In a tiny city like Lexington, it’s easy to form the opinion that street names are more or less arbitrary. What’s the difference between an “Avenue” and a “Drive”? Aside from some subjective, fuzzy differences of length, essentially nothing. A road is a road.
Then again, as city size increases, the headaches of such an arbitrary system increase exponentially. Hence standardized street-naming systems, which were the precursors to the arbitrary small-city naming conventions used today in places like Lexington. Lexington copying and bastardizing a bigger city concept? Never….
Seattle has a slightly less arbitrary but nonetheless intriguing road-naming system. North-south streets are called “Avenues,” while east-west streets are called, well, “Streets.” Roads with any other name may run in any direction. Street numbers increase to the north and west, which is, naturally, exactly the opposite of Chicago. The city is divided into seven directional sectors, the eight cardinal directions minus southeast. Streets are prefixed by their directional and avenues are postifixed. Addresses are standardized as well–the first one or two digits specify the lowest-numbered cross street, and the last two digits specify the location of the building relative to the intersection of the cross street and the street on which the building is actually located.
Chicago’s road-naming system is about as systematic as it gets. The intersection of State (N/S) and Madison (E/W) serves as the “baseline” from which all addresses and street numbers start. There are four directionals (N, S, E, W), and these directionals are conveniently bound by State and Madison. North of Madison, for example, a street is labeled “N.” Like Seattle, addresses are numbered according to their lowest-numbered cross street and their distance from the cross street. With few exceptions, eight blocks equals one mile, so a number increase of 800 corresponds to one mile. Half-block roads are named as “Places” of the road closer to the baseline, so a road between 95th and 96th Street would be called “95th Place.” Some north-south streets outside the city are named in groups of the same letter…hence western Chicago’s “K-town.”
Rational city design…yet another potential perk of graduate school.