Where The Streets Have The Same Names:
Borough’s Grid System Can Confuse Some Who Don’t Know The Rules Of Our Roads
By DOMENICK RAFTER
You’re new in Queens and you’re looking for an address on 73rd Street, but you end up on 73rd Place instead and spend the next 20 minutes trying to figure out where you are before you discover you were a block away from your destination the whole time. Or maybe you were born and raised here and you keep getting someone else’s mail, someone with the same address, except he lives on 103rd Avenue and you live on 103rd Street- right around the block.
If any of these examples sound familiar to you, congratulations, you’ve been had by Queens’ one-of-a-kind street grid system.
Birth of the Queens Grid
Grid street systems are designed to make navigating a neighborhood, town or city easier. The sequential order of numbers- or letters- allows people to easily find where they’re going. After First Street comes Second Street, after 9th Avenue comes 10th Avenue. It’s an idea almost as old as civilization itself, dating back to 2600 B.C. in the Indus River Valley. But our borough’s nearly century-old grid system is not necessarily as easily understandable and is full of weird quirks and unique designs, like multiple streets with the same numbers and huge gaps in the pattern, that often make it more a pain to navigate. Even a GPS can get confused.
“The street address system is one of the most commonly asked about things about the borough,” said Queens Historian Jack Eichenbaum.
The idea for a borough-wide grid system came in 1911 when Maurice Connolly was elected borough president. He ordered the Topographic Bureau to study a borough-wide street numbering and address system to eliminate redundancies in the existing systems, which were difference in each neighborhood. Some neighborhoods such as Jackson Heights and Whitestone had grid systems of their own. So an address like 100 7th Street may have existed in both neighborhoods.
Charles U. Powell, the engineer in charge of the Topographic Bureau in 1911, designed a system modeled after the one used in Philadelphia. The neighborhoods that had already been laid out were encompassed into the system and their names changed to numbers, though throwbacks to the original names still exist. Glendale’s streets were once named for German composers, which fits the neighborhood’s German roots. Riders of the A train might know that 88th Street in Ozone Park was once called Boyd Avenue. Commuters on the 7 train know 40th Street in Sunnyside used to be called Lowery Street. In Jackson Heights, avenues were once named for U.S. Presidents. Only one remains- Roosevelt Avenue.
However, not all neighborhoods took to the new grid immediately. Powell’s plan faced stiff opposition throughout the borough, especially among those who feared it would kill neighborhood identity. Forest Hills kept its street names into the 1930s, and Forest Hills Gardens remains off the grid. Many of Flushing’s streets are named, including the pattern of avenues named for fauna near the Queens Botanical Gardens. Neighborhoods with winding streets like Jamaica Estates, Holliswood and Douglaston kept their street names. Ridgewood streets are all named because many cross into Brooklyn.
A Unique Layout
Streets run north/south and are numbered in ascending order from west to east beginning with 1st Street, in the Hallet’s Cove section of Astoria and ending with 271st Street in New Hyde Park. Those identified as avenues run east/west and are numbered from 2nd Avenue in Whitestone south to 165th Avenue in Howard Beach. If that’s where it stopped, it would be simple. But in between there exists a messy ever-changing street pattern where numbers are often skipped- or repeated.
In some areas, there are large gaps in the numbers. For example, 69th Avenue in Oakland Gardens is immediately followed by 73rd Avenue and more dramatically, in South Ozone Park 133rd Avenue is followed by 149th Avenue- a jump of 16 numbers in one block.
As if skipping numbers isn’t confusing enough, how about repeating numbers? The complaint most often heard about the borough’s street system is the repeated use of the same number on successive blocks. In many neighborhoods, one number street isn’t immediately followed by the next. Instead, streets are followed by places and lanes, while avenues are followed by roads and drives- and on rare occasions-terraces. For example, 69th Street in Maspeth isn’t immediately followed by 70th Street, instead it is followed by 69th Place, then 69th Lane, and then 70th Street. In Springfield Gardens, 144th Avenue is followed by 144th Road, then 144th Drive and finally 144th Terrace, one of only a handful of places in the borough where a terrace is added to the mix. In some cases, the streets or avenues are missing, while the drives and roads or places and lanes exist. Middle Village has a 66th Road and 66th Drive, but not a 66th Avenue. Bayside has a 31st Road, but there is no 31st Avenue east of College Point. Whitestone has a 151st Place, but there’s no 151st Street north of Kissena Park.
In neighborhoods with an already existing grid system like Astoria and Jackson Heights or ones laid out after the system began, like Bellerose and Laurelton, the numbers are easy to follow- much like Manhattan, but in areas that developed within the already existing grid or came into the grid later, like Forest Hills, the roads, drives and lanes came into play to fill the holes left in the grid.
Queens’ grid system includes not only the numbered streets, but also addresses. The two are intertwined and the address system is uniform throughout the borough, with the exception of Ridgewood which follows the Brooklyn system. Addresses in Queens normally have between three and five numbers and features a hyphen. The number before the hyphen is the cross street to the west of you if you’re on an avenue, road, drive or terrace or to the north of you if you’re on a street, place or lane. The number after the hyphen is the lot on the block. So for example, 55-10 78th Street would be the 10th lot south of 55th Avenue on 78th Street. Address can theoretically range from 1-01 to 271-99.
In some circumstances, the nearest cross street to the north or west is not a numbered street. Addresses run as if a numbered street existed. East of Steinway Street in Astoria, addresses began with 40, meaning Steinway Street acts as 40th Street in the system. In Ozone Park and Richmond Hill, Liberty Avenue acts as a stand-in for the non-existent 104th Avenue. Junction Boulevard doubles as 96th Street through most of Corona while Murdock Avenue plays the role of 114th Avenue in St. Albans. So if you live on the 12th lot on 220th Street south of Murdock Avenue, your address would be 114-12 220th St., St. Albans.
Most major thoroughfares that existed in 1911 remained named. These bigger thoroughfares like Woodhaven Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, Francis Lewis Boulevard and Hillside Avenue act as different streets depending on the neighborhood. Hillside Avenue stands in for 88th Avenue in Bellerose and Queens Village, 87th Avenue in Jamaica and 86th Avenue in Richmond Hill.
The cross streets in the address system must be Streets or Avenues. All addresses south of 70th Avenue will be read 70-XX all the way to the next higher numbered avenue, regardless of if there’s a 70th Road or 70th Drive in between them. So while 70-35 111th Street is definitely south of 70th Avenue, it might also be south of 70th Road and 70th Drive as well.
Even more notable, neighbors can have similar addresses. Where a numbered Street meets an Avenue of the same number, addresses are similar. 85-11 85th St. is located south of the intersection of 85th Avenue and 85th Street, but 85-11 85th Ave. would be just east of that same intersection, meaning the two addresses would be right around the block from each other.
Navigating the System
You’re looking for 75-16 194th St., what’s the nearest cross street? If you said 75th Avenue, you’re getting the hang of it. If you knew that address was in Fresh Meadows, you know your Queens. But if you’re still completely lost, try remembering a jingle Powell created as he was trying to sell his grid system to a skeptical Queens public a century ago:
In Queens, to find locations best
Avenues, roads and drives run west;
But ways to north or south ’tis plain
Are street or place or even lane.
Good luck out there.
Reach Reporter Domenick Rafter at email@example.com or (718) 357-7400 Ext. 125.