Comparing City Street Orientations


161 points | by jsm386 252 days ago


  • fredley 252 days ago

    I remember this from 2014:

    Where streets are coloured on the map by orientation.

    While most US cities are a wash of one colour, Europe is much more chromatic!

    • stephengillie 252 days ago

      Tacoma has a bizarre direction pattern for its streets. Every location east of A Street is "East", and west of Division is "West". Between these 2 (and including A and Division streets), everything north of 6th Ave is "North" and south of 6th Ave is "South".

      6th Ave itself has no direction name, and oddly, streets increment in both directions. North of 6th Ave is 7th Ave North, while south of 6th Ave is 7th Ave South. There is no 1st Ave through 5th Ave.

      These directional names persist through Pierce County, so the vast majority of roads in the county have "East" appended to them, all the way out to Mt. Rainier (which is also in Pierce County). North of Tacoma's Narrows Bridge lay Gig Harbor and the Key Peninsula, where streets prepend the direction name with "KP" - i.e. "KPN" for North - to be more clear that they're across Puget Sound from the rest of Pierce County.,_Washington#Transportat...

      • iFred 252 days ago

        This has to be something that is somewhat unique to the Pacific Northwest lowlands, where you have very large counties that are densely populated in spots. I lived near 127th St, which had 127th St Ct, 127th St E, 127th St Ct E, and then a few miles away you had 127th St S, etc.

        God forbid someone give these streets creative names.

        • mjevans 252 days ago

          I'd rather have shockingly un-creative names.

          Given most of these cities run streets north or south I'd love the streets to have Lat (N-S) or Long (E-W) followed by the subset of GPS co-ordinates that are unique within the location.

          This looks like a good standard to start from:

          For pure estimates 8 digits (within their grid) give 10 meter accuracy which should be enough, so choosing the full "min+second" (truncated, no sub-seconds) listing or the first 4 digits (truncate off 10 thousandths) from the lat or long should suffice.

          This would also have a bonus of making anyplace addressable (in a postal sense) by it's GPS co-ordinates.

        • com2kid 252 days ago

          > Tacoma has a bizarre direction pattern for its streets. Every location east of A Street is "East", and west of Division is "West". Between these 2 (and including A and Division streets), everything north of 6th Ave is "North" and south of 6th Ave is "South".

          Same way King County is laid out. Makes navigation quite easy IMHO.

          Of course Seattle goes down to 1st before things become "South", the lack of a 1st through 5th is a bit off, but otherwise everything seems consistent. Seattle having named streets is a bit annoying, throughout most of the rest of King County it is possible from anywhere to anywhere else just by being given an intersection. Most of (all of?) Seattle's named streets actually do have the street number on top of them, in rather small print.

          • User23 252 days ago

            That's what the Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest mnemonic is for. Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine

        • lainga 252 days ago

          Charlotte's interesting because it grew fairly slowly until 1970, but has almost quadrupled in population since then. If you look at it on a map, the downtown core has a regular grid pattern, but the outer regions are a chaos where the city's expansion presumably overran a bunch of small towns in the last 40 years.

          • soared 252 days ago

            This looks incorrect based on Denver's graph. The post claims its effectively 100% along cardinal directions but thats obviously not the case. All of downtown is NE/SW.

            (Maybe Denver is including a lot of urban sprawl?)


            • cafard 251 days ago

              The downtown Denver grid was aligned parallel or perpendicular to the approximate course of the South Platte River there. It covers a small area--I recall it as something under a square mile. However, I would never say "effectively 100%" along cardinal directions, for a lot of places one might want to go are in downtown.

            • smilekzs 252 days ago

              The histogram for Seattle looks unconvincing for me, because the entire downtown-pike-denny area is slanted to align with the coastline (,-122.3407184,15z ). Possibly due to weighting?

              • iFred 252 days ago

                North of Lake Union and most of West Seattle are responsible for that plain look N-S grid. Zoomed in, it seems to better reflect the petty feuds.


                • mirceal 252 days ago

                  it is unconvincing. I was expecting to see 2 orientations (as anyone who lives in this area)

                • MajorSauce 252 days ago

                  I live near Montreal, while the street orientations are in a grid pattern, since there is a 45 degree orientation for most of them, "North" is by convention in fact NW.

                  It gets even more confusing on the NE part of the city, where Montreal's "East" is closer to true North and Montreal's North is closer to true West.

                  • gregsadetsky 252 days ago

                    Yes! It’s sometimes even more than that, going up to 55 degrees (measured at the St-Laurent/René-Lévesque crossing), which makes North more West than North..!

                    Street name suffixes follow the “Montreal convention” too, using East/West (when it should be N/S). My impression is that this is because the city is easier to look at horizontally (it’s closer to a 16:9 movie resolution) than a very vertical portrait.

                    MajorSauce, could you please contact me? (email in profile). I’m working in Montréal on a project related to emergency services (which you seem to be doing as well, from your profile). Thanks!

                  • CydeWeys 252 days ago

                    It'd be cool to see this weighted by street size (using, e.g., average daily traffic numbers). Granted that data is harder to come up with.

                    The DC plot would tell a different story then, because the avenues are all off-axis and few in number, but they're big streets with traffic light priority that handle a lot of car traffic.

                    • osdiab 252 days ago

                      While navigability of grids is nice, I kinda like it when cities have haphazard street layouts—older cities with chaotic street grids tend to be easier to walk around in (assuming you know where you're going) with slower traffic and smaller streets, not as loud since sound doesn't carry through all the buildings that block streets off (New York is loud almost everywhere, Tokyo has countless quiet neighborhoods seconds from even Shibuya Scramble), and as the author mentioned, instill a sense of adventure.

                      But maybe there's ways of getting these things while still maintaining street navigability—narrow streets with not necessarily rail straight, but still well-structured grids for the major streets, and maybe non-uniform/unstructred alleys could work to get both in one system.

                    • fit2rule 252 days ago

                      I'd love to see one of these rose diagrams for Tokyo .. when I was there I found it very, very difficult to navigate even my local neighbourhoods, and remarked as much to my hosts - who explained to me that the reason Tokyo was laid out in what could only loosely be described as "chaotic crows feet on acid", is so as to make it very difficult for any invading armies to march directly into the city in a straight line - giving defenders lots of places to choke them off.

                    • the8472 252 days ago

                      A comparison to old european cities would be interesting.

                      • kalleboo 252 days ago
                        • xhedley 252 days ago

                          Original post has added London, Madrid, Moscow, Paris, Rome, Warsaw. Rome (established 753BC per legend, occupied earlier) is close to a circle.

                          • aequitas 252 days ago

                            Also newer or rebuilt cities like Rotterdam would be interesting as well I think. Also since Europe is more dense than America there might be some different opinions on how things are to be planned.

                            • amyjess 252 days ago

                              One thing that really surprised me when poking around Google Maps a while back is how griddy Weimar is compared to other European cities. While the downtown is a mess, the areas immediately outside it are on a grid that wraps around the city.

                              • close04 252 days ago

                                Most European cities have grids but you have to "zoom in" a lot. And those grid "pieces" aren't themselves arranged in grids. So there's usually very little continuity for the grid pattern over distances. The direction tends to change every few streets.

                                So in most cities if you zoom in on the map you'll see mostly grid-like patterns. But as soon as you start zooming out it fades away into a mash of directions, turns, and swirls. The only places where it's hard to find any kind of straight line is in (centuries) old city centers.

                                I don't find Weimar particularly "griddy" compared to any other city.

                                P.S. Barcelona is the "griddiest" big European city I know. Even though at some point the grid changes alignment they have huge chunks with almost perfect squares between streets.

                                • websterisk 251 days ago

                                  Barcelona is particularly awesome in this respect. Historically, it was a few distinct villages. Then during a period of growth each of those separate areas were connected by a modern (at least at the time) grid. Looking at this area on google maps is fun. You can scroll between two adjacent zoom levels to see modern gridded order vs the total chaos of a gothic village (looking at the gothic quarter or vila de gracia in particular).

                                  When I visited, I was confused about how the city was configured so oddly until I saw a pre-modernization map, then everything suddenly clicked.

                            • yread 252 days ago

                              Prague would be cool, some parts are a bit griddy but I doubt it would show up overall. Twisting river and rolling hills would take over

                            • Someone 252 days ago

                              You would need different math for star forts such as Palmanova (, or for 17th century Amsterdam, with its radial grid (

                              Such a circular grid has the advantage that it is easy to find its center.

                              • seniorsassycat 252 days ago

                                Charlotte is really interesting. It's very evenly distributed, even compared to Boston. It's also not balanced on the north / south axis. Are there more north bound one way streets?

                                • CydeWeys 252 days ago

                                  Downtown Charlotte is definitely a strict grid pattern. I think Charlotte is more a victim here of having really widely defined city limits than anything else. Do a graph of just downtown Charlotte and it'd look just as much like a strict grid as Manhattan does (which, worth noting, is not all of NYC).

                                • ajuc 251 days ago

                                  I much prefer older European cities street layout. It's usually a mix of circular and rectangular patterns, but it's still usually easy to navigate by roughly assuming each turn is 90 degree. And it's walkable.

                                  In Poland especially interesting is Szczecin layout. It seems rectangular when you're there, but when you look at it from height it's actually made mostly out of triangles.

                                  You turn right 2 times and you get to where you started :) Messed with my head so much when I was there.

                                  • Sniffnoy 252 days ago

                                    The histogram for Charlotte is asymmetrical... what's up with that? One-way streets? (The same is true for some other cities in the follow-up also.) The article doesn't say.

                                  • User23 252 days ago

                                    I'll never forget the first time I drove in Boston as a teenager. I came up to a forest of stoplights, some red some green hanging haphazardly at an intersection of seven streets, and my burning question was: which one is mine? I went when the driver behind me started honking.

                                    • Steltek 252 days ago

                                      Manhattan burned to the ground so they got a do-over on their street grid. Any East Coast city that wasn't centrally planned (e.g. DC) or burned to the ground will resemble Boston.

                                      Boston also more than tripled in size due to land reclamation, which included leveling some hills. The contours that the current roads follow may have made more sense when Boston Common was a muddy beach and everyone walked to where they were going.


                                      • jakemoshenko 252 days ago

                                        Got any more information about "Manhattan burned to the ground"? I can only find two "great fires" that may be relevant, and neither of them gave Manhattan a do-over.

                                        The Commissioner's plan is the reason Manhattan has a grid system, and the page for it doesn't reference any fires.


                                        Finally, the streets before the Commissioner's plan took effect are still rather small and twisty.

                                        • oh_sigh 252 days ago

                                          OP is wrong. The grid system was laid out before central/northern Manhattan was developed. No fire required. They may be confusing with London, Paris , Amsterdam, Atlanta, etc

                                          • yread 252 days ago

                                            Amsterdam is not regular because of fires. It's radial grid is the first urban planning ever done - Amsterdam drew the streets far out and people settled them over the next 100 years or so

                                        • code4tee 252 days ago

                                          Not sure about this. It’s more that the city grew from south to north and at a certain point they started using the grid plan. Lower Manhattan is pre-Grid and a lot like Boston with streets in all directions.

                                          • com2kid 252 days ago

                                            Manhattan is weird, it is like an early beta version of a grid system, where they had the right idea, but the implementation is just way off.

                                            In the majority of cities laid out on a grid, you can give an address and a street number, and that is enough to navigate to your destination. Houses are numbered according to the cross street, so on 6th ave and 12th st, if my house faces out towards 6th ave, my house address would be 12xx.

                                            For whatever reason Manhattan neglected that particular part of the grid system algorithm.

                                            First time I visited Manhattan this threw me off. Navigation should be reasonable, but instead it is almost reasonable.

                                            • dysfunction 252 days ago

                                              Perhaps you meant Atlanta was the one that burned to the ground and got a do-over?

                                            • eropple 252 days ago

                                              The later parts of Boston are grids, too. Back Bay (which was literally a bay, and that's part of why Fenway Park is sinking) is a slightly lumpy grid, and South Boston (a landfill-widened neck) is too.

                                          • allworknoplay 252 days ago
                                            • calandoa 251 days ago

                                              Well, the diagrams are not always matching what I see.

                                              In Charlotte or Seattle, I would expect the downtown area to be discernible on the diagrams.

                                              If I look at Mumbai or Dehli (are we talking about the cities in India?), the diagrams seem totally uncorrelated.

                                              • 252 days ago