The Chicago Street Life

Feature photo from Señor Codo

Have you lived in Chicago your entire life? Have you just recently moved to the city? Here’s a better question: Have you ever found yourself lost in the city and confused by those numbered streets?  Have you ever found yourself directionally challenged in this lovely city? You aren’t alone.

According to the most recent city of Chicago’s Street Names data set, there are 2,625 streets in the city. So, getting lost can easily happen. From 100th Place to Sayre Avenue, from the North Side to the South Side to the West Side to the East Side (Lake Michigan), there are plenty of ways around here to get lost, or just completely dumbfounded.

However, if you know the general direction of your location you should, in theory, be able to find your way around since Chicago is laid out in a grid system. Be thankful we are laid out in a grid system. The grid makes navigating the city more manageable, as long as you have a general ideal of where you are going. The origination point, where all of our street directions are dependent is State Street (0 west/east) and Madison Avenue (0 north/south). This was effective in 1909 with the Plan of Chicago, a document that set forth several city shaping projects.  This plan made it so that all of our streets are numbered outward from State and Madison.

With State and Madison at the center of Chicago’s universe, you should also always know that Lake Michigan is located east. This simple key of information has been instrumental in helping people get un-lost in this city for years.

The next big navigational point to understand is that our city blocks run in increments of 100. Every mile (eight blocks), or so, you will find a major street, such as North Avenue. While every half mile (four blocks) you will find a secondary street, like Division Street. And yes, Division Street is a secondary street regardless if there is a plethora of bars along that street in some pars of town.

Some major examples of streets that run east and west include Devon, Bryn Mawr, Irving Park, Belmont, Fullerton, North Avenue, Roosevelt, Cermak 31st and Pershing. Other major examples of streets that run north and south are Central, Pulaski, Kedzie, Western, Ashland, Stony Island, Yates, and Brandon. Your even numbered streets are located on the north and west sides of a street, while odd numbers are on the south and east side.

Like everything in life, there are exceptions to the rules. For example, there are a few diagonal streets in the city. Some of these diagonal streets were once Indian trails, such as Archer Avenue.

Now that you are completely confused, here is some Chicago street trivia:

  • Avenue: Streets that run north and south
  • Boulevard: Streets where trucks over 5 tons are not allowed
  • Court:  A short roadway
  • Parkway: Ends at a park
  • Place:  A street running ½ a block between streets
  • Street: Streets that run east and west.
  • Artesian – Named after, as well once located at, Chicago and Western that supplied half a million gallons of water each day.
  • Calhoun Place – Named after John C. Calhoun, editor of the Chicago Democrat, Chicago’s first paper
  • Cermak Avenue – Named after Mayor Anton Cermak
  • Division Street – Divided Goose Island
  • Grand Avenue – Named after Col. Thomas V. Owen’s quote when he exclaimed that Chicago was a “Grand place to live”
  • Hooker Street – Named after General Joseph Hooker of the Civil War
  • Pulaski Avenue – Named after Casimir Pulaski, Polish American  Revolutionary hero
  • Wacker Drive – Named after Charles Wacker, Chairman of the 1909 plan
  • Weed Street – Named after Sarah M. Weed, the daughter of Thomas Morgan, a wealthy Chicagoan who purchased significant land in the city


One thought on “The Chicago Street Life

  1. Do avenues run north/south? North Ave runs east/west. So does my street, which is also an ave. Maybe avenues run east/west?

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