(click to enlarge/”back” to return)
Thoughtfully, our Phoenician forebears laid out our fair city on a big grid. Nearly every street is straight and major streets are 1 mile apart. Numbered streets go north & south, named streets go east-west.
Obviously the big yellow lines are freeways (check out our funky freeway names). The smaller yellow lines on the map above are the major streets crossing Phoenix. Where the major streets cross each other you can count on a huge intersection (4 to 10 lanes wide!) and probably strip mall shopping.
Check out a few of the bigger shopping areas by seeing the Google maps Street View of these intersections: Tatum and Shea, Camelback & 20th Street, 35th Avenue and Glendale.
North-South Streets Are Numbered
All the north-south streets start out on the grid counting from Central Avenue, which is “0”. Heading east from Central Avenue, you’ll cross 1st Street, 2nd Street, 3rd Street, and so on.
Heading west from Central, you’ll cross over 1st Avenue, 2nd Avenue (you get the picture by now). The I-17 freeway interrupts at about 27th Avenue, and then you’re off again, hitting major streets at 1-mile intervals.
“The Sevens” (7th Street and 7th Avenue) are major traffic arteries for mid-town Phoenicians. During rush hour, they become reversible travel lanes, lovingly called “suicide lanes” by long-time residents. Don’t want to risk the suicide lanes? Check out this post where I blogged about my bus ride up and down the 7th Street route.
East-West Streets Are Named
The major east-west streets are all 1 mile apart and have names instead of numbers. At first the city planners used President’s names for the E-W streets. After they ran out of Presidents, city planners used names of prominent Phoenicians and notable farms, ranches or landmarks.
Indian School Road is named for The Phoenix Indian School, an actual school for the city’s Indian children which opened in the 1890’s. Thankfully, Phoenicians figured out segregation and forced Anglo-ization of Indian children was a pretty awful policy and the school was closed (but not until 1988).
Bethany Home Road is named for the the old Bethany Home, a mental institution. Etc. (I’m almost afraid to do any more research into Phoenix street names, for fear of finding more politically incorrect and/or shameful origins of street names.)
In high school Driver’s Ed class I remember being made to memorize the names of the streets from Baseline Road on the south end of town to Beardsley Road which was, at that point in time, the northernmost edge of metro Phoenix. We also had to memorize the north-south range number assigned to each street.
McDowell Road is 1600 North, Thomas is 2900 North, Indian School is 4100 North, Camelback is 5000 North, etc. At the time I thought it was the stupidest thing I’d ever done. Now? With 20+ years of driving around Phoenix under my belt, I realize that anybody can be their own GPS system if they memorize the East-West range markers. Check them out here, on local artist Brad Hall’s awesome website about historic Phoenix.
How to Work the Grid
Let’s say you have to get to 2917 E. Camelback Road in Phoenix. It’s on the east side of town because of the E so you’ll be dealing with Streets, not Avenues. You know Camelback is 5000 North. And the 2917 tells you it’s at 29th Street. So it’s 2900 east and 5000 north. Essentially, if you know which are the major streets, you can vector your way from anywhere to 2917 E Camelback Road.
Every Rule Has Exceptions
Outside the boundaries of Phoenix proper, the rules for street names and number ranges change. Other Valley towns made their own street names, grids and rules. And sometimes within Phoenix boundaries, the street name changes mid-town just to keep you on your toes. Dunlap becomes Olive. Glendale Avenue becomes Lincoln Drive.
Cave Creek Road and Grand Avenue cut through Phoenix crosswise, on angles going northeast-southwest, or northwest-southeast. Again, I’m pretty certain someone thought this would just keep things interesting. Where Cave Creek and Grand cross ‘normal’ streets that go N-S or E-W you get a 5-point intersection. And more, bigger shopping strip malls.
Which leads me to the single most useful description I’ve ever devised for explaining metro Phoenix to folks from other towns: Phoenix is one immense suburb liberally studded with strip malls and numbered in a regular, predictable pattern.
We also have about 300 days of sunshine per year, no natural disasters, lots of outdoor recreational spots, and a generally pretty darn friendly population. Nearly everybody living here is from somewhere else. Personally I think that makes folks friendlier.
If you’re new to metro Phoenix, welcome! Hope this and other posts about getting around Phoenix are useful. If you’re ready to become a Phoenix area homeowner, contact us. If you’re thinking about moving here but not quite ready to call a Realtor, browse around. You might especially like our Moving page.
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