curious km for transcript.mp3
6:25PM Jun 14, 2019
Curious Louisville. Because great questions make great stories.
The United States prides itself on a kind of rugged individualism. We like to think we do things our own way here. So while the rest of the world uses the metric system, here in America we use a system based on inches, feet, yards and miles. Except on a particular stretch of Louisville interstate. I'm Laura Ellis and today on Curious Louisville, WFPL's Ashlie Stevens finds out why.
So I'm on I-265 past the Ford plant and, okay, here we go. Exit 35 A Cincinnati 1.2 kilometers. There's an English measurement too, in parentheses. The exit is three fourths of a mile away. But for an entire stretch of Louisville interstate, it's like you're in a country that actually uses the metric system as the primary form of measurement. And several curious Louisville listeners wanted to know why. The story begins in the late 1960s. The tech field was booming. Scientific strides were being made.
"That's one small step for man..." "Mach One special sports performance sports roof mustang..." "Here in this laboratory, we study the nuclear processes that take place in the sun..."
And during that time, there was a push among some American government and science professionals to shift to the metric system. They argued it would aid and global commerce and the exchange of new ideas. Over the next decade, the US government inched towards the switch. In 1975, President Gerald Ford signed the metric conversion Act, which declared the metric system the preferred system of weights and measures for the United States trade and commerce. To be clear, the acts didn't actually do anything. President Ford emphasized that the conversion was completely voluntary. But for the next few years Schoolhouse Rock style films produced by the government were distributed for viewing schools and professional settings.
"A simple computation such as finding the number of inches in a mile is never that simple. But now, there is a better way. And it is based entirely on the meter."
In 1977 Kentucky Governor Julian M. Carroll named a metric task force of 33 educators to ensure the metric system would be the dominant measuring system in state schools by 1980. But that didn't happen. The little national excitement surrounding the conversion had dissipated. Most people went on measuring their lives in inches miles and gallons until the 1990s. At that time, some government agencies, including the Department of Transportation, planned to require metric units by 2000. This was ultimately canceled by the 1998 transportation Equity Act.
During that time, there were some signs on Interstate 265, the gene Snyder freeway that were scheduled for replacement,
That's Andrea Clifford, a public information specialist with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
The Transportation Cabinet chose to go ahead and list the mileage in metric as well as English because we would be converting to the metric system. You know, in the near future.
With no federal mandate, it was decided that Kentucky would remain with the English measurement system,
Those signs are very expensive to fabricate. So the Transportation Cabinet opted to leave them in place because they did have the English units on them as well.
And Clifford says they will remain in place until it comes time to replace the signs, which will be a while, as they really aren't showing any wear and tear. Which, for local proponents of metric system isn't a bad thing.
It is an absolute must in terms of science communication in really any facet.
Dr. Caroline Doyle is a biology professor at Bellarmine University. She says the metric system is part of the language of science.
Everything's a factor of 10. And it's this sort of nice beautiful universal system. And again, you know English kind of won the linguistics war, but metric won the number war.
Doyle said she'd like to see more emphasis put on teaching the metric system in school, and she's not the only one. There are groups like the US metric Association dedicated to advocating for a shift and measurement systems. And in the most recent issue of their newsletter metric today, writers talked about a future in which the country had fully converted to the metric system. Right now it seems improbable, but of the shift ever occurs. Louisville with its stretch of metric measured highway is miles - or kilometers - head of the rest of the country.
This curious Louisville story was recorded and produced by Ashlie Stevens. The question came from lots of you, including Whitney Barter, Sam Sargeant, Ian Hooper, JD Schall, Brian Vowels, and Dave Sauerbeck. I'm Laura Ellis. Thanks for listening. You can support the work that we do by visiting the link in our show notes. And don't forget you can always ask a question of your own at curiouslouisville.org