Follow the Letter

On December 12, 2013 · 10 Comments

Streets and roads appear frequently on Twelve Mile Circle. So do patterns. The two can be combined as seen with a logical street grid featuring either numbers or letters. I’ll focus on the latter. Lists of alphabetical patterns can be found elsewhere on the Intertubes so I sorted through a multitude of possibilities and selected a few of my favorites. This was not intended to be an exhaustive examination.

Notice the Address on the Sign in this Low-Quality Video I Took a Few Years Ago

My fascination probably originated with my longtime hometown, Arlington, Virginia. The north-south streets fell nicely into order for three complete alphabets plus the first letter of a fourth alphabet, as the county explained. The number of syllables represented alphabet sequences, so Arizona Street — four syllables — fell within the fourth alphabet and became the final street on the grid (map). This location was actually a triple-geo-oddity: (1) the only Arlington street in the 4th Alphabet; (2) a practical exclave separated by road from the rest of Arlington and approachable only through Fairfax Co. or the City of Falls Church; and (3) the location of the West Cornerstone of the original District of Columbia.

I was also quite familiar with the Washington, DC alphabet system for east-west streets, which went first with single letters of the alphabet, then two-syllable words, then three syllable words, and finally and somewhat enigmatically with flowers and trees. Greater Greater Washington provided the best concise explanation I’ve seen. The final District street all the way up next to the North Cornerstone was Verbena Street. I wasn’t familiar with Verbena although apparently it’s a flowering plant.

Before we proceed I’ll note that I found anomalies and exceptions on all of the grids so there’s no need to point them out unless something truly bizarre comes to light. For instance, Washington, DC doesn’t have a "J" Street, which is something already well known and cited frequently.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Tulsa, OK: Alphabets begin on either side of Main Street

I think Tulsa might have been my favorite occurrence. North-South avenues located east of Main Street got alphabetic names of cities geographically east of Tulsa; those west of Main were named alphabetically for cities west of Tulsa. The pattern continued for quite a distance, too. Heading east it appeared to run for about two-and-a-half alphabets ending with Maplewood (map), which could represent a town in Minnesota or New Jersey.

Tulsa won a 12MC award for creativity.

Twin Cities, Minnesota

Brockton Lane, End of the Alphabets?

I stumbled upon a wonderful explanation and a detailed map that I can’t possibly improve upon at Streets.MN, which somehow snagged a Mongolian IP address that shares a common abbreviation with Minnesota (".mn"). Maybe I should grab a domain from Monaco so the 12MC website could become

"Applications for persons or informal groups are not accepted." Darn. So much for that idea.

The Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and immediate environs developed an absolutely crazy number of alphabets. The website I referenced suggested a naming convention extending all the way to the second letter of the eighth alphabet, Brockton Lane. Another site with a very old school design explained the source of the names behind many of the streets in the grid’s first alphabet.

Denver–Aurora Metropolitan Area, Colorado

End of the Line. Calhoun-Byers Road

Denver and surrounding areas certainly rivaled and maybe exceeded the Twin Cities for alphabetical street naming wackiness. The alphabets went on-and-on even into distant rural areas in the vague hope that maybe someday the matrix would fill-in. The last one seemed to be Calhoun-Byers Road, a distance of 45 miles / 73 kilometres (map) from the grid’s baseline intersection at Ellsworth Ave. and Broadway!

New York City, New York

Avenue Q (Quentin) Where It Meets the Q Line Subway

A lot of 12MC readers live in New York City and I’m sure many were already wondering whether I’d mention Alphabet City in the East Village. The name derived from Avenues A, B, C and D, which ran through the neighborhood, the only single-letter avenues in Manhattan (map). That was nice and such, although it represented a measly four letters of the alphabet.

There were better alphabets in NYC. However one must leave Manhattan and enter Brooklyn to experience them. The Greenpoint neighborhood, just across the East River from Manhattan incorporated a partial alphabet from Ash through Quay with a couple of letters missing (map).

Travel farther into Brooklyn and one can experience Avenues A through Z (map). This might lead one to wonder — well, it lead ME to wonder — if the Sesame Street parody musical Avenue Q happened to be named for this particular alphabetic progression. It’s claimed that it was not:

The set of Avenue Q depicts several tenements on a rundown fictional street located “in an outer borough of New York City.” This fictional Avenue Q could be in the Midwood and Gravesend area of Brooklyn, where there are Avenues A through Z, with a few exceptions. One of those exceptions is Avenue Q. The street between Avenue P and Avenue R is known as Quentin Road, named for the youngest son of President Roosevelt. The Q subway train, whose symbol used to be a Q in an orange circle resembling the Avenue Q logo, travels through this neighborhood. However, the authors have stated that Avenue Q is fictional and is not related to this or any other particular street.

I’m not sure I necessarily believe that, though. Or maybe I don’t want to believe it.

On December 12, 2013 · 10 Comments

10 Responses to “Follow the Letter”

  1. Peter says:

    If Avenue Q in the musical is meant to be a rundown street lined with tenements, it wouldn’t be based on Brooklyn’s Quentin Avenue, which is a fairly nice area.

  2. Steve says:

    moderately relevant: when addressing letters (etc.) to I (capital i) street in DC, it is customary (and smart) to write “eye” street for reasons that are apparently earliest in my comment.

    (1st St vs. I St.)

  3. My old grad school stomping ground of Prince George, BC is right up there when it comes to most alphabet naming schemes per capita. In the central portion of the city, which might hold at best a third of PG’s population of 75,000, there are six separate alphabetic sequences. Only two of them, however, are grid layouts, being older neighbourhoods (one named for various types of trees, another for local pioneers). The westernmost four neighbourhoods with this theme, being built in the late 1960s/early 1970s, are more suburban-style in street layout but still maintain the alphabetic theme of the central part of the city (two more pioneer-themed neighbourhoods and two northern BC place name-themes neighbourhoods).

  4. Nigel says:

    How about abortive patterns? Like this one, in Bridgeport, TX.

  5. Dave says:

    How about a double for you?

    St. Joseph County does this both East-West (trees) and North-South (famous folk like presidents).

    A’s start in the east and north, making a really easy dead-reckoning on some unfamiliar parts of the county.

  6. Dave says:

    Lincoln, NE also has a full alphabet in South to North orientation, which to me is a bit strange. Overlaid is a numerical grid, centering on the downtown. Again, great for dead-reckoning.

    Maybe living in 2 geo-geek areas is a privilege 🙂 (especially for one who must navigate Charleston or Boston)

  7. Ken Saldi says:

    Burning Man is setup like this every year. With the middle of the circle called the Esplanade and each concentric circle going out starting with every letter of the alphabet. Last year if memory serves, A was Air Strip, B was Biggie Size…and that is where my memory stops as the actual names change each year.

    Even better is that the grid is laid out like a clock, so if you tell anyone where your camp is, you just say, “I’m staying at 6:45 and G.” Last year I stayed at 3:00 and E.

  8. Bryan Armstrong says:

    Saskatoon has a small alphabetical order street names section in the Forest Grove area, diagonal to the Sutherland grid on the other side of the railway tracks. There is no A street name, but after that, they go Boyd, Cruise, Dunlop, Evans, Fitzgerald, Grant, Hedley, Imperial, James.

  9. Josh says:

    I’m may have mentioned this on the site before. South Boston, MA has letter streets in one direction and numbered in the other. Like DC, it does not have a “J” Street. There are many interstitial streets, however, and one my favorites took advantage of this omission: Jay Street

  10. Joshua D says:

    There’s another alphabet in NYC near where I grew up (and my mom grew up right on the alphabet) in Flushing, Queens. It runs from A to R (with 2 “H”s and no “I”) primarily of tree/floral names starting with Ash Avenue, going to Rose Avenue.

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