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September 26, 2005

Urban Navigation

I am directionally-challenged. It's always been so. When driving new places, I spend a lot of time rolling down the window and begging strangers for help (I'm not one of those guys afraid to plead, if anything, I'm too eager, liable to bug pedestrians for confirmation long before I'm lost), which is fine. But since I moved to DC, challenged has transformed into incapable. We're no longer talking directions, we're talking ways, as in I'm constantly walking/metroing/heading the wrong way. Whatever I think is up is down, whichever side I judge west invariably turns out to be east, when I start strolling home I'm always aimed at the next town. You'd expect me to get this right about half the time, but I don't. I almost never get it right. It's bizarre.

September 26, 2005 in Life | Permalink

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Comments

If you're in Northwest, which I asume you are most of the time, just remeber that the Washington Monument is east. And south is almost always downhill. Advantage of living near water.

Remember that the numbered streets run north-south, with the numbers increasing as you move away from the Capitol (in both directions - there are two 3rd streets, for example.) Lettered streets run east-west, going towards "Y" as you get away from the Capitol. Same deal about having two of each street name. Plus, there's no J, X, or Z street. Once you get past "Y Street", they start being named with two-syllable, then three-syllable words, again in alphabetical order. State streets run diagonally and in no discernible pattern.

D.C. is tricky to get around in at first, that's what happens in a city whose streets were designed to repel an invading army, but you'll get used to it after a while. It has a sort of twisted logic to it that grows on you with time.

Posted by: Matt F | Sep 26, 2005 1:39:32 AM

Spend some time with maps and then start a study of landmarks. You will start being able to establish bering rapidly before long. But if your problem is losing direction when you turn around or go into a store or something that just means you are thinking about something else, not about where you are. Well,that's why you have so many good takes on things and I wouldn't want you to sacrifice that just so you can find your way home a little sooner. After all, you have us to consider.

Posted by: LowLife | Sep 26, 2005 9:13:47 AM

I lived in College Park for two years durring grad school and was often lost in DC. Without a friend who had lived int he area his whole life, I never would have gotten anyplace in that town. I've managed to drive around Boston, San Antonio, and half a dozen other large cities with little to no problem but I refuse to ever drive in DC again. It's a nightmare.

Posted by: Keith | Sep 26, 2005 10:30:42 AM

I was always lost in DC until I learned that the whole thing is laid out with the Capital building as the center of the compass. Keep that in mind and you'll do much better...thekeez

Posted by: Jeff Keezel | Sep 26, 2005 10:58:09 AM

What is so funny is that when I moved to DC I found it very easy to get around (though northern VA was different). But then I am from N.O. and we refer to things as Lake or River and West Bank or East Bank. There is no number/letter system for street names and generally no system whatsoever.

I heard stories of how hard it was for USPS to deliver mail in the early 20th century becuase the number of the properties wasn't standardized either.

DC is easy (at least to me) once I learned the system.
Letters - east to west
Numbers - north to south
States - diagonals (know the biggest, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Connecticut)
Constitution and Independence are way obvious
One, two, theree syllable street names alphabetically (mostly in Northwest)
No J street

Yes the traffic circles area a pain and Dupont is shudder-inducing but they can be avoided.

Posted by: ET | Sep 26, 2005 11:19:38 AM

Capitol Hill is confusing, because it's where the quadrants meet.

Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Sep 26, 2005 12:33:12 PM

I have met at most one person in my life with a worse sense of direction than myself. One thing I learned that helped a great deal was to keep track of which way the shadows point -- west in morning, north at midday, east in evening. At night, you're screwed. (In LA the palm trees point south, even at night, which helps.)

Posted by: Allen K. | Sep 26, 2005 1:40:13 PM

Here are some anomalies:

Two syllable named streets are usually different east and west of the park (e.g. Macomb west, Monroe east, and perhaps 3 syllable streets as well). There are no f-syllable streets (I think there are flower names in the one place where there might be 4-syllable streets).

7th St NW turns into Georgia Avenue. 15th NW just disappears. Often when you come to a square the street you are on continues on the opposite corner of the square (but sometimes not, see Farragut Square for examples of both). No X, Y, or Z either. Some very useful old roads that predate the name/number plan (Military, Reno). Florida Ave. is so curvy because it is the old city boundary. Highest point in town: out Wisconsin Ave where the radio antennas are.

Posted by: David Margolies | Sep 26, 2005 2:46:38 PM

Get a GPS receiver. They come with base maps but you can buy the detailed maps that are really helpful when you're driving around in an unfamiliar city.

But they also help you keep your bearings at home too, since you can put in an address and it will tell you how to get there, or a restaurant, or a landmark, or whatever.

Posted by: Stacy | Sep 26, 2005 4:27:58 PM

Get a GPS receiver. They come with base maps but you can buy the detailed maps that are really helpful when you're driving around in an unfamiliar city.

But they also help you keep your bearings at home too, since you can put in an address and it will tell you how to get there, or a restaurant, or a landmark, or whatever.

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