Avenue then street, or vice-versa?
April 9, 2011 7:18 PM   Subscribe

When you state an intersection in a city that has avenues and streets (or some other system where N-S is one set and E-W is another set), is there a convention for which you name first? In other words, how should people interpret something like "9th and 11th"? If there's a convention, is it universal? Or, does it vary from city to city?

I guess I'm looking for answers to two closely related questions:
a) If there's a convention that applies to everyone, what is it? Tell me more about this convention. Does it come from New York? From some great proto-urban-planner?

b) If there isn't a convention for everyone, but there are different conventions for different cities, then I'd love to just hear about what it is in your city.

I moved to Duluth, MN a couple years ago. We have N-S avenues and E-W streets. But, I don't know what the local convention is so I'm always really explicit.
posted by secretseasons to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not aware of any official convention myself, but personally I generally say the larger roadway first, or if they are equal size, the one running north-south first.
posted by Menthol at 7:25 PM on April 9, 2011

Here in SLC it's usually the North/South dimension by the East/West dimension, but only when generalizing. When you give specifics it's the property number (ex 480 East) and then the street (500 South).
posted by msbutah at 7:46 PM on April 9, 2011

In New York almost everyone who is familiar with the city says street and then avenue. Especially in cases where it could be confusing. 4th and 7th would be more likely Fourth Street and Seventh Avenue. Then again when I'm talking about one of those places, I always make sure to specify.

That said, it's almost unthinkable that someone who knows the city at all would say "3rd and 1st" to mean first street and third avenue.
posted by Sara C. at 7:47 PM on April 9, 2011

Concurring with Sara C., in NY it's street then avenue. There are many more streets than avenues (for Manhattan at least, things get messy out in Queens) and the streets run E/W and the avenues run N/S and the island is taller than it is wide.

Out in the particular burb I'm in (City of Long Beach, 45 minutes away by commuter rail by the water a bit aways from the sprawling suburbia that is Long Island), it's street then avenue/boulevard. There are many more boulevards than streets because Long Beach Island (which includes three other towns not in the City) is wider than it is tall (it's one of the barrier islands to Long Island). The streets run E/W and the boulevards run N/S. Our streets are not numbered, but have clusters of names, such as the boulevard presidents (I live between Munroe and Lincoln), the tree streets (Beech, Olive, Walnut) and "the walks" which are state avenues (e.g., Vermont, Virginia, etc.).

There are many older villages on Long Island with numbered streets and avenues, but people just give addresses (maybe a landmark or two) because everyone drives and it just gets punched into a GPS.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:20 PM on April 9, 2011

Oh, and first and first is the center of the universe.
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:21 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and first and first is the center of the universe.

That's the nexus of the universe...
posted by hwyengr at 8:30 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Usually the larger street first, or else the more distant one first.

I think east-west usually goes first on the south side of Chicago, since the east-west streets have ordinal names but north-south streets don't -- and vice versa for parts of the west side. As far as I know, CTA bus announcements and El stops follow this convention (63rd/Ashland, 63rd/Cottage Grove, 54th/Cermak). Probably this differs from neighborhood to neighborhood, though. (This may also be my own bias, as someone who commutes north-south.)
posted by sleepingcbw at 8:36 PM on April 9, 2011

(Oops. Avenues *and* streets. My reading comprehension is not so great today.)
posted by sleepingcbw at 8:39 PM on April 9, 2011

Sorry if this was meant to be US only but as a data point, street intersections are almost never referred to in the United Kingdom. When they are, it's done in full form like "on the corner of Somewhere Street and Another Road." Cutting that down to "on the corner of Somewhere and Another" would be next to unintelligible to most Brits - I've tried ;-)

If I had to extract a reason, I'd argue that the extremely non formulaic road layouts and lack of prominent signage lead to people not generally knowing the names of roads they're on and, even if they do, not having a good grasp on where said roads connect.
posted by wackybrit at 9:01 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've said and heard versions without street/avenue but only when it's unmistakably clear without them. For example, 47th and 8th can mean only one possible intersection in Manhattan but could be confusing in Queens or Brooklyn. So people usually add street or avenue for clarity.

I don't believe there's a widespread convention.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:17 PM on April 9, 2011

The only verbal convention I've ever noticed that seems relatively universal (with the caveat that I've never lived in a big metropolis) is that when referring to an intersection of a named street and a numbered street, the numbered street is spoken first (i.e. "Fifth and Main" rather than "Main and Fifth").

Now someone will be along to say that the opposite is true.
posted by amyms at 9:28 PM on April 9, 2011

I hadn't intended this to be US-only. But, I was assuming that there'd only be a convention in a city with a grid system or other well-defined system. I think, in general, that US cities are more likely to have these systems because they are younger. This seems consistent with what you're saying, wackybrit.

Thanks for the answers so far! The Manhattan examples are pretty in line with what I would have guessed -- it just makes sense to me that you specify the street first because the island is so much longer north-to-south, so the street is a more informative piece of information. Duluth MN (metropolis that it is) is long in the other direction, so I wonder if the opposite convention holds here?
posted by secretseasons at 9:57 PM on April 9, 2011

The convention that amyms mentions, that numbered streets come before named streets, holds pretty strongly in Philadelphia, where I'm from -- enough that if someone violates it I figure they're from out of town. And it seems to work in San Francisco and Oakland, the two cities I spend any time in now that have numbered streets, although I feel like it's violated here slightly more often.

I also have a theory that streets which run parallel to numbered streets but aren't numbered themselves should "act like" numbered streets for this purpose. (So if there are numbered streets running east-west in a certain area, then east-west streets nearby that are not numbered are still more likely to come first.) I have no idea if it's actually true. I could probably check it with some judicious Googling but I don't want my theory to be shattered.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:08 PM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the metro Detroit tri-county area, when mentioning an intersection that includes one of the east-west mile roads, we usually mention the mile road first: "The mall is at 12 and Dequindre" or "I bought this blouse at the Target on 13 and Gratiot."
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:35 AM on April 10, 2011

In Seattle, east-west streets have their directional indicator before the street name, while north-south avenues have it after the avenue name. So there is an intersection at streets officially named NW 65th St and 15th Ave NW, but most people will just call that NW 65th and 15th NW, or even just 65th and 15th NW. NW 65th St, N 65th St, and NE 65th St are all continuations of the same street, but 15th Ave NW and 15th Ave NE are totally different. So you have to specify 65th and 15th NW or 65th and 15th NE. (Although some people would differentiate them by neighborhood instead of directional).

I feel like there is a convention downtown (where directional indicators are not used) of usually having a numbered avenue named first (3rd and Pine, not Pine and 3rd), but in north Seattle, I feel like the east-west street names come first.
posted by grouse at 1:03 AM on April 10, 2011

In rural areas the convention is $BIGROAD and $LITTLEROAD, for example "County Rd 7 and 19th Sideroad". You assume the person will be travelling on $BIGROAD and looking for $LITTLEROAD as the cross street.

Numbered streets don't always come first: for example "42nd street and Broadway" sounds weird to me but "Broadway and 42nd Street" sounds fine.

Nthing the fact that in England this usage will confuse everyone. This is partly because "Church" is ridiculously ambiguous -- there are Church Streets, Roads, Avenues, Closes, Mews etc everywhere and the terms retain specific meanings. Moreover almost nowhere in the UK is on a grid so it's not a particularly helpful way of thinking about the road layout topographically. Finally, cities like London are an agglomeration of villages, so again there is a lot of ambiguity in street names and it is generally easier to use neighborhoods and landmarks.
posted by unSane at 1:56 AM on April 10, 2011

Austin breaks the number+name convention—here, the numbered streets run E-W north of the river, and N-S south of the river. Unless there were no ambiguity (the N-S numbered streets all have low numbers, so there's no South 10th), I wouldn't omit the direction of the street, and I would generally name the E-W street first.
posted by adamrice at 6:53 AM on April 10, 2011

It doesn't matter as long as you say something that is clear for your area. Conventions vary by city so you can't really have a rule that will work consistently although music and movies/popular culture in the US tend to say the numbered street first.

In Milwaukee our numbered streets are N-S only so it makes it easier to say something like 35th & Wells.
posted by JJ86 at 7:17 AM on April 10, 2011

Emphasis might play a role. I'm going to FIRST and third, I'm going to third and FIRST. Both would mean first street and third avenue to me.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:54 AM on April 10, 2011

I'm not sure there is a universal here- numbered streets seem to usually go first, but exceptions abound. The logical BIGROAD at LITTLEROAD is broken in most cities, because the numbered streets seem to always go first whether they are important arterials or little alleys.

I'd bet that if linguists ever studied this, it would turn out that there are two conventions. The Street & Street convention, and the Street @ Street convention. The AND convention puts the smaller street first, and the AT convention puts the smaller street last. And that in most cases the word AT morphed into AND because people are lazy.

Further, they would probably find that the per-city conventions arose out of how the city grew. Most towns and cities seem to have been laid out where as the city grows, you add on another number street. So it would make sense that the numbered streets are inferior to the named streets regardless of their physical size.

So, if you are dropped into a city and had to guess, look at a map for the shape of the city. The more oblong it is, the more likely it is that the streets that run along the length of the city go second.
posted by gjc at 8:30 AM on April 10, 2011

Here in Seattle/King County we have:

1st Ave S (N–S)
1st Ave (NW–SE)
1st Ave N (N–S)
1st Ave W (N–S, two blocks west of 1st Ave N—don't get confused!)
1st Ave NW (N–S)
1st Ave NE (N–S)
1st Ave SW (N–S, one blocks west of 1st Ave S)

Only the first three of these connect.

We also have

NE 15th St, SE 15th St, 15th Ave NW, 15th Ave NE, 15th Ave E, 15th Ave W, 15th Ave S, and of course, plain old 15th Ave.

Directionals and street types become very important.
posted by grouse at 10:45 AM on April 10, 2011

Moreover almost nowhere in the UK is on a grid so it's not a particularly helpful way of thinking about the road layout topographically.

I'm not so sure that's the biggest part, though. While my entire time in America only sums up to about a year (and nearly all of it in California - which might put me at a disadvantage!), the people I've encountered still refers to intersections a lot even in areas without grid layouts. And intersections can still precisely locate you in non-grid areas - consider the corner of Tottenham Court Rd and Oxford St. No-one would ever refer to that intersection as "Oxford and Tottenham" whereas I suspect that approach wouldn't be entirely alien in the US even if it were unusual for the area.
posted by wackybrit at 4:52 PM on April 10, 2011

« Older ID this painting's artist, please!   |   Burt's original eleven herbs and spices Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.