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Street grids matter more to your commute than you might think
Simple diagrams reflect straightforward grids that make navigation easy. Complex diagrams equal ‘messy’ street grids, making it harder to find your way.
How easy are cities to get around? These rose diagrams have the answer. They show how closely street layouts in selected cities align to the four cardinal directions. Simple diagrams reflect straightforward grids that make navigation easy. Complex diagrams equal ‘messy’ street grids, making it harder to find your way.
These rose diagrams (a.k.a. polar histograms) are the work of Geoff Boeing, a post-doctoral student of urban planning at UC Berkeley. The first batch shows the ‘cardinality’ of 25 U.S. cities. The second one does the same for 25 cities around the world.
As the first graph shows, many American cities have street grids that are almost perfectly aligned north-south and east-west. That’s the case for 17 of the cities depicted here: Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, Tampa and Washington DC.
The grids get a bit noisier in cities like Sacramento, St Louis, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Here, the histograms reflect that the streets are organized in more than one grid pattern. In some cases, the combination is purely a matter of place – for example, the city annexing a neighboring town with a differently-oriented street pattern. But history can play a role.
The American grid system was codified by Thomas Jefferson and became the standard method to divide up America, especially its newer territories west of the Mississippi. Its imposition can be seen ‘in action’ in the diagram for Detroit: originally oriented northeast-southwest on the riverfront, its later expansion was executed in line with the standard Jeffersonian grid, using Eight Mile Road as is baseline.
The two cities that stand out for their directional noise are Boston and Charlotte.
“We say the cows laid out Boston”, quipped Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1860. “Well, there are worse surveyors”. Many visitors find Boston’s street grid near impossible to navigate, and its diagram shows why: its streets are not at all lined up to compass bearings, making it much harder than in other American cities to draw a cognitive map of where you are, and where everything else is.
The blame rests not with Boston’s cows. The city’s directional chaos has more prosaic causes. For one, Boston’s age, with much of its center predating the gridding of other city centers. Also: gradual land reclamation in Boston Harbor has added to the city’s complex waterfront layout. And annexation of suburbs with separately-oriented grids has added to mess. As a result, Boston is one of America’s most ‘illegible’ cities. Natives confess that they navigate their city by its landmarks, not by the direction of its streets.
Downtown Charlotte has a straight street grid, but its neatness dissolves beyond the center. Incorporated in 1768, Charlotte experienced chaotic growth following a gold rush in 1799, with further spurts of growth during and after the Civil War, around the time of the First World War and more recently from the 1970s onwards, as a commercial and financial hub. What exactly makes it America’s worst-gridded city? Three reasons:
- City growth was slow in the 18th century when city planners endowed other, faster-growing Eastern cities like Manhattan or DC with strict grids.
- Old farm paths converging from outlying villages on the Charlotte courthouse now make up a spoke-like network of roads.
- Charlotte’s wide urban expansion means it incorporates a lot more suburban ‘spaghetti grids’ than, say, Atlanta, the city limits of which remain much smaller than its wider metro area.
Another exception to the easy-peasy north-south-east-west grid is Manhattan. The New York borough has a fairly straightforward grid, but its orientation is off-center from the cardinal directions. A glance at a map will explain why: the grid is aligned with the shape and the northeast-southwest orientation of the island of Manhattan itself. As in many other North American cities, streets run one way (east-west), avenues the other (north-south), further facilitating navigation.
The second set, with rose diagrams of non-U.S. cities, is a lot noisier. That’s because it includes a lot of Old-World metropoles, which cores that go back centuries. Slower urban growth, defensive needs and the absence of automobiles for most of their history means they typically expanded in a circular, haphazard way rather than a linear and planned manner.
As the diagrams show, London is one of the more difficult cities to find your way around. The London taxi drivers’ exam requires candidates to memorize the streets and routes in a six-mile radius around Charing Cross station. On average, it takes them 3 to 4 years of intense study to acquire 'The Knowledge'.
Going by their diagrams, other complex cities include Seoul, Paris, Rome and Rio de Janeiro. Moscow’s diagram looks noisy, but the streets do seem to be evenly spread among a number of sub-cardinal axes.
A number of cities have ‘fat axes’: a basic cardinality, complicated by a degree of deviation. Glasgow is one, and so are Munich and Mumbai. So are Mexico City and Tehran, albeit slightly off-center. Cairo is vaguely aligned to the cardinal directions because of its location on the Nile, which flows south to north in a fairly straight line.
A number of cities would fit in well into the U.S. selection: New Delhi and Beijing have straight, skinny axes, for example. And although a bit off-kilter, so would Toronto, Sydney and Melbourne – the streets of which, apparently, are oriented towards magnetic north rather than true north, hence the deviation.
Mr. Boeing’s work has inspired others to examine even more cities.
- Tomas applied the technique to cities in Lithuania:
- Kemal Ogun Isik did the same for Turkey:
Strange Maps #924
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
So much for rest in peace.
- Australian scientists found that bodies kept moving for 17 months after being pronounced dead.
- Researchers used photography capture technology in 30-minute intervals every day to capture the movement.
- This study could help better identify time of death.
We're learning more new things about death everyday. Much has been said and theorized about the great divide between life and the Great Beyond. While everyone and every culture has their own philosophies and unique ideas on the subject, we're beginning to learn a lot of new scientific facts about the deceased corporeal form.
An Australian scientist has found that human bodies move for more than a year after being pronounced dead. These findings could have implications for fields as diverse as pathology to criminology.
Dead bodies keep moving
Researcher Alyson Wilson studied and photographed the movements of corpses over a 17 month timeframe. She recently told Agence France Presse about the shocking details of her discovery.
Reportedly, she and her team focused a camera for 17 months at the Australian Facility for Taphonomic Experimental Research (AFTER), taking images of a corpse every 30 minutes during the day. For the entire 17 month duration, the corpse continually moved.
"What we found was that the arms were significantly moving, so that arms that started off down beside the body ended up out to the side of the body," Wilson said.
The researchers mostly expected some kind of movement during the very early stages of decomposition, but Wilson further explained that their continual movement completely surprised the team:
"We think the movements relate to the process of decomposition, as the body mummifies and the ligaments dry out."
During one of the studies, arms that had been next to the body eventually ended up akimbo on their side.
The team's subject was one of the bodies stored at the "body farm," which sits on the outskirts of Sydney. (Wilson took a flight every month to check in on the cadaver.)Her findings were recently published in the journal, Forensic Science International: Synergy.
Implications of the study
The researchers believe that understanding these after death movements and decomposition rate could help better estimate the time of death. Police for example could benefit from this as they'd be able to give a timeframe to missing persons and link that up with an unidentified corpse. According to the team:
"Understanding decomposition rates for a human donor in the Australian environment is important for police, forensic anthropologists, and pathologists for the estimation of PMI to assist with the identification of unknown victims, as well as the investigation of criminal activity."
While scientists haven't found any evidence of necromancy. . . the discovery remains a curious new understanding about what happens with the body after we die.
Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.
- Bristle worms are odd-looking, spiky, segmented worms with super-strong jaws.
- Researchers have discovered that the jaws contain metal.
- It appears that biological processes could one day be used to manufacture metals.
The bristle worm, also known as polychaetes, has been around for an estimated 500 million years. Scientists believe that the super-resilient species has survived five mass extinctions, and there are some 10,000 species of them.
Be glad if you haven't encountered a bristle worm. Getting stung by one is an extremely itchy affair, as people who own saltwater aquariums can tell you after they've accidentally touched a bristle worm that hitchhiked into a tank aboard a live rock.
Bristle worms are typically one to six inches long when found in a tank, but capable of growing up to 24 inches long. All polychaetes have a segmented body, with each segment possessing a pair of legs, or parapodia, with tiny bristles. ("Polychaeate" is Greek for "much hair.") The parapodia and its bristles can shoot outward to snag prey, which is then transferred to a bristle worm's eversible mouth.
The jaws of one bristle worm — Platynereis dumerilii — are super-tough, virtually unbreakable. It turns out, according to a new study from researchers at the Technical University of Vienna, this strength is due to metal atoms.
Metals, not minerals
Fireworm, a type of bristle wormCredit: prilfish / Flickr
This is pretty unusual. The study's senior author Christian Hellmich explains: "The materials that vertebrates are made of are well researched. Bones, for example, are very hierarchically structured: There are organic and mineral parts, tiny structures are combined to form larger structures, which in turn form even larger structures."
The bristle worm jaw, by contrast, replaces the minerals from which other creatures' bones are built with atoms of magnesium and zinc arranged in a super-strong structure. It's this structure that is key. "On its own," he says, "the fact that there are metal atoms in the bristle worm jaw does not explain its excellent material properties."
Just deformable enough
Credit: by-studio / Adobe Stock
What makes conventional metal so strong is not just its atoms but the interactions between the atoms and the ways in which they slide against each other. The sliding allows for a small amount of elastoplastic deformation when pressure is applied, endowing metals with just enough malleability not to break, crack, or shatter.
Co-author Florian Raible of Max Perutz Labs surmises, "The construction principle that has made bristle worm jaws so successful apparently originated about 500 million years ago."
Raible explains, "The metal ions are incorporated directly into the protein chains and then ensure that different protein chains are held together." This leads to the creation of three-dimensional shapes the bristle worm can pack together into a structure that's just malleable enough to withstand a significant amount of force.
"It is precisely this combination," says the study's lead author Luis Zelaya-Lainez, "of high strength and deformability that is normally characteristic of metals.
So the bristle worm jaw is both metal-like and yet not. As Zelaya-Lainez puts it, "Here we are dealing with a completely different material, but interestingly, the metal atoms still provide strength and deformability there, just like in a piece of metal."
Observing the creation of a metal-like material from biological processes is a bit of a surprise and may suggest new approaches to materials development. "Biology could serve as inspiration here," says Hellmich, "for completely new kinds of materials. Perhaps it is even possible to produce high-performance materials in a biological way — much more efficiently and environmentally friendly than we manage today."
Dealing with rudeness can nudge you toward cognitive errors.
- Anchoring is a common bias that makes people fixate on one piece of data.
- A study showed that those who experienced rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to bad data.
- In some simulations with medical students, this effect led to higher mortality rates.
Cognitive biases are funny little things. Everyone has them, nobody likes to admit it, and they can range from minor to severe depending on the situation. Biases can be influenced by factors as subtle as our mood or various personality traits.
A new study soon to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that experiencing rudeness can be added to the list. More disturbingly, the study's findings suggest that it is a strong enough effect to impact how medical professionals diagnose patients.
Life hack: don't be rude to your doctor
The team of researchers behind the project tested to see if participants could be influenced by the common anchoring bias, defined by the researchers as "the tendency to rely too heavily or fixate on one piece of information when making judgments and decisions." Most people have experienced it. One of its more common forms involves being given a particular value, say in negotiations on price, which then becomes the center of reasoning even when reason would suggest that number should be ignored.
It can also pop up in medicine. As co-author Dr. Trevor Foulk explains, "If you go into the doctor and say 'I think I'm having a heart attack,' that can become an anchor and the doctor may get fixated on that diagnosis, even if you're just having indigestion. If doctors don't move off anchors enough, they'll start treating the wrong thing."
Lots of things can make somebody more or less likely to anchor themselves to an idea. The authors of the study, who have several papers on the effects of rudeness, decided to see if that could also cause people to stumble into cognitive errors. Past research suggested that exposure to rudeness can limit people's perspective — perhaps anchoring them.
In the first version of the study, medical students were given a hypothetical patient to treat and access to information on their condition alongside an (incorrect) suggestion on what the condition was. This served as the anchor. In some versions of the tests, the students overheard two doctors arguing rudely before diagnosing the patient. Later variations switched the diagnosis test for business negotiations or workplace tasks while maintaining the exposure to rudeness.
Across all iterations of the test, those exposed to rudeness were more likely to anchor themselves to the initial, incorrect suggestion despite the availability of evidence against it. This was less significant for study participants who scored higher on a test of how wide of a perspective they tended to have. The disposition of these participants, who answered in the affirmative to questions like, "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in his/her place," was able to effectively negate the narrowing effects of rudeness.
What this means for you and your healthcare
The effects of anchoring when a medical diagnosis is on the line can be substantial. Dr. Foulk explains that, in some simulations, exposure to rudeness can raise the mortality rate as doctors fixate on the wrong problems.
The authors of the study suggest that managers take a keener interest in ensuring civility in workplaces and giving employees the tools they need to avoid judgment errors after dealing with rudeness. These steps could help prevent anchoring.
Also, you might consider being nicer to people.