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Old 03-18-2018, 07:13 AM
dflower dflower is offline
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From where are they measuring distance from a city?

In news reports, information is often given on a location in relation to a major city. Such as - The shooting occurred at The Oaks mall in the city of Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Los Angeles.
Is this measured from the center of LA or the city boundary ?
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Old 03-18-2018, 07:35 AM
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They probably just ask some map program for the distance between <event location> and <city>, which would give them whatever point the map program considers to be the city center.
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Old 03-18-2018, 07:43 AM
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It's obviously not the city boundary, because Woodland Hills, which is technically in the City of Los Angeles, is only about 20 miles from Thousand Oaks, and would be the closest city boundary.

From what I've noticed, it's the civic center, as Chronos says, but they usually just use a round figure.
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Old 03-18-2018, 08:53 AM
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In Australian Capital cities, it was traditionally and typically the central post office. In Perth, there is a specifically a plaque near the post office which directly states it is the point to which all official measurements are based on with relation to distance from Perth. Now the more common tools are Google maps and such, and I'm not sure if they follow this convention or use some other geodesic reference point based on city boundaries.
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Old 03-18-2018, 09:00 AM
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Using Google Maps to get directions, and using "Los Angeles, California, USA" as a destination, I found that (for Google) Los Angeles is located close to the corner of W 1st Street, E 1st Street, N Main Street and S Main Street. Since that's where (for street-naming purposes) East meets West and North meets South, that would be a logical place for the centre of Los Angeles.
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Old 03-18-2018, 09:06 AM
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I've always wondered this too, because if you measure from a point to a city center, it's a different figure than if measured to the city limits. For large cities, a large difference. Why would they say you're 10 miles from Cityville if after going only 4 or 5 miles you're already in Cityville?
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Old 03-18-2018, 09:16 AM
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If you try a few, they don't seem to follow a consistent pattern, even in one source. For instance, on Google Maps, Cupertino, CA gives me the corner of Stevens Creek and DeAnza - OK, a major intersection. Denver puts me in front of Civic Center Park. Missoula, MT, the corner of Broadway & Higgins, a major intersection again. San Francisco, Market and Van Ness. Sacramento, Cesar Chavez Plaza. They seem to be divided between some notable location, not necessarily a civic building, and a major "downtown" intersection. Although, Portland, OR seems to be neither. It's the corner of 6th and Burnside. Maybe somebody from Portland could tell me what that is. The geographic center?
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Old 03-18-2018, 09:20 AM
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Originally Posted by Giles View Post
Using Google Maps to get directions, and using "Los Angeles, California, USA" as a destination, I found that (for Google) Los Angeles is located close to the corner of W 1st Street, E 1st Street, N Main Street and S Main Street. Since that's where (for street-naming purposes) East meets West and North meets South, that would be a logical place for the centre of Los Angeles.
It doesn't work that way in all cities, though. For Chicago, the "center" of the grid system is the corner of State & Madison; but Google Maps uses a spot about four blocks away as the default starting spot for "Chicago".

The default spot for "New York" appears to be New York City Hall, which makes a certain amount of sense.
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Old 03-18-2018, 09:40 AM
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I've been told that's it's the main post office, but I don't have a cite yet.
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Old 03-18-2018, 10:29 AM
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It doesn't work that way in all cities, though. For Chicago, the "center" of the grid system is the corner of State & Madison; but Google Maps uses a spot about four blocks away as the default starting spot for "Chicago".
Yeah, and Mapquest (remember that? Apparently still around), Bing, and Apple maps all put you on LaSalle near City Hall. Waze gives you the same location as Google Maps. (I guess there's the federal building right there, but, otherwise, nothing of note like City Hall that would make sense to me as the center of Chicago.) That said, like you said, State & Madison is where every schoolkid knows the grid starts, so classically would be considered the center of the city by many. There's also the geographic center (at least by one definition), which is a bit less known, that is in the Heart of Chicago neighborhood on the south/near Southwest side (there is or was a big sign on 37th and Honore trumpeting that.)

Local esoterica aside, when I worked in journalism, I don't remember there being any standardized method of defining these sorts of distances. I presume reporters just type in the two locations in a map program, see the distance, and then use their judgment to convey the approximate distance. In your example, "about 40 miles" covers both measuring from downtown and from the border. It's all well within what I'd consider the level of granularity I would expect from that distance. Now, if something took place, say, a mile from the city border but 6 miles from downtown, I would expect the writer to clarify by saying "six miles from downtown" or "a mile from the city limits."
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Old 03-18-2018, 10:41 AM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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Also, how often that a local reporter just 'knows' the approximate distance and all the other stations just run with that number. In many instances, people don't really care if it's 40 or 50 miles, they just want to know if this city they've never heard of is 40 or 2500 miles from some place they have heard of.

For example, I'm about 90 miles North of Chicago. Maybe it's 80, maybe it's a hundred, but if something happened here, "90 miles North of Chicago" is all someone that lives thousands of miles away is concerned about. It just helps people put it in perspective.
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Old 03-18-2018, 11:10 AM
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Although, Portland, OR seems to be neither. It's the corner of 6th and Burnside. Maybe somebody from Portland could tell me what that is. The geographic center?
Burnside is the street that divides "north" and "south" in the cartographic sense. There's NW/SW 6th and NE/SE 6th, on either side of the Willamette River, and neither has anything remarkable at its intersection with Burnside. The Willamette divides "west" and "east," maybe Google doesn't want to give coordinates in the middle of the Burnside Bridge? I got nothin'.

Last edited by GESancMan; 03-18-2018 at 11:11 AM.
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Old 03-18-2018, 12:58 PM
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In Budapest it is the zero-kilometer stone marker located on the Buda side near the bottom of the funicular.
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Old 03-18-2018, 01:13 PM
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For Cleveland, the logical point would be the center of Public Square, but it looks like Google Maps uses a point on the western edge of the Square (possibly because the interior of Public Square is now closed to cars). They used to use a completely unremarkable point a couple of blocks north and three blocks west, which I'm guessing was the result of someone sticking a metaphorical pin into the map, at a fairly wide (i.e., imprecise) zoom level.
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Old 03-18-2018, 02:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Richox View Post
In Australian Capital cities, it was traditionally and typically the central post office. In Perth, there is a specifically a plaque near the post office which directly states it is the point to which all official measurements are based on with relation to distance from Perth. Now the more common tools are Google maps and such, and I'm not sure if they follow this convention or use some other geodesic reference point based on city boundaries.
Growing up in Australia, i was always taught that it was the post office too. My mother, who grew up in England, said the same this, but it seems that it might not actually be true for the UK. In London, for example, there's actually a marker in Trafalgar Square showing the exact spot; you can see it in this BBC article.

It seems to be a bit different with the mapping software. For example, if you ask Google maps to take you to Sydney (from, say, Goulburn), it places the destination at the MLC building on King Street. That's about one block south and two blocks east of the old post office building on Martin Place. That's fine, i guess, but i think that the GPO would be a better target than a rather nondescript commercial building like the MLC. Even better might be Town Hall, on George Street.

The BBC article i linked above notes that there is no universal rule for the modern mapping systems, and also notes that:
Quote:
Perhaps surprisingly, Highways England, the organisation responsible for road signs, said it had no list of centre points to measure distances from. Instead it bases its mileages on its "best judgement" of what seems "appropriate" for drivers.
The story also notes that sometimes the marker is simply the historic location of a statue that no longer exists, like an old market cross or similar feature.

Last edited by mhendo; 03-18-2018 at 02:22 PM.
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Old 03-18-2018, 02:45 PM
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GIS calculates the centroid of all polygons in a system by default. Now, I'm not sure if the various different routing applications have the polygons that define a cities/towns boundary, but that's what I would use. Using the City Governments 'building' doesn't really work as there are often many of them, and 'main' one that the Mayor has an office at, could very well be at the edge of the city. And it would take more input from someone to determine just what location to use.
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Old 03-18-2018, 03:08 PM
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A polygon centroid might not always be the best choice. Imagine, for instance, a coastal city in the shape of a semicircle (the other half of the circle, of course, being out over the water). The logical center of such a city is the center of the circle, but the centroid is going to be somewhere further inland.
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Old 03-18-2018, 03:11 PM
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A polygon centroid might not always be the best choice. Imagine, for instance, a coastal city in the shape of a semicircle (the other half of the circle, of course, being out over the water). The logical center of such a city is the center of the circle, but the centroid is going to be somewhere further inland.
Yep, that was going to be exactly my argument. If someone driving to Southern California wants to know the distance to San Diego, the centroid would probably put them somewhere north of Kearny Mesa, around the Miramar military base. That's not what most drivers would expect.
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Old 03-18-2018, 05:28 PM
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It doesn't work that way in all cities, though.
Right. As an ex-taxi driver in L.A., I thought about that. We had to very familiar with the intersection of 1st and Main, because that's "ground zero" for the address numbering system of streets, which can be E., W., N. or S. from there.

But as MikeS says, some cities may not have such a point, or Google chooses something different.

My question for journalists, however, is this: If you use an online map system, do you just use the driving distance, or the the geodesic distance? The location of the shooting in the OP is actually 38 miles from 1st and Main in L.A. in terms of geodesic distance, but 43 miles driving.
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Old 03-18-2018, 05:52 PM
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Google hasn't made their criteria public, so I expect it's more complicated than simply choosing a center point. If they were doing something as simple as the geographical center or post office, they wouldn't have much reason to be secretive.

I expect it's something along the lines of a calculated center based on users final destinations. They wouldn't want to make the method known because people could manipulate the calculation. It isn't changing on a daily basis but for some towns I've gotten different centers over the years.
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Old 03-18-2018, 06:16 PM
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From the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices:

"The distance shown should be selected on a case-by-case basis by the jurisdiction that owns the road or by statewide policy. A well-defined central area or central business district should be used where one exists. In other cases, the layout of the community should be considered in relation to the highway being signed and the decision based on where it appears that most drivers would feel that they are in the center of the community in question."

In short, there's no one answer. It's not always city hall. It's not always the central post office.
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Old 03-18-2018, 06:30 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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Right. As an ex-taxi driver in L.A., I thought about that. We had to very familiar with the intersection of 1st and Main, because that's "ground zero" for the address numbering system of streets, which can be E., W., N. or S. from there.

But as MikeS says, some cities may not have such a point, or Google chooses something different.

My question for journalists, however, is this: If you use an online map system, do you just use the driving distance, or the the geodesic distance? The location of the shooting in the OP is actually 38 miles from 1st and Main in L.A. in terms of geodesic distance, but 43 miles driving.
When you say "about 40 miles," it doesn't matter.
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Old 03-18-2018, 06:31 PM
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Burnside is the street that divides "north" and "south" in the cartographic sense. There's NW/SW 6th and NE/SE 6th, on either side of the Willamette River, and neither has anything remarkable at its intersection with Burnside. The Willamette divides "west" and "east," maybe Google doesn't want to give coordinates in the middle of the Burnside Bridge? I got nothin'.
It is Sixth & West Burnside. Because that is near the heart of town. Sixth is a major business corridor through downtown. Still odd, but vaguely logical.
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Old 03-18-2018, 06:31 PM
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For London, it's Charing Cross. It is named after the Eleanor cross that stood on the site, in what was once the hamlet of Charing. The site of the cross has been occupied since 1675 by an equestrian statue of King Charles I and a Victorian replica of the medieval cross, the Queen Eleanor Memorial Cross, was erected a short distance to the east outside the railway station.

The Eleanor Cross was one of the twelve ornate crosses built by King Edward I in the 13/14th century at the places the places where the body of his beloved wife Eleanor of Castile was stopped overnight on its way to London from Lincoln where she died. Her tomb is in Westminster Abbey.


https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikiped...ay_station.jpg

Last edited by bob++; 03-18-2018 at 06:35 PM.
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Old 03-18-2018, 06:35 PM
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Wait, I'm only an American, but wasn't Eleanor of Aquitaine married to Henry II?
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Old 03-18-2018, 07:02 PM
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Wait, I'm only an American, but wasn't Eleanor of Aquitaine married to Henry II?
Apparently the Eleanor Crosses were put up in honor of Eleanor of Castille, queen of Ed-1.
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Old 03-18-2018, 07:03 PM
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When you say "about 40 miles," it doesn't matter.
In this case, obviously, but I'm still curious, because with other locations, I think it does matter how the distance is characterized. For example, Mt. Wilson, which is covered with snow right now, is 16 miles from downtown L.A. -- but it's a 32-mile drive.
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Old 03-18-2018, 07:13 PM
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A polygon centroid might not always be the best choice. Imagine, for instance, a coastal city in the shape of a semicircle (the other half of the circle, of course, being out over the water). The logical center of such a city is the center of the circle, but the centroid is going to be somewhere further inland.
Yep. Or say the polygon is shaped like a banana, or flag and flag pole. There are options to keep the centroid within the polygon. Not quite sure what you would do for a city by the sea. The water would just be another polygon though (in a different layer/dataset that could be analyzed. GIS is really spatial analysis).

I have been in GIS for 30 years. Before it was called GIS. It used to be called AM/FM - Automated Mapping and Facilities Management. I don't pretend to understand the algorithm used.

[side note]At the first computer mapping company I worked for, we had AM/FM awards. I saw the plaques, but did not look too close. I always wondered what arm of our business was in radio.[s/n]
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Old 03-19-2018, 03:13 AM
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My answer (which could be viewed as a voice of sanity, or a cop-out, or anything else) is that in the situations being described it doesn't matter one bit - people want to know which place you mean, and that's all.
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Old 03-19-2018, 06:33 AM
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When I was very young and lived in unincorporated parts of Santa Clara County, California, I was told that house numbers reflected distance to a main post office. I supposed that an address like 14843 Whatever Lane, meant that the house was 14.843 miles from the post office (or perhaps the scaling was different). If Whatever Lane runs perpendicular to the line to post office, then a house might have the same number as its neighbors. but that could be fudged.

Do all map/distance websites use the same zero points for cities? I played at http://www.distancebetweencities.us just now and discover
* the zero point for San Jose, Calif. is the City Hall near 5th and Santa Clara streets.
* the zero point for San Francisco is the corner of Market and Van Ness (about ⅓ mile south of City Hall), as already mentioned.
* the zero point for New York City is City Hall (near entrance to Brooklyn Bridge).
* the zero point for London is near Trafalgar Square.
* the zero point for Paris is near the Post Office near Hotel de Ville, about ⅓ mile north of Notre Dame Cathedral.
* the zero point for Bangkok is Democracy Monument (near Khao San Road!)
* the zero point for Nahkon Sawan is the V-Square shopping center at, arguably, the city's majorest traffic intersection.
* the zero point for Chiang Mai is the Tha Pae gate (just a tourist nexus, but which I've always thought of as central!)
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Old 03-19-2018, 06:48 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is offline
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In this case, obviously, but I'm still curious, because with other locations, I think it does matter how the distance is characterized. For example, Mt. Wilson, which is covered with snow right now, is 16 miles from downtown L.A. -- but it's a 32-mile drive.
I think this would vary depending on journalist and editor. My inclination would be to go by "as the crow flies" distances, but if it's relevant to the story, maybe say "30-mile drive." If someone put down "20 miles away" or "30 miles away," I doubt any editor would really notice the difference in distance or particularly care if the exact distance has no relevance to the story.

Like I said, when I was in the industry, there was no standardization that I'm aware of that dealt with this type of issue.
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Old 03-19-2018, 07:16 AM
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Google hasn't made their criteria public, so I expect it's more complicated than simply choosing a center point. If they were doing something as simple as the geographical center or post office, they wouldn't have much reason to be secretive.

I expect it's something along the lines of a calculated center based on users final destinations.
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For London, it's Charing Cross.
It's possibly calculated but there has to be some room for hard-coding because I just tried Google maps directions to London and it indeed is Charing Cross.
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Old 03-19-2018, 08:43 AM
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Exactly 200 years ago in 1818 a sandstone obelisk was erected near the head of Sydney Cove, in Sydney [NSW, Australia, Earth] as the point from which all road measurements would be calculated. It still serves that function, but the Google pin drops its point at the MLC Centre, 622 metres away. Purely coincidentally the MLC Centre is where the US Consulate is located.

Last edited by Banksiaman; 03-19-2018 at 08:45 AM. Reason: typos fixed
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Old 03-19-2018, 08:52 AM
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Do all map/distance websites use the same zero points for cities?
Apparently not. I compared g-maps to a-maps and found that what each identified as a given city did not match the other. a-maps always finds something similar to city hall as the centerpoint, whereas g-maps uses some other but similar criterion. In the case of London, one is Trafalgar Square while the other is Parliament Square. The difference in some cities can exceed a km (look at what g-maps says is Madison Wisconsin), others half a block.
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Old 03-19-2018, 09:00 AM
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Exactly 200 years ago in 1818 a sandstone obelisk was erected near the head of Sydney Cove, in Sydney [NSW, Australia, Earth] as the point from which all road measurements would be calculated. It still serves that function, but the Google pin drops its point at the MLC Centre, 622 metres away. Purely coincidentally the MLC Centre is where the US Consulate is located.
For Charing Cross it has you go to Trafalgar Square and then, even if your directions are by car, it still has a grey dotted path at the end of your journey that takes you to the equestrian statue 100 feet away.
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Old 03-19-2018, 09:11 AM
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* the zero point for London is near Trafalgar Square.
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For London, it's Charing Cross.
There may be some disagreement site-to-site, but I'll call this a wash. The Charing Cross Underground station is in Trafalgar Square.
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Old 03-20-2018, 08:40 AM
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I played at http://www.distancebetweencities.us just now and discover
I grew up in a town with a train station, and now live in a different town that also once had a station.

This site uses the railway stations as the "center" of town, though I'd have defined it in both cases as at least a hundred yards away. Certainly "close enough" though.

For any straight line measurement that is going to have a base distance in miles, a couple of hundred feet for the endpoints is noise value once you get out a bit.
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Old 03-20-2018, 09:28 AM
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In London, for example, there's actually a marker in Trafalgar Square showing the exact spot; you can see it in this BBC article.
I was pleased to see that the old signpost being used as a swing by the children in the photo at the top is still there (at least it was when the Street View car went by). Looking a bit the worse for wear now, though.
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