[#AddressNerd] Fractional Blocks In The Portland Street Blade 2.0 Design

While cities try to be planned in even chunks, life isn’t perfect. The ideal is digital; the reality, analog. Streets oft-times happen where they happen.

A good example of this is the grid layout of Salt Lake City, where the address block is a standard thing and the street can concievably land anywhere in that block. For example, a two standard streets, one the 35th and the next the 36th, would be named 3500 South and 3600 South. A street about 1/3 of the way between 3500 South and 3600 South might be named 3530 South. One eight-tenths of the way could be named 3580 South.

On this plan addresses are childs’ play to augur in on. As you travel north or south on any street that would cross these, you just glance right or left to see how the addresses are running. A bit dry, perhaps; an address like 455 West 3530 South is mathematically exciting but literarily dull. But Portland’s signage acts just like this. Check this blade fro SW Broadway near PSU that I snapped some time ago. The tab reads 700. SW Broadway is the 7th block west of the river in Downtown. The blade is telling you not that the block down the SW Broadway face is 700, but that you are either entering or leaving the 700 block of whatever cross street you’re on. As in SLC, the crossing-street system assumes you don’t need to be reminded what street you’re on, but you do want to know how far up or down the street you’re on without having to crane your neck left or right and hope to see the number as you go past.

If SW Broadway were a street in SLC, it would be South 700 West. 

I frame the concept thusly because it sets the stage for this next picture; the intersection of NE Pacific Street and NE Holladay Court.

The intersection of these two streets do not happen on an even address block point, and the new way of street-blading Portland attempts to address this. As someone who loves precision in such things, I’m kind of over the moon here. A bit of commentary perforce: in raw terms, the intersection of NE Pacific Street and NE Holladay Court is of two streets that are defined as east-west runners. They therefore have very similar blockface numbers. However! One has to remember that when you look at that block index, you’re not looking at the the address on the street that is named but the address on the street you’re already on that’s defined by the point of the crossing street. Thus, NE Pacific Street cuts across NE Holladay Court at approximately 13050 NE Holladay Court; NE Holladay Court intersects NE Pacific Street at the address of 13020 NE Pacific Street.

If that weren’t bewildering enough, this blade set might make you cross your eyes:

This is a few hundred feet back, where Holladay Street bends to become Holladay Court. Not exactly an intersection as one might think about it, until one thinks about it: it’s an intersection, just one where a street name changes. Each block index reads 13000; this intersection is where the 13000 block begins and ends on either street.

It’s a little challenging to get used to if you’re a new Portlander; the only other Willamette Valley city I know that does it this way is McMinnville. Eventually, it’ll click, and once it does, it’ll seem like the most organic and natural thing … as long as you start with the idea that you already know what street you’re on, and this tells you what’s coming and going as you travel.

And the font? That’s Clearview, baby. Looks good to me!


2 Responses to “[#AddressNerd] Fractional Blocks In The Portland Street Blade 2.0 Design”

  1. This is an outstanding find. I'm looking forward to seeing what the City does when it marks the intersection of SW 19th Drive with SW 25th Avenue.

  2. Thanks for the kudo, and thanks for the tip. I'll be watching that corner now, too.

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