Friday, October 31, 2014

Accessible State Capitals

Washington, DC wasn’t always so misplaced. Back at the beginning of our country, it actually made a lot of sense. At that time, we were a seaboard country, with Washington pretty smack dab right in the middle.

Needless to say, we did not remain a seaboard country. In fact, only fifty years later, the U.S. stretched from sea to shining sea. And that meant that some of its citizens were now about 2,500 miles away from the seat of power.

So, we definitely failed to place our national capital in a convenient location. But how about our states? Were they able to learn from our big mistake at the national level?


For this little study, I looked at how far away each state capital was from that state’s geographic center.  

Because the states are such different sizes, however, I took this distance as a percentage of the state’s longest dimension. For example, I hear that Texas is slightly larger than Connecticut. So, though Hartford is only 15 miles away from E. Berlin (CT’s geographic center), that’s 11% of the state’s longest dimension. And that’s pretty comparable to the same numbers for Texas. Austin, though 128 miles away from Brady (TX’s geo center), comes in at only 14% when you look at that way.

By the way, I also thought about looking at population centers as well. Unfortunately, that’s something that changes over time. And since some of these states are now 225 years old …

Those poor people

The Winners

It’s actually a little hard to believe, but there are eight states where the capital is pretty much dead in the center of the state:
  • Arkansas (Little Rock)
  • Delaware (Dover)
  • Missouri (Jefferson City)
  • New Jersey (Trenton)
  • Ohio (Columbia)
  • Oklahoma (Oklahoma City)
  • South Carolina (Columbia)
  • South Dakota (Pierre)

Welcome to beautiful Trenton, NJ!

AR, OH, OK, and SC get extra points because their capitals also happen to be their largest cities. In other words, I consider them the perfect capital cities. The other states with their capital also being their largest city (though not in the center of the state) include AZ, CO, GA, HI, IA, ID, IN, MA, MS, RI, UT, and WV. That’s 16 in total, or about a third of them overall.

That said, I also like the way Jefferson City perfectly balances the two huge metropolises – St. Louis and Kansas City – at both ends of its state. Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, does something very similar with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

By the way, of those eight central capitals, Jeff City and Columbus were the only cities that were founded on purpose. Dover, Columbia, and Pierre all existed prior to their becoming the capital (i.e., the capital was moved there from somewhere else). Sorry – don’t have anything definitive on the other three.

The Also Rans

So, yes, this is like horseshoes. Here are the states that – if not perfect – at least came pretty close (or at least were within my arbitrary requirement of being in single digits).

State Capital Geo Center Miles Away Ratio
Illinois Springfield Rochester 8 2%
Maryland Annapolis Davidsonville 10 3%
Indiana Indianapolis Avon 13 4%
Tennessee Nashville Murfreesboro 36 4%
Iowa Des Moines Ames 35 8%
NC Raleigh Sanford 43 8%
Vermont Montpelier Roxbury 20 9%

By the way, Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the country, at under 8,000. The biggest is Phoenix, at almost a million and a half.

Yup, that’s pretty much it

The Losers

This is pretty subjective, but I found five state capitals that are more than 30% away from the geographic center of the state. I am using that totally arbitrary number to define them here and ever after as total, complete losers (at least when it comes to accessibility).

State Capital Geo Center Miles Away Ratio
Nebraska Lincoln Broken Bow 176 31%
Wisconsin Madison Marshfield 135 44%
Kansas Topeka Great Bend 187 35%
Washington Olympia Wenatchee 189 36%
Alaska Juneau Fairbanks 733 49%

So, I think it’s pretty safe to say Alaska gets the booby prize as “Least Accessible City.”

Yes, you read that correctly.  
It does indeed say 18 hours 

All the Rest

So, those categories take care of less than half the states (20, or 40%, to be exact). How about all the rest?

Well, these are the ones ranking from 10% to 24%. And they include the rather wide range of mileage from 13 (Rhode Island) to 195 (Florida).

Some interesting facts about them include:
  • The geographic centers of New York, Georgia, Arizona, and Colorado are the fairly populous cities of – respectively – Utica, Macon, Prescott, and Colorado Springs
  • Those for Utah (Manti), West Virginia (Sutton), Michigan (Cadillac), Wyoming (Lander), Nevada (Lander), Idaho (Challis), and Montana (Lewiston) are pretty much smack dab in the middle of nowhere
  • The geographic center of North Dakota, McClusky, has only 380 people
  • That of Pennsylvania, State College, is where the state decided to site their flagship university
  • The geographic center of Mississippi, Carthage, features the largest chicken processing plant in the whole world.

Rush hour, Challis ID