Measuring distances starts with city centers

To make sense of the world, we must slice it up. We must categorize the parts. We put them in their place.

When we all agree on the rules, on the definitions of the categories we have created, things go smoothly. They help us keep track of what’s going on, help us navigate.

Some of them are obvious to us all. They have become ingrained. Red light: Stop. Green light: Go.

But others are less clear.

How far is it from one town to another? Well, it depends on where you’re measuring from.

Which brings us to a great trivia question from Peter, who wrote in with this one: “This is not about traffic but I have always wondered, when driving from city to city, how is the distance measured?”

I used to wonder about this very thing when I was a kid on road trips with my dad. I was obsessed with numbers the way some kids get crazy over pop stars.

Anyway. Moving on.

I checked with Damon Hodge, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation. He said it’s measured from city center or city hall to city center or city hall.

It turns out, that’s the national standard. The traffic sign bible, the “Manual On Uniform Traffic Control Devices,” exists so we can all agree on the same rules.

The manual offers this guidance for state officials when it comes to figuring where to start and stop measuring the distance between places: “A well-defined central area or central business district should be used where one exists.”


Steve wrote in with another question about the way we keep track of things.

“I’m curious about what license plate numbering scheme our DMV will use when we use up our current system, which is 123ABC,” he wrote. “The last plate will be 999ZZZ and I’m seeing plates now in the X’s and Y’s.”

I must admit, I’ve never even thought about this one. So I ran it by Kevin Malone, a spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Turns out, they’re aware of the issue and are working on it.

Malone said the department hasn’t decided what to do yet because it’s waiting for legislators to act on Assembly Bill 24, which would do a few things when it comes to license plates.

Besides allowing the DMV to create special plates commemorating Nevada’s 150th birthday, it would allow more than a certain number of characters on several types of license plates. Among the plates are those for motorcycles, disabled veterans and classic cars. They’re running out of numbers the quickest.


Jill wrote in with an angry diatribe about Valley View Boulevard and the way it has been decorated.

“I take this street every morning to work for the last 8 months! The construction on this road is ridiculous, just when you think they finished it, they tear something else up but the (worst) thing they are doing are putting those small center lanes in periodically down the road with those AWFUL looking plants. On the west side of the street near Oakey they put in those cute/money saving metal cacti, etc. This is a desert, don’t they realize this! Why, Why, Why put in ugly plants that require water in the middle of a street that collect garbage! A day doesn’t go by that you see plastic bags, etc stuck to all the plants! WHY VEGAS, WHY!”

Thank you, Jill. I got a laugh out of this one.

Diana Paul, a spokeswoman for the city of Las Vegas, explained it like this. The desert landscaping is there to help the road match the nearby Springs Preserve. This is normal, and frankly it’s a good idea.

She also said it’s the most drought-tolerant landscaping available. Other than plain old rocks or concrete, I guess.

As far as the trash goes, I drove by there the other day — before I alerted the city to the problem — and I didn’t see any. Not a single plastic bag.

In any case, Paul said cleaning up the trash is the responsibility of the contractor for now, and city officials will make sure things are kept tidy.

Got a transportation question, comment or gripe? Ship it off to Follow the Road Warrior on Twitter @RJroadwarrior.

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