The “Philadelphia System” is used in virtually every American city west of the Appalachians other than San Francisco, though local topography or history may introduce significant distortions or exceptions to the pattern.
Among the most complete and uniform are Denver, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa.
Salt Lake City and other Mormon towns often use the Lyman System, in which the street name is merely the coördinate, so that an address will take the form 715 E. 2400S.
Memphis’s are, too. It’s often said here that the Memphis streets were laid out by a drunken Indian on a lame horse [apologies if that’s deemed offensive to any of y’all], and that’s easy to believe. The Memphis street grid includes such amusements as streets that suddenly seem to turn into another street, but if you consult the map (or just happen to turn in the right direction) you’ll discover that the street you thought you were on is actually a block or to north/south/east/west of you.
And let’s not mention the four way intersections where each arm of the intersection is a differently named street. The most infamous example is the intersection of North Parkway and North Trezevant Street. If you are headed east on North Parkway approaching that intersection, you have three choices:
Continue driving east, and after you pass the intersection you’re on Summer Avenue,
Turn left from North Parkway onto North Trezevant,
Turn right from North Parkway onto East Parkway.
(I suppose there’s a fourth option: pull an illegal U-turn, head back west on North Parkway, return from whence you came, and have a stiff drink. Or maybe many stiff drinks. But I digress…)
Speaking of North/East/South Parkway, most newcomers to Memphis find it weird that North Parkway and South Parkway are both east-west streets, while East Parkway is a north-south street. Actually, that one makes the most sense (once the underlying logic dawns on you).
Subsequent to leaving Chicago in the mid 70’s I’ve spent most of my time in the Bay Area and San Diego. The geography (hills, valleys, etc.) makes a simple gridlike Chicago impossible. People in these cities don’t at all relate to questions like, “What hundred north is it?” There are “hundreds” and there are “norths,” but people just don’t think that way. More often tan not you hear, “What are the cross streets?”
Man, driving for a living in Chicago spoiled me. I was a driver (and tour guide) for Chicago Trolley Company from the summer of 1999 until the summer of 2002, when I moved to New York. Manhattanites are proud of their numbered avenue/street system and will claim it makes navigation easy, but I remember my shock upon learning that the building numbers did not match up to the street numbers.
There is, indeed, a mathematical formula for finding addresses in Manhattan, which I first encountered in the back of a Hagstrom road atlas. The formula is explained here: http://www.cdny.org/streetfinder.html. If that page looks like it was written in Martian, a little background info may help. Manhattan, north of Houston Street, consists essentially of twelve numbered “avenues” that run north(ish)-south(ish) along the length of Manhattan Island (I’m radically simplifying here), and over two hundred narrower, more tightly spaced numbered “streets” that run perpendicular to the avenues. Finding an address on a street is easy enough, but the “Old Algorithm” for finding addresses on an avenue is so arcane it’s practically useless. Many of my friends grew up in New York and I’ll bet you most of them have never heard of it. I’ll conduct an informal poll tonight (There’s a get-together at my apartment).
Keep in mind that this system only applies to Manhattan (and not even all of it). Other boroughs have their own systems. Queens has what theoretically should be the easiest system. Numbered streets run basically north-south, numbered avenues run basically east-west, and all of the building numbers correspond to the cross streets/avenues. The problem is the streets of Queens do not form a tidy grid by any stretch of the imagination.
And then there’s Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is a collection of mini-grids aligned at oblique angles, betraying the borough’s origins as a collection of small villages. The problem with these grids is that they lull you into a false sense of knowing where you are, and when you cross over into another grid you’re screwed.
For example, imagine you’re at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Tompkins Avenue. (Google Map it and follow along. It’ll be fun!) You’re walking (driving, biking) eastward. You know that, since you’re on a grid, if you make a right turn, you’ll be going South (not quite due south, but stick with me). Then you cross Broadway. Myrtle avenue has not turned. Nothing looks particularly different (other than the elevated train that is now above you), but the rest of the streets are no longer perpendicular to you. Now, if you turn right, you will be heading southeas. Or maybe you’ll be heading southwest. If you’ve been thinking in grid mode, the sharpness of the turn won’t register. Trust me on this one. You can imagine, then, how easy it is to get lost. I haven’t even tried to figure out if the building numbers follow any kind of logic.
Least favorite city?
Pittsburgh. Oh God. Who though building a city on a valley overlooking three rivers was a good idea? I’ve never seen so many streets that intersect at such weird angles.
Only city that might be more logical than Chicago?
I just got back from Japan and really their system makes all US cities seem pretty orderly in comparison. They don’t even use street addresses in the same way the US does. I spent time looking for places only to find out that what I thought were street names were neighborhood names.
Still, Boston has been the most confusing US city I’ve been in. It doesn’t help that no one I know from there seems to know where they are going either.
I asked for directions at a gas station and they had never heard of a street that was only 2 blocks away and then called where I was going to and the people there had never heard of the street the gas station was on.
Edmonton has an interesting grid, because almost every street and avenue is numbered, avenues run EW and are numbered in order from S to N, roads run NS and are numbered in order from E to W, and the centre of the city is roughly where 100 Ave would meet 100 St – though because of some irregularities, those two don’t actually intersect.
Around San Jose, the whole world is tilted 45 degrees. The southbound 680 freeway actually goes west, but southbound 101 goes more east than south. You just have to figure it out for yourself, but GPS navigation is *really *useful.
"The system works like this: avenues run east and west and streets run north and south, the opposite of Manhattan’s system. The avenues were given consecutive numbers, but there were often additional parallel streets in between the avenues that needed names, so they were assigned the same numbers and called roads or drives, in that order.
So if there was a street between 65th and 66th Avenues, it would be called 65th Road. If there was another one, it would be called 65th Drive. But there is no uniformity. Sometimes there are roads and drives between the avenues, sometimes there is only a road. Sometimes the avenues run consecutively with nothing in between, depending on the neighborhood.
The same went for streets. If there were additional streets that needed naming between the consecutively numbered streets, they were called places and lanes, in that order. So between 71st Street and 72nd Street, there could be a 71st Place and a 71st Lane. Again, that depends on the neighborhood. In Glendale there is a 71st Street and a 71st Place, but in Middle Village, only a 71st Street.
Breathe. Crescents and hyphens are next.
Curved roads that were not parallel with either the avenues or the streets were assigned numbers and called crescents, courts or terraces. The longer roads, like Queens Boulevard, were called boulevards and not assigned numbers.
… the house-numbering system was designed to indicate the exact location of an address. The number before the hyphen is the cross street, and the number after the hyphen is the position on the block.
So 37-69 103rd Street would be on 103rd Street between 37th Avenue and 38th Avenue (unless there is a 37th Road or a 37th Drive before 38th Avenue), house No. 69 on the block.
The cross streets (or avenues, roads, drives, places or lanes) can tell you where in the borough – east, west, north or south – an address is. The streets, starting with First Street on the borough’s western edge, increase as they go east. The avenues, starting with Second Avenue, increase as they go south. This is important because someone looking for 71st Street could be looking for an address in Jackson Heights or in Glendale, neighborhoods that are miles apart. If the cross street in the address is a low-numbered avenue, like 20th (that is low for Queens), the address is in the north, but a higher-numbered avenue, like 88th or 165th, would put the address in the south."
Oh yea, Pittsburgh is horrible. I used to work for a couple different realtors in Pittsburgh after I graduated college. The street intersections are such weird angles and It’s just hard to maneuver around the city. I got out of there as soon as I could.
DC is a mess. It’s a NW/SE grid BUT there are radials all over the damn place; and not at neat 45 degree angles, but at 60 or 15 or whatnot, that will throw you off; the idea is, of course, that if you’re on a trip to buy milk, what you really need are four extra lights as you cross roads running directly to the White House and the Capitol, six miles away. Oh, and some circles with statues in the middle.