Collection: How Washington’s street grids got the way they are

Why is that street called what it is? There's a rhyme and reason to many of the streets in the original "diamond" - today's DC, Arlington, and some of Alexandria. Here are the patterns hiding inside your map.

  • The non-circles of Washington: Part 1

    Washington, DC is well known for its traffic circles, but there have been many more circles proposed, partially constructed, and removed over the course of the city’s history than exist today. Let’s explore them. (Please note that this is not meant to be a thorough analysis of the history of each circle. I owe a big thank you to Eric Fidler for help researching this…  Keep reading…

  • The non-circles of Washington: Part 2

    Yesterday, I discussed the former circles of Washington. Today, let’s take a look at the circles that never were. There have been many proposals, some more serious than others, for unbuilt circles in DC. As the District changed from open countryside to city, plans were made to add circles in a variety of locations. Let’s take a look at a few of these almost-circles. Hamilton…  Keep reading…

  • The story behind Georgetown’s street grid

    If there is one thing that people love the most about Georgetown, it’s the small blocks filled with 18th and 19th century homes. But how exactly did it come to be that way? Much of the land that would eventually become Georgetown was originally granted to a Scotsman named Ninian Beall in 1703. Beall named this 705 acre plot of land the Rock of Dumbarton in a reference to his native…  Keep reading…

  • Washington’s state-named avenues

    Last week, I wrote about the system of street naming in Washington. From A Street to Verbena Street and from Half to Sixty-Third, our lettered and numbered streets make it difficult to get lost with their logical progressions. But our transverse diagonal avenues confound everyone from tourists to suburban motorists. Not only do they break all the grid rules, they even manage…  Keep reading…

  • Washington’s systemic streets

    Visitors and residents of Washington, DC know, to one degree or another, about the city’s street naming conventions. Most tourists know that we have lettered and numbered streets. And to some degree, they know there is a system, but it doesn’t stop them asking us directions. But most out-of-towners and even many residents don’t understand the full ingenuity…  Keep reading…

  • Arlington’s systemic streets

    Earlier this year, we explored the nature of Washington’s street-naming system. Across the Potomac, Arlington County also has rhyme and reason to street names. While Arlington was originally part of the District of Columbia (until 1846), it was not incorporated in the plan of Pierre L’Enfant. Unlike its larger neighbor, Arlington’s streets don’t…  Keep reading…

  • Maryland’s systemic streets

    Last year, I mapped Washington’s street-naming system and state-named avenues. But the logical organization of street names doesn’t end at the DC line. The alphabetical and numerical naming of streets continues into Maryland (and Arlington). Washington’s numbered streets run north-south and increase in number as distance from the Capitol increases.  Keep reading…

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