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10 Things You Might Not Know About the U.S. Interstate System

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Inspired by the network of high-speed roads he saw in Germany during World War II, Dwight D. Eisenhower championed the passing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. The law funded the first 41,000 miles of paved glory that made up the early U.S. interstate system, which now boasts 46,876 miles and runs through all 50 states. (Yes, even Alaska and Hawaii.) Prepare for your next cross-country (or cross-town) road trip with the following facts.

1. IT TOOK 17 YEARS TO CREATE AND FUND THE IDEA OF THE INTERSTATE.

Two members of the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads presented a report to Congress in 1939 that detailed the need for a non-tolled road system in the U.S. The Federal Highway Act of 1944 allowed for development of a 40,000 mile National System of Interstate Highways, but it didn’t provide any method of funding, so it went nowhere. It wasn’t until the act of 1956 that funding was finally allocated to its construction.

2. PEOPLE FIRST LOVED, THEN HATED IT. 

When the Interstate Highway Act was passed, most Americans thought it was a good idea. But when construction started and people, especially in urban areas, were displaced and communities cut in half, some started to revolt. In the 1960s, activists stopped construction on highways in New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, which resulted in several urban interstates becoming roads to nowhere.

3. EVERY STATE OWNS ITS PORTION (INCLUDING THE POTHOLES) …

This means the state is responsible for enforcing traffic laws and maintaining the section of highway in its borders. Currently, the “largest pothole in the country” award has been claimed by this section of I-75 outside Detroit. 

4. … EXCEPT FOR ONE (FORMER) BRIDGE.

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge (I-95/495) that crossed the Potomac River into Washington, D.C. used to be the only part of the interstate system owned by the Federal Highway Administration. But issues over it being too small led to the creation of a new, bigger, taller bridge. As for the old one? It was destroyed, in part by people who won a contest for having “the toughest daily drive.”

5. THE STATES SET THE SPEED LIMITS.

However, in the early 1970s, all 50 states set their speed limits to 55 mph. A clause in the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act signed into law by Richard Nixon dictated that if a state did not set its highway speed limit to 55 mph, that state would lose its federal highway funding. 

6. THE SIGNS ARE TRADEMARKED.

The red, white, and blue shields used to designate interstate numbers are trademarked by the American Association of State Highway Officials. The original design for the shield was drawn by senior traffic engineer Richard Oliver of Texas and selected out of 100 entries in a national design competition in 1957. 

7. INTERSTATES AND HIGHWAYS WITH THE SAME NUMBER CANNOT RUN THROUGH THE SAME STATE.

The numbering system used for interstates is intended to be the mirror opposite of the U.S. highway system, so drivers won't be confused about whether to take Highway 70 or Interstate 70. For example, I-10 runs through southern states east-west (as all major even-numbered interstates do; odd-numbered interstates run north-south), while Highway 10 runs through northern states. Because I-50 would run through the same states as Route 50, the number will never be used. 

8. I-99 DOESN'T FOLLOW THIS SYSTEM, BUT THAT'S NOT THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION'S FAULT.

According to the Federal Highway Administration's numbering system, Pennsylvania's former US 220 should have been named something like I-876 or I-280. But Representative Bob Shuster wanted a catchier moniker for it. According to The New York Times, as a child he was fond of the No. 99 streetcar, which he used as his inspiration for the road's tag. 

9. THE INTERSTATE IS PART OF THE U.S.' ATOMIC ATTACK PLAN. 

A major concern during Eisenhower’s presidency was what the country would do in the event of a nuclear attack. One of the justifications for the building of the interstate system was its ability to evacuate citizens of major cities if necessary. 

10. THERE ARE NO DESIGN RULES DICTATING THE SHAPE OF ROADS.

A major myth of the interstate system is that one out of every five miles is straight so an airplane can land. While this has happened, there are no rules or regulations that require such a design. Also, there are no requirements for curves to be designed into a highway to keep drivers awake. However, the Federal Highway Administration does admit that this is a perk of winding roads.

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technology
Dubai Plans to Outfit Police Force With Hoverbikes
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Dubai is home to plenty of flashy fashion and architecture, and it has over-the-top police gear to match. The department already is outfitted with some of the fastest cars on the streets, including a Ferrari and a Lamborghini. Now, Autoblog reports that police officers in the United Arab Emirates city are getting hoverbikes to access hard-to-reach places.

The bikes, which were developed by the Russian startup Hoversurf, debuted in early October at the Gulf Information Technology Exposition (GITEX) in Dubai. Like Hoversurf’s Scorpion-3 hoverbike, the police version is battery-powered and uses propellers at each corner to float like a drone. The newly-released model can reach maximum altitudes of 16 feet and move at speeds of up to 43 mph. Though the quadcopter can only carry one passenger at a time, it can withstand weights of up to 660 pounds. A fully charged battery is enough to fuel a 25-minute ride.

The futuristic addition to the force’s fleet of vehicles isn’t designed for chasing bad guys. Rather, the city hopes to use it to reach out-of-the-way spots during emergencies. If there’s a car wreck at the end of a traffic jam, for example, the Scorpion hoverbike could simply fly over the congestion and reach the scene faster than the department could with cars on the ground.

While cities around the world are still figuring out how low-flying drones and vehicles fit into pedestrian areas, Dubai has been quick to embrace the technology. In 2015, the city invested in jetpacks for first responders. While it's still unclear when the gadgets will be used in an official capacity, the CEO of Hoversurf has confirmed that mass production of the bikes is already underway.

[h/t Autoblog]

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Big Questions
What's the Difference Between a Street, a Road, and an Avenue?
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Depending on where you live, your address will end in a different designation. You might live on 10th Street, or Meadow Lane, or Red Fox Road. Maybe those throughways intersect a road with a name like Washington Avenue or Park Place. Why the difference? There’s actually a method to the road-naming madness that goes beyond just the whims of urban designers.

Just like there are defined factors that distinguish a highway from a regular city street, there are characteristics that make streets, roads, and avenues distinct from one another. The difference between names like C Street and Avenue B comes down to variables like the size of the path, what surrounds it, and how it intersects with other roads.

A plain old “road,” for instance, is a general term for any throughway that connects two points. Like a square is also a rectangle, streets and avenues are types of roads.

“Streets” are public roads that have buildings on both sides. They’re often perpendicular to “avenues,” which historically were grander and wider. These days, the difference tends to be directional.

In Denver, for instance, naming conventions dictate that Streets run north-south and avenues run east-west. In Manhattan, it’s the opposite, with “Avenues” running north-south and streets running east-west. This isn’t always the case, though: in Washington, D.C., avenues run diagonal to the street grid.

Oddly enough, avenues and streets can be combined, too. In a naming convention particular to Tucson, Arizona, some roads are “Stravenues,” which run diagonal to the normal north-south/east-west grid. (The U.S. Postal Service recognizes these by the abbreviation “Stra.”)

There are many other kinds of street names, of course. "Boulevards," designed to funnel high-speed traffic away from residential and commercial streets, are even grander than avenues, with trees on either side and a sizable median. Then there are the smaller roads, with names that might feel familiar to anyone who’s driven around a suburban housing tract. A “Way” is a smaller side street that splits off from a road. A “Place” has a dead end, as does a “court,” which usually ends in a cul-de-sac. A “Lane” is narrow, and is usually located in a more remote, rural place. A "Drive" tends to wind around a natural landmark, like a mountain or a lake.

To get a better sense of the visual differences, a video from Vox handily illustrates these principles:

Now, you can look at an address and know plenty about the street without even seeing it. 

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