27 July 2005

[geography] The Address Nerd Does Clark County, WA

Since I've started in the center and moved west, I figured I'd start touring clockwise about the center. That brings us to Clark County, Washington which (to this eternal dismay of many who live there) is also considered part of the Greater Portland area.

Clark County has been in my sights for a while because of its amazing growth. From a combination of in-migration and (largely) annexation of large swathes of formerly-unincorporated land to the east and (soon, I hear) to the north of town, Vancouver stands ready to pass Spokane as Washington's third largest city and, perhaps, in the near future, to challenge Tacoma as Washington's second-largest city. It's current population is about 145,000 (2000 census counted 143,560). It would take 3 and 3/4 (approximately) Vancouvers to make one Portland, but it is just about level on with Salem (143,000 approx) and Eugene (142,000 approx).

Vancouver, meanwhile, has gone from having a population of about 43,000 in the mid 80's to 54,000 in the mid 90's. The growth of all incorporated territory of almost every city in the county has been remarkable. I can't find exact figures for Vancouver's incorporated area, but in the late 80's I'd estmate it at 30 square miles, more or less. These days it covers (eyeball estimate) about 60 square miles, has about twelve miles of Columbia River's right bank, and stretches from 2/3rds of the way around Vancouver Lake on the west to touching Camas on the east. One other observation worth noting before I move off this digression is that if Vancouver City annexed all land within its Urban Growth Area (analogous to the Urban Growth Boundary in Oregon land-use planning) it would be Washington's 2nd largest city (275,000) in population, but largest (about 100 square miles, beating out Seattle by about 16) in area. If this sort of stuff turns you on as it obviously does me, the City of Vancouver has an annexation section of it's city website with maps, diagrams, and other annexation goodness here.

Now, down to business.

The greater Clark County address and name grid radiates from Vancouver. Specifically speaking, the spot where, notionally, 1st Street and Main Street would meet, at the south edge of downtown Vancouver.

This spot is, however, virtual. Due to geography and development, 1st and Main never come together. If they did, though, it would be right about at a spot just to the east of where the north end of the Interstate Bridge is. Keep this point in mind. I'll be returning to it.

Viewing the greater map of Clark County it becomes apparent that (disregarding the smaller cities in the county for now) there are two flavors to to Clark County Street names. In the older areas, adjacent to downtown Vancouver and Fort Vancouver itself, a simple form is followed. Going west from Main, parallel streets wear names and are alphabetically arranged (after Washington, which could be B Street if Main is taken as A, there are Columbia, Daniels, Esther, Frankln, Grant, Harney, Ingalls, Jefferson, Kauffman..at which point the pattern breaks down. Going east from Main, and again taking Main as A, Broadway occupies the B Street East position, then letters of the alphabet going out to Grand Blvd.

After that, there is little obvious organization aside from themes within the subdivisions themselves. The area along MacArthur Blvd, south of East Mill Plain Blvd, for example, has a decided World War II flavor, where states cross cities with the occaisional aircraft carrier and Pacific battlefield names sprinkled in.

Going north from the foot of Main Street we have the familiar numbered sequence, 2nd, 3rd 4th, etc. Differentiation across the division is provided by a simplex directional (east or west) appended to the street name. Three named streets stand in for numbere: Evergreen Blvd instead of 10th Street, Mill Plain Blvd instead of 14th/15th street, Fourth Plain Blvd instead of 26th Street. These names extend well beyond the central grid, serving as colletion routes between central Vancouver and near eastside and outer eastside areas, Mill Plain and Fourth Plain becoming particularly important boulevards.

North of 39th Street, Main doglegs to a more NE of east course before changing its name entirely (north of the I-5 overpass, the street is known as Highway 99). In this district the approprately-named Division Street handles the baseline duty.

But hang on there, you may be saying, at some point there is a change of rationale, and there are nothing but numbered avenues crossing numbered streets outside of the area you just named.

True that is. While it's obvious that the areas in Clark County north of Vancouver and in the eastern section of what is now the incorporated city have a different naming rationale than the older sections of Vancouver they are based off extensions of the same baselines-1st street and Main/Division-as the inner areas are. These baselines are virtual in places-the notional streets that define them are not continuous-and cut across neighborhoods.

But they are boundaries that can be observed on maps. Extending the line of 1st Street east, the vitrual line cuts right through the MacArthur Blvd/Andresen Road area, conveniently coincides with East Mill Plain Blvd from the 9700 Block to the 11500 Block (Chkalov Dr), and then is taken as SE 1st Street from that point (Mill Plain doglegs south of west) to the point where the street enters Camas at the 20200 Block-at which point it becomes NW Lake Road in the Camas system. Extending the Main-Division line north the demarcation is NE 1st Avenue (NE Hazel Dell Ave forms a convenient logical reference because so little of 1st Avenue actually exists on the ground, but it's approximately 1 block east of the actual division.

These lines divide Clark County into three areas named with a duplex directional in relation to the address origin in the center of Vancouver: NW, NE, and SE. Note also that, due the origin's physical location, a SW quadrant is neither practical nor possible.

The transition between inner and outer naming schemes is extremely loosely defined. About the only thing one can say for certain is that if you are south of 39th Street and West of Andresen Road then you are almost certainly in the simpler system. Outside of that, numbered Streets, Circles, and Ways progress north, and south from the 1st street/SE 1st St line, and numbered Avenues, Places, and Courts progress east and west from the Main/Division/1st Avenue line. In the Mill Plain-MacArthur Blvd district the inner scheme prevails as far east as the area round Lieser Road and St Helens St, though NE numbered avenues can be found west of there along Mill Plain Blvd in the neighborhood opposite SW Washington Medical Center (once known as St. Joseph's Hospital). In the area north of 39th Street and west of Division numbered avenues wear the NW label while named streets have none. And, even stranger, off East 13th Street between Grand Blvd and Brandt road there are two numbered avenues and one numbered place that fit into the Avenue scheme but are simply referred: East 32nd Avenue, East 33rd Place, and East 40th Avenue.

Named streets in the outer system are few and far between but are easy to find-they don't run cardinal north-south. NE Burton Road splits off from East Fourth Plain Blvd at the 7300 block and does a slight meander but as soon as it straightens out, at NE 112th Ave, the name changes to NE 28th Street. NE Ward Road forks off Fourth Plain in the Sifton area and meanders itself a bit but becomes cardinal at NE 119th Street, changing its name to NE 182nd Avenue. NE 134th Street and NE 139th Street are connected by an s-curve of barely 1/4 miles length called NE Tenny Road. There are more examples-they're yours for the finding.

The numbered streets and avenues attain thier own respectable magnitudes: there is a NE 434th Street in the Chelatche Prairie area of far northeast Clark County, and right along the Clark/Skamania line, off Washougal River Road, is NE 412th Avenue. NE Streets in the low 600s are possible, but since they are in the mountainous NE corner of the county, in what amounts to National Forest country, not at all probable.

The address grids of the individual Clark County towns deserve some mention, but noting thie length of this post, I think there will be a part 2.

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