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Can’t get there from here

The (sometimes) fictional world of cartography

Author James Bartlett Illustration Mike Lemanski


There was a time, not long ago, when people navigated the world by way of sheets of paper patterned with squiggly lines. These guides, while useful, weren’t always as straightforward as they seemed. For centuries, cartographers have moved, misnamed or made up streets, largely for the purpose of catching those who reprinted the maps as their own. While the odd “trap street” still crops up, the practice has mostly gone the way of those fraught, wind-blown origami sessions that used to be commonplace around tourist landmarks, now replaced with smartphones. Here, a few examples of the dying art of trap streets.

A 1988 San Diego County map at the Los Angeles Public Library features the nonexistent Entrada Road, Saddlewood Court, Prairie Drive and Grasslands Court.

A Tele Atlas digital map still lists an Oxygen Street in Edinburgh; the same goes for Galgenpfad (“Gallows Path”) in Bonn, Germany.

A 1978 map of Michigan included the fictional towns of Beatosu and Goblu (in Ohio), allegedly a tribute to the region’s rival college football teams.

A 1970s map of Syracuse, New York, had a never-constructed Gould Street—possibly named after a local geographer and mapmaker.

On a 1982 map of metro Chicago, the fictional suburb of Westdale appeared—and didn’t disappear until 1986.

The London A-Z, the most authoritative and comprehensive London guide in history, was reported to have more than 100 trap streets in its pages by the mid-2000s.

Google Maps removed a south London road that ran through streets, houses and a department store from Clapham Junction to Clapham Common.

A modern road map for Athens, Greece, still has a warning about trap streets on its front cover.

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