July 19, 2011

Decoding The Chicago Street Grid System

In 1909, the City of Chicago decided to fight back against the growing menace of local residents continually getting lost and throwing temper tantrums.  To put an end to this epidemic, it created a completely new and foolproof address system.

Here’s how it works: The epicenter of the Chicago street grid is the intersection of State and Madison Streets in the heart of the Loop.  The addresses on all east-west streets are prefixed with the words “east” or “west,” depending on whether they fall east or west of State Street.  Similarly, the addresses on all north-south streets are prefixed with the words “north” or “south,” depending on whether they fall north or south of Madison Street.

The address numbers increase or decrease depending on their distance in miles from the State and Madison axis lines.  Odd numbers are on the south and east sides of streets, and even numbers are on the north and west sides of the streets.

Calculating your mileage on the north and west sides of the city is easy.  There are 800 addresses for each mile of streetscape because there are typically eight blocks to each mile on the Chicago street grid.  If you’re trying to get to a bar on Division Street, which is 1200 North, and you happen to be on Foster Avenue in Andersonville, which is 5200 North, then you’re 5200 minus 1200, or 4000 addresses from Division.  Divide by 800 and -- Presto! -- you’re five miles from happy hour.

On the north and west sides, the “primary”streets run a mile apart, and the “secondary” streets run halfway between the primary streets.  The primary east-west streets can therefore be found at 800 North (Chicago Avenue), 1600 North (North Avenue), 2400 North (Fullerton Avenue), 3200 North (Belmont Avenue), 4000 North (Irving Park Road), and so on, all the way up to the northernmost street in the city, Juneway Terrace (7800 North).  The secondary streets fall in-between.  There’s Kinzie Street (400 North), Division Street (1200 North), Armitage Avenue (2000 North), Diversey Parkway (2800 North), Addison Street (3600 North), and so on.

The same principle applies to the north-south thoroughfares.  There’s Halsted Street (800 West), Ashland Avenue (1600 West), Western Avenue (2400 West), Kedzie Avenue (3200 West), Pulaski Avenue (4000 West), Cicero Avenue (4800 West), and, well, you get the picture.  These major arteries all stand a mile apart.  Heading east, there’s Cottage Grove Avenue (800 East), Stony Island Avenue (1600 East), Yates Avenue (2400 East), and soon you’ve driven into the lake.

Hold on: The south side has a few wrinkles.  The first mile south of Madison Avenue contains twelve rather than eight city blocks, ending at Roosevelt Road, which is 1200 South.  The second mile south of Madison contains ten city blocks and ends at Cermak, which is 2200 South.  The third mile south of Madison contains nine city blocks and ends at 31st street, which is 3100 South.  From there, it’s smooth sailing.  There are eight blocks to a mile, and each block is named for its location, meaning that 39th Street (also known as Pershing Road) is a mile south of 31st Street.  The city ultimately terminates at 138th Street, which is (quick! do the math!) a bit more than sixteen miles south of Madison Street.

Okay, let’s do some figuring.  We hop on our bikes and ride from one golf course to another.

We start at the corner of the golf course at Jackson Park (located at 67th and Stony Island) and ride to the golf course at Bryn Mawr Country Club (located at the corner of Devon and Pulaski).  How far is our journey, assuming we stay off the diagonal roads?

First, we head west.  Stony Island is 1600 East (in other words, two miles east of State Street).  Pulaski is 4000 West (or five miles west of State Street).  So our westward sojourn is a seven-mile trek.  From there, we turn right and head north.  We pedal from 67th Street (also known as Marquette Road) to 31st Street, which is 36 blocks, or four-and-a-half miles.  From 31st Street to Madison, it’s another three miles, and from Madison to Devon (which is located at 6400 North) it’s another eight miles (because 6400 divided by 800 is eight).  In all, we travel seven miles west and fifteen-and-a-half miles north, for a total of 22-1/2 miles.  Good thing we didn’t have to carry our clubs.

Need a handy-dandy graph to help soak this up?  We have just the thing for you:

chicago grid system map
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