Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Like so many other places in this series, this seems like a great place to do some photography work. The pipes and columns are rusting and peeling, but they still stand there. I don’t know whether it is quiet – there is still some industrial activity in the area – but it is what I imagine.

It’s a no-brainer that a tropical island like Puerto Rico would have beaches. But the southwest corner of the island apparently has some of the most scenic and less populated beaches – which is what I would prefer if I was there. We exit PR 2 onto PR 116 past the town of Guánica, where we come to Las Paldas and La Jungla beaches. We conclude with this video of quiet beaches on Guánica Bay.

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Fun with Highways: Mississippi and Alabama

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In this installment of our “primary highways” series, we look at the states of Mississippi and Alabama. In some ways, this is a particularly challenging edition, as I have never personally visited either of the states – in fact they are among only five remaining states I have yet to visit (Kansas, which held its causes on Saturday, is another of the five).  So we will do the best we can.

I did come close to visiting Mississippi in 2006. For one day while I was in New Orleans, I had rented a car to reach places outside the public transportation grid that was still limited after Hurricane Katrina, including the Lower Ninth Ward. I was tempted to get back on I-10 and head east to Mississippi, just to be able to say I was there. But in the end I decided against it. Had I continued, I would have crossed into Mississippi in a sparsely populated area along the Pearl River. To the north of I-10 is the John C Stennis Space Center, where NASA has tested engines for many of our legendary space vehicles including the Apollo Saturn V and the Space Shuttle.

Given that it is an engine test facility, it’s not surprising there isn’t much of a permanent population in the area. Several communities were removed when it was built, and supposedly a few remnants of the communities, particularly Gaineville, still exist. Indeed, off of Highway 607, the “Shuttle Parkway”, is Lower Gainesville Road, which heads past various space-center complexes towards the Pearl River and ends at what could be the remains of the town.

Heading southward on 607 from I-10, we eventually reach US 90, which continues along the Mississippi coast through the towns of Waveland and Bay St Louis, which were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Perhaps the most dramatic example was the bridge carrying US 90 over St. Louis Bay, which was completely destroyed.

It has since been replaced by a new bridge, a graceful flowing structure that has won the American Transportation Award and became a symbol for the region.


[By Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

US 90 continues along the coast as Beach Boulevard towards the cities of Gulfport and Biloxi. Biloxi is a big resort and casino town on the coast, but it, too, was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Although it sounds like there is still much rebuilding to be done, many of the city’s casinos have since reopened and landmarks restored including the iconic Biloxi Lighthouse and the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum Of Art that was designed by Frank Gehry. The Ohr-O’Keefe was under construction when Katrina hit and was severely damaged. It ultimately opened in 2010.


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

South of nearby Gulfport is Cat Island. I thought maybe it had something in common with the famous Cat Island off the coast of Japan, but no such luck. As far as I can tell, there are no cats there, and the name itself was a mistake.

From the southeast corner of the state, we jump to the northwest corner. Specifically, we are going to a junction outside of Clarksdale where US 61 and US 49 meet. This crossroads is considered by many “the crossroads”, where according to legend blues musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for his musical gifts.


[By Joe Mazzola [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons[]

Legend or not, Clarksdale has a particular association with the blues, and is home to the Delta Blues Museum.

US 49 has long been a major highway traversing the state diagonally. From Clarksdale, it winds its way through the Mississippi Delta, even splitting into separate east and west parts, before leaving the delta and approaching the capital and largest city, Jackson. On the northwest approach to the capital, US 49 carries the name Medgar Evers Boulevard in honor of the civil rights leader who was assassinated in Jackson in 1963. The highway then bypasses the downtown with I-220 and I-20 before continuing to Hattiesburg, home of Southern Mississippi University.

In Hattiesburg we meet I-59. The drive along I-59 and US 11 to the town of Laurel was recommended to me (actually, the drive south from Laurel to Mississippi State University). In Laurel, I-59 had an unusual S-curve that rivaled Dead Man’s curve in Cleveland due to railroad overpasses, but it has supposedly been reconstructed. I-59 continues north to Meridian, where it joins with I-20.

Briefly leaving the freeway in Meridian, one can take Highway 19 north to the town of Philadelphia, made infamous for the death of three civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. The murders took place off of Highway 19, and it was presumably the route they took to Neshoba County.


I-59 and I-20 continue as a single route into Alabama, all the way to Birmingham. It is largest city in either of the states in this article, and is crisscrossed by several major highways. A large interchange between I-59/I-20 and I-65 just west of downtown is known as Malfunction Junction because of the frequent (and unfortunately, sometimes deadly) accidents that happen there.


[Click to enlarge.]

Interestingly, it does not look that complex from a map view, especially when compared to a nearby junction of I-59/I-20 and US 31/US 280. While it does look more complex, it does afford a good view of the city skyline when approaching from the south.

Birmingham has a strong industrial past, especially in iron and steel. Indeed, the Sloss Furnace in the city is one of the few industrial sites preserved as a National Historic Landmark.


[Timjarrett at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

Visitors can wander and enjoy the site, which features defunct but preserved industrial buildings and machinery. This would be a fantastic place to photograph! I could also see it as a musically inspiring location, for pieces based on metallic resonances. The center does hold concerts, and has a highly regarded program in metal arts. (I wonder if they have arts residencies?)

As has happened with many other industrial cities that experienced long declines, downtown Birmingham appears to rebounding as a residential and cultural center, with lofts and galleries. There is also the restored Alabama Theatre which functions as a performing arts center while retaining many of its movie-palace features, most notably its original Wurlitzer Organ. (It should be noted this is the second Wurlitzer to be featured in this year’s “primary highways” series.)

South of Birmingham is the town of Selma, which has a storied place in the Civil Rights Movement. A voting rights movement in the town ultimately grew into the Selma to Montgomery Marches in 1965. The marches took place on US Highway 80 heading east from Selma and crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The first march was met by state troopers and the marchers were brutally assaulted. Images “Bloody Sunday” were broadcast nationwide, shocking many and galvanizing support among some for the civil rights movement. Two more marches along the same route were organized. The third march passed the bridge and continued all the way east on Highway 80 to Montgomery. The march then veered north onto the Mobile Highway, parallel to present day I-65, and then along city streets to the state capitol. The entire route is now marked as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Route.

From the state capital, one can travel south on I-65 to Mobile and back to the Gulf Coast, where we began. We switch on to I-165 which enters the downtown and becomes Water Street. Heading further south, we come back to I-10, which crosses Mobile Bay on a long causeway. From the causeway, we can look back at the city at sunset.

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

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Fun with Highways: Super Tuesday, Part 2 – Ohio

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Today we devote the second of our “Super Tuesday” Fun with Highways articles to the state of Ohio. Although the state is often known for its agricultural and industrial heritage, we choose to focus on its major urban centers here. Although not originally intended as such, it could be called “fun with bridges.”

We begin near Cleveland, the state’s largest metropolitan area. I-90 comes in from the east along the shore of Lake Erie. At “Dead Man’s Curve”, the highway makes an abrupt and rather angular turn to the south to become the Innerbelt Freeway along the edge of downtown.


[Burtcbl at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons]

The above view shows old and new aspects of the city’s skyline. The Terminal Tower is the classic deco skyscraper from the early 20th century is visible in the distance. The highly geometric and sleek Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a contrast along the waterfront. In between, the Key Tower, the tallest in Ohio, combines elements of both.

I-90 intersects with the northern terminus of I-77 at a rather complicated interchange before continuing across the Cuyahoga River on the “Innerbelt Bridge.”


[Photo by GandZ on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

The bridge crossings over the Cuyahoga in Cleveland are numerous, and perhaps define the city as much as the skyline, if not more. Even the image above showing the Innerbelt Bridge carrying I-90, we see several others. There is a low-lying rail bridge crossing underneath at an angle. It is one of many low bridges that can be raised for water traffic on the river. I believe this one is no longer in use and is permanently in the raised position.

The most iconic of the many crossings is the Detroit-Superior Bridge carrying US 6 and US 20 across the river into downtown. The name seems a little odd, as we’re not in Detroit and Cleveland is on Lake Erie rather than Lake Superior. But it connects Detroit Avenue with West Superior Avenue and thus the name is quite appropriate. It rises high above the river and is quite picturesque against the downtown skyline.


[Burtcbl at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], from Wikimedia Commons]

Looking towards the lake from this bridge, one sees how closely packed the crossings are, and the diversity of shape, height, function, and level of disuse. In the picture below, we see the blue bridge carrying a major freeway, State Highway 2, beyond that a rail bridge, and in the front the ruins of the older Detroit Avenue viaduct.


[By Craig Hatfield [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The viaduct, like the unused rail bridge shown above, are quite interesting as artistic subjects, and even qualify as “hyperart” as described in conceptual artist Akasegawa Genpei in his book Hyperart: Thomasson (you can find out more about it here). Thus, it should not be surprising that I would very much like to visit this part of the city for artistic inspiration, to explore the bridges both in use and abandoned, as well as other places along in this industrial riverfront section of the city known as the Flats.


[Photo by Chris Hamby on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

Cleveland has actually long served as a magnet for artists interested in urban and industrial landscape, so this is nothing new. Indeed, the city has seen the same cycle of others where rundown or neglected neighborhoods attract artists in search of low rent and inspiration, and then the costs of living rise. But it still seems to have much to offer and I hope to get the chance to visit soon.

We depart Cleveland continuing on I-90, and then switch onto I-71 to journey diagonally across the length and breadth of the state. It winds through the suburbs, crossing many other highways before intersecting our friend I-80, which runs across the state as the Ohio Turnpike. The Ohio Turnpike is familiar from numerous cross-country trips, with the rolling hills and suburbs giving way to a much straighter road over flat terrain and farmland as one heads west. But in this instance, we continue south on I-71 towards Columbus, the state’s capital and largest city.


[Click image to enlarge.]

Columbus is in the middle of the state, and without much to get in the way it has developed the “standard” set of ring roads we see in many cities around the world: an outer beltway (in this case, I-270) and an inner belt around the downtown (a combination of I-70, I-71, I-670 and State Highway 315).


[Photo created by Alexander Smith on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Looking at the Ohio State House, it initially looks like something is missing: the dome that is ubiquitous on so many seats of government. It appears as if it has been shaved off. In actuality, this is part of the design, an older Greek Revival design that predates the current Capitol dome in Washington, DC, that was then used subsequently in most states.

Columbus does have its bridges as well, including the Lane Avenue Bridge which includes some classical elements in its otherwise modern design.

And of course I would be remiss if I did not mention Ohio State, as I have several friends who are devoted lifelong fans due to their connections to either the university of the community.

Leaving Columbus, we continue southwest on I-71 to Cincinnati.


[Photo by Rdikeman]

One stop we must make while in the city is to the Contemporary Arts Center. The CAC is perhaps most famous for its exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe in 1990 that still resonates in discussions of “controversial art” (though honestly Mapplethorpe’s photographs themselves don’t seem that controversial anymore, I have seen on multiple occasions in recent years). But the museum is more recently known for its building with fragmented geometric sections designed by architect Zaha Hadid; and for programs that feature architecture and design.

The city is home to the Cincinnati Art Museum. It is a relatively conventional art museum with a wide-ranging collection, but it does include yet another piece by Mark di Suvero for us to encounter is this series. Atman is another large red metal outdoor sculpture, but without the typical rounded element.


[Photo by Adam Norwood on flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)]

Cincinnati lies along the state’s namesake river, which forms the border with Kentucky to the south. As such the city has its own set of bridges, though nothing to approach the density of Cleveland. The most interesting perhaps is the John A Roebling Bridge. One can see many of the elements that Roebling would ultimately use in New York for the Brooklyn Bridge.


[Photo by Rick Dikeman on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Another Cincinnati Bridge that has been in the news is the Brent Spence Bridge, which carries I-71 together with I-75 south into Kentucky. The bridge is featured prominently in the city skyline image above. It also one of the 15 bridges labeled by the Federal government as “structurally unsafe”, which sounds quite bad (indeed, President Obama used it as a backdrop for a speech about rebuilding our infrastructure). The bridge itself made the case in 2011 when chunks of concrete fell from the upper deck to the lower deck. Proposals are currently being considered for a replacement.

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

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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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