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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
Driverless Cars Could Be Hacked With Stickers on Traffic Signs, Study Suggests
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As driverless cars inch toward becoming regular sights on our streets, experts have started to warn that the connected cars could be vulnerable to hackers who can take control of the vehicles from a distance. Though most of these warnings are related to hacking into the internet-connected computer on board, there’s an analog way to disrupt the workings of a driverless car, too, as Autoblog reports. Researchers from across the U.S. recently figured out how to trick a driverless car with a set of stickers, as they detail in a paper posted on arXiv.org.

They examined how fiddling with the appearance of stop signs could redirect a driverless car, tricking its sensors and cameras into thinking that a stop sign is actually a speed limit sign for a 45 mile-per-hour zone, for instance.

They found that by creating a mask to cover the sign that looks almost identical to the sign itself (so a human wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference), they could fool a road-sign classifier like those used by driverless cars into misreading the sign 100 percent of the time.

Five different views of a stop sign with black and white block-shaped stickers seen from various angles and distances.

Evtimov et al., arXiv.org

In a test of a right-turn sign, a mask that filled in the arrow on the sign resulted in a 100 percent misclassification rate. In two thirds of the trials, the right-turn was misclassified as a stop sign, and in one third, it was misclassified as an added lane sign. Graffiti-like stickers that read “love” and “hate” confused the classifier into reading a stop sign as a speed limit sign the majority of the time, as did an abstract design where just a few block-shaped stickers were placed over the sign.

“We hypothesize that given the similar appearance of warning signs, small perturbations are sufficient to confuse the classifier,” they write.

The study suggests that hackers wouldn’t need much equipment to wreak havoc on a driverless car. If they knew the algorithm of the car’s visual system, they would just need a printer or some stickers to fool the car.

However, the attacks could be foiled if the cars have fail-safes like multiple sensors and take context (like whether the car is driving in a city or on a highway) into account while reading signs, as Autoblog notes.

[h/t Autoblog]

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This Just In
London is Using Imaginary Speed Bumps to Curb Speeding
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In London, excessive speeding isn’t defined in quite the same way as it is in the States. While drivers here may get ticketed in some areas for hitting 40 or 50 miles per hour on city streets, vehicles there are in danger of being ticketed for exceeding 20 miles per hour.  

To curb the problem, the city began a clever initiative 18 months ago. Rather than spend the money it would take to install real speed bumps, officials for Transport for London painted stencils on the road that give the illusion of being raised. There’s no actual bump, but drivers who anticipate going over one might wind up slowing down.

We say “might” because, as a pilot program, there’s no word yet on how effective the faux-bumps have been. London has been struggling with traffic threats, noting in 2015 that speeds needed to be reduced to 20 mph in main arteries to help reduce the number of cyclists and pedestrians injured or killed as the result of collisions. The city recorded 136 fatalities in 2015 and 2092 injuries. The hope is to cut this number by 50 percent by the end of this decade.

[h/t Fast Company]

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