Bisected and Bilateral: Streets Shared By Two Countries, Part I (The Americas)

Many thousands of roads cross international boundaries, but only a select few roads around the world are actually split directly down the middle by an international border where one country lies across the street from the other and crossing the border is as (theoretically) simple as crossing the crosswalk.In two parts (one today; one next update), you’ll find ten such places that meet the definition of being bilaterally bisected:

Rue Canusa/Canusa Street (Stanstead, Canada/Derby Line, United States)


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La rue Canusa

At full size, you may find it easier to notice the US flag on the left side of the street, and a French-language stop sign on the right side. And, yes, the border continues directly through that building, which is a post office dating back to the 1820s. Source: D. Martin, http://www.flickr.com/photos/37244082@N07/5991895222. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) licence.

Even though the Canada-US border is 8 891 km (5 525 mi) long and full of various anomalies and quirks, only this 580 m (1 900 ft) stretch of road actually straddles the border.This takes place in the divided hamlet of Beebe Plain, split between Stanstead, Quebec to the north and Derby Line, Vermont to the south.While the border in this area was set out in the 1783 Treaty of Paris along 45°N, it was not properly surveyed until after the War of 1812.In the meantime, numerous settlements were founded by settlers from New England. One of those settlements was Beebe Plain, founded in 1789.When it came time to properly delineate the border after the war (surveyors wound up missing much of the actual 45th parallel by over a kilometre in favour of the United States, resulting in today’s slightly off-kilter boundary), many buildings found themselves straddling the line, including personal homes and even a tool-and-die factory. Some, like the post office and the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, were late built deliberately on top of the border in order to promote cross-border friendship. These buildings have to follow two sets of building and property codes, but residents only have to report to customs if exiting from opposing side of the building. Local legend has Canusa Street being chosen as part of the border by drunken surveyors. Access to the street is gained through the Canadian side of the border.Residents who live on the Derby Line side of Canusa Street must report to US customs if traveling south, and to the Canadian customs if traveling north; Stanstead residents, meanwhile, only have to worry about US customs when travelling south.It is also interesting to note that the Quebec side has a sidewalk, while the Vermont side does not.The road is maintained as Quebec Route 247.

Rivera, Uruguay/Santana de Livramento, Brazil


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Rivera, capital of the Uruguayan department of the same name, and Santana do Livramento, its cross border counterpart in Rio Grande do Sul, are twin cities that share a long land border. What makes this border amazing is that 23 km (14 mi) of it is street. The two cities form a metropolitan area of around 200 000 people (two-thirds of which are on the Brazilian side) and are so interconnected that all border controls between the two cities have been removed; effectively they are a single city. Were it not for the different languages on signs on either side of the street, one would be hard pressed to even tell what side of the border they are on (although cultural differences are still present). Travellers only have to report to customs upon leaving the city. As a result, the gas stations and supermarkets on the Brazilian side are popular with Uruguayan shoppers, while Rivera is officially a tax-free zone for imported goods featuring duty-free shop popular with Brazilian shoppers. The types of streets which form the border vary in style from parallel multilane roads separated by a large median filled with monumental survey markers, to residential streets, to semi-rural farm roads. And not only is the urban border formed mostly by streets, but the bulk of Rivera Department’s border with Rio Grande do Sul is demarcated by a gravel road; again, no border controls are present, only the occasional survey monument.

Avenida Brasil/Avenida Uruguai (Chuy, Uruguay/Chuí, Brazil)


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Chuí

The Rivera/Livramento arrangement is not the only twin city on the Uruguay/Brazil border with duty-free arrangements and free movement within the conurbation. Chuy, Rocha and Chuí, Rio Grande do Sul (combined population approximately 17 000) share a similar arrangement. As well, they share a 3.5 km (2.2 mi) main street. In a gesture of international friendship, the street is known as Avenida Brasil in Spanish and Avenida Uruguai in Portuguese. Here again, a large median separates the two sides of the dividing street, official ports of entry are located outside of the city, and certain stores on each side of the border are popular with shoppers from the neighbouring country. The Uruguayan side has the added attraction of a casino.

Carrera 1 (Tabatinga, Brazil/Leticia, Colombia)


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One of the most infamous border areas in South America is Tres Fronteras, the Amazonian meeting point of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. Since the 1970s, the Leticia/Tabatinga crossing has been the major point of entry for cocaine into Brazil. The only ‘checkpoint’ for automobiles is on the main street in the form of some road barriers placed across the street in a slalom; pedestrians are free to come and go as they please. The western section of the border separating Leticia from Tabatinga runs along a wooded property line, but the section east of the main street splits an unpaved street known as Carrera 1 right down the middle. Although Tabatinga is slightly larger in size (45 000 residents versus 35 000 for Leticia), the Colombian city has much more tourist infrastructure and is now the second most popular city for tourists in the country.

In Part II, we look at the divided streets of Europe and the Middle East.

Further Reading

da Costa Braga, A. and D. Rigatti (2009). International Conurbations along Brazil- Uruguay Border: How Ambiguity Drives Spatial Patterns and Social Exchange. Proceedings of the 7th International Space Syntax Symposium 22, 1-13. Available at http://www.sss7.org/Proceedings/05%20Spatial%20Morphology%20and%20Urban%20Growth/022_daCostaBraga_Rigatti.pdf. Accessed 3 October 2011.

Farfan, M. (2010). Stanstead’s Heritage at a Glance. Townships Heritage Web Magazine. Available at http://townshipsheritage.com/article/stansteads-heritage-glance. Accessed 3 October 2011.

Han, X. (2011). Canusa. Available at http://sites.google.com/site/hanxiaoqiang02/canusa. Accessed 3 October 2011.

Metal Traveller (2010). Colombia: Leticia. Available at http://www.metaltraveller.com/en/trips/colombia/leticia.html. Accessed 4 October 2011.

Pericic, M. (2010). Ciudades divididas: Rivera y Santana do Livramento. Fronteras, 20 December 2010. Available at http://fronterasblog.wordpress.com/2010/12/20/ciudades-divididas-rivera-y-santana-do-livramento-por-marcelo-pericic/. Accessed 3 October 2011.

Phillips, T. (2011). Rio drug trade turns Amazon city into crime capital. The Guardian, 4 January 2011. Available at www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/04/rio-drug-trade-amazon-manaus. Accessed 4 October 2011.

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