We are all familiar with public transportation maps based on the famous London Tube map with its colored lines and dotted stops. Cameron Booth has developed a map of the US Interstate System based on that style (click above for a link to a larger image) and the map is available in print for sale on his website.
I believe this map is a great cultural commentary on American transportation. The car may not be as mythic and the road trip may not be as legendary anywhere in the world as in the United States. In a country where you cannot take a train nearly anywhere long distance and where planes are increasingly expensive and burdensome, the automobile is still the great expression of freedom.
However, as freeing as the car is we are still largely constrained to certain thoroughfares for major long-distance travel. Yet this map, reducing the country to the format of a city-transportation map also reduces the magnitude of the country to the size of a city. There is a certain irony in that given just how vast the nation is and how many days it takes to cross by car. However, there is also something profound about how that Eisenhower Interstate Map shaped our consciousness of physical and cultural space in the country. The interstates made some great cities greater and raised other from the abyss into places of status.
Moreover, the interstates may have done more than anything else in the nation’s history in creating a sense of national community and greater connection. Eisenhower was first interested in national highways when participating in a post-WWI exercise attempting to transport military materiel across the country on existing roads. The interstate project suddenly made most of the nation accessible to every American with a car, a little bit of cash, and the time to travel.
The interstates more than any other system my have crashed down the provincial mental and physical walls defining states to trump intense locality with a sense of national community. Hopefully one day a high speed rail map will once again redefine our national sense of geography, community and nationalism. Transportation has been and will continue to be the means by how communities are partially defined.
PS: to those who read this blog frequently I sincerely apologize for my extended absence. It was not intentional, finals and the end of the semester just caught up with me. I hope to be back to posting nearly daily for the foreseeable future. Happy and healthy new year to all.