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Explanation

Sometimes, for the sake of simplicity or speed, I need to list a location as a pair of intersecting streets. Let's use Luckie Street Grocery Store in Atlanta, Georgia as the example for now. I might list it as being at Luckie St NW & Mills St NW.

Often, I wonder which street should be listed first and why. There are some heuristics I could use to answer this question, such as:

Cartesian coodinatesLuckie St NW & Mills St NW

Using this, I would list the vertical street first, followed by the horizontal street.

Geographic coordinatesMills St NW & Luckie St NW

Using this, I would list the horizontal street first, followed by the vertical street. (There is considerable debate in the scientific community about this standard, but that is off-topic.)

"Better known" steet first — Luckie St NW & Mills St NW

It would depend on how well one understands the locale to successfully utilize this method. I don't live in Atlanta or know that area well, but I took a stab at it anyway using zoomed out Google Maps as my reference.

Other ideas

I could use alphabetical order (by street name or by type of street), but I could encounter conflict by following this rule (two streets with the same name, two streets of the same type).

Additionally, there are plenty of intersections which are not closely aligned to North-South (longitude) and East-West (latitude) lines (i.e. they are more in the shape of an X on a map). An example of this in the same city is Poplar St NW & Broad St NW. This presents a problem for the first two methods I mentioned.

Question

Including a link to one or more authoritative sources, what is the preferred method of determining the order of streets when listing an intersection (and, most importantly, why)?

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  • What happened to latitude and longitude? Or to polar coördinates? – tchrist Sep 20 '14 at 13:33
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    Pico & Sepulveda, Hollywood & Vine, Third & Fairfax. From this completely inadequately-sized sample, it's clear that E-W goes first (at least in L.A.). – Peter Shor Sep 20 '14 at 20:07
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    In Phoenix, the "apparent" rule is: The N-S street comes first unless the N-S street is a numbered street and then the named street comes first, and if they're both numbered then the larger street comes first: Mill and Baseline, Dobson and Southern, but Camelback and 56th St. I don't think there is a rule that can be universally applied; the answer varies by locale. – Jim Sep 22 '14 at 2:36
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When I worked for the very large private mapping and routing service that collects all streets globally our convention was:

Use the functional code (the higher comes first). This example gives 3 classes but we used five.

Example 1

Here is another example with 4 used by the feds.

Example 2

Such functional information is often in street data although it has many differing names in the attributes.

Of course if they are equal it does not matter which to use.

Wikipedia has it as well.

A Wikipedia link

i think the reason it is not well known is that the name "functional class" is not always used.

  • This is helpful, but at which point of the road do I take take my sample for consideration? Roads might change classification depending on the point in the road. (For example, some roads might change from 2 lanes to 4, and have residential or commercial buildings or fields, etc. along different sections.) – jsejcksn Oct 1 '14 at 6:55
  • Use the functionality at the point of the intersection to determine the order. As the role of the road change the function class changes as well. Function class is tied to segments not the entire road length. – If you do not know- just GIS Oct 1 '14 at 12:48
  • Ok; but what about listing order for two equivalent functioning roads? – jsejcksn Oct 1 '14 at 18:40
  • As per the answer, I would argue it does not matter as much) but I would have a secondary rule (is any part of the road a higher function). At some point it just becomes arbitrary. I would use alphabetical if all roads are the same function. – If you do not know- just GIS Oct 1 '14 at 18:43
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Most cities seem to follow the Cartesian coordinate plane you mentioned in your question. Something Wikipedia agrees with, in its section on Street or road name Grid-Based Naming Systems section.

In many cities laid out on a grid plan, the streets are named to indicate their location > on a Cartesian coordinate plane. For example, the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 for Manhattan provided for numbered streets running parallel to the minor axis of the island and numbered and lettered avenues running parallel to the long axis of the island, although many of the avenues have since been assigned names for at least part of their courses. In the city plan for Washington, D.C., north-south streets were numbered away from the United States Capitol in both directions, while east-west streets were lettered away from the Capitol in both directions and diagonal streets were named after various States of the Union. As the city grew, east-west streets past W Street were given two-syllable names in alphabetical order, then three-syllable names in alphabetical order, and finally names relating to flowers and shrubs in alphabetical order. Even in communities not laid out on a grid, such as Arlington County, Virginia, a grid-based naming system is still sometimes used to give a semblance of order.

Often, the numbered streets run east-west and the numbered avenues north-south, following the style adopted in Manhattan, although this is not always observed. In some cases, streets in "half-blocks" in between two consecutive numbered streets have a different designator, such as Court or Terrace, often in an organized system where courts are always between streets and terraces between avenues. Sometimes yet another designator (such as "Way", "Place", or "Circle") is used for streets which go at a diagonal or curve around, and hence do not fit easily in the grid.

In many cases, the block numbers correspond to the numbered cross streets; for instance, an address of 1600 may be near 16th Street or 16th Avenue. In a city with both lettered and numbered streets, such as Washington, D.C., the 400 block may be between 4th and 5th streets or between D and E streets, depending on the direction in which the street in question runs. However, addresses in Manhattan have no obvious relationship to cross streets or avenues, although various tables and formulas are often found on maps and travel guides to assist in finding addresses.

However, like any naming convention, it is simply a convention, and is not necessarily applied everywhere. There is a long discussion here on MetaFilter on this topic that contains many examples where the opposite is the case e.g. Large Road and Small Road or East-West and North-South like in Chicago.

Numbered streets then named streets seems to be the most common. If your town has those, then that should be your answer. If not, then it's a matter of stylistic preference.

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When providing directions, one ordinarily gives general directions first, then more specific. List the better-known street first, then the cross street.

Lewis Kornfeld, in To Catch a Mouse Make a Noise like a Cheese says that Tandy Leather stores didn't benefit from high-traffic locations, and hobbyists would hunt them out, but they wanted to be on a major street, so hobbyists could find them, so they generally sought low-rent digs on the far ends of those streets.

Of course, if the destination is the intersection of two major streets, it doesn't matter whether you say "Spring at St. Mary's" or "St. Mary's at Spring"

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