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Monday, October 03, 2011

Man Peruses Queens Confuses

For ease of navigation, it does behoove a large city to establish a numbered grid. However, this does come at an expense - the lack of soul or identity. It will be difficult for a numbered street to carry panache or to conjure images or historical links. (There are notable exceptions, such as Fifth Avenue.) This is why, when the street grid for Queens was developed in 1911 by Charles U. Powell, it was met with resistance, and many named streets remain, mixed in with numbered streets.


Powell, a chief engineer in the topographical bureau, modeled the grid after Philadelphia's. At the time, the borough was a mess - there were approximately 60 self-contained villages in Queens, many with duplicate street names. The finished product is a borough of avenues, streets, roads, drives, places, lanes, crescents, courts, and terraces. In What Numba Kissena?, I wrote about my early experience driving a taxi in Queens and being lost. The nightmare is that many have the same numbers, and there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the numbering system. So, for example, between 43rd and 45th Avenues, you will find 44th Avenue, 44th Road, and 44th Drive. In other cases, there will only be consecutive numbers, the skipping of numbers or streets stopping and resuming elsewhere.

Avenues run east and west and streets run north and south (in Manhattan, it is the reverse). Since the numbering extends the entire borough and it is as wide as it is tall, there are over 200 avenues and streets. Hence, there are many intersections with the same number (in Manhattan there are only a handful of such intersections). So, a sign like that in today's photo showing 30th and 30th, is not uncommon.

The hyphenated house numbering also follows a system. The number before the hyphen indicates the nearby cross street, and the number after the hyphen is the actual house number. The houses are in numerical order, so the number also will indicate its relative position on the block. So, 30-72 30th Street would be on 30th Street between 30th and 31st Avenues, closer to 31st since 72 is the house number. Some street numbers are skipped, others stop and continue.

Confused? Don't worry. None of this will really help. Even residents and those working in the neighborhood get lost. From a New York Times article in 2000, "Meet Me At 60th And 60th; Many Drivers Find Streets of Queens A Confusing Maze":

Laura Bell, a proofreader for a Manhattan advertising agency who has lived in Long Island City, Queens, for four years, said flustered people constantly stop her to ask for directions while she is walking her dog. She said she was usually too confused herself to help them out.

''They usually seem like they're at a point where they think they're never going to get out,'' she said. ''Queens is a bit of a twilight zone.''


The article concludes with one resident's solution:

 ''I'm shameless at this point. I just keep my window down and yell.'' 

I don't know how well GPS will perform either. A recent excursion to the Family Corner Restaurant in Queens resulted in a much longer walk than anticipated. The iPad Maps application appeared to have located the destination improperly. Even in the world of high technology, Man Peruses Queens confuses...

Related Posts: Manhattan Address Locator, Follow the Crowd, Love Is All Around, Part 2, Small Achievements

1 comment:

Terry B, Blue Kitchen said...

This reminds me of trying to navigate around Atlanta when I visited once. There must be 40 or more streets named some variation of Peachtree.