Let's go back into street blade and Address Nerd territory with gun and camera.
Well, with camera anyway.
Allow me to introduce you to the intersection of NE Fremont St, NE Sandy Blvd, and NE 72nd Avenue, in the Roseway neighborhood. This is pretty much downtown Roseway, really: there's Fairley's Pharmacy, the Safeway store, a handful of small shops, a liquor store, a theater, a handful of Vietamese-owned businesses. The late Yen Ha restaurant and lounge is here.
Now, keep your eyes on the road, and don't tell the officer you didn't see the sign.
|NE Sandy/72nd/Fremont, looking east on Fremont|
from the west side of the intersection
In NE Portland, at the point where diagonal Sandy Boulevard crosses straight east-west NE Fremont St, NE 72nd Avenue also happens to cross. In the big photo above, you can see it entering the plenum from the right, which is south, just behind the mansard roof of Annie's Donuts and just before the US Bank. Off to the left, well out of shot, the street continues northward from this intersection as a sort of parkway with a very wide boulevard median, similar to the segment of SE 72nd running from Holgate Boulevard to Foster Road. This parkway goes from approximately Fremont/Sandy to NE Prescott Street, about half a mile.
Now, I've prattled at length somehwere at least once or twice in the past three-thousand, seven-hundred plus visits to this blog about how to read a Portland street blade. And when you put a block number on a street blade as an aide in motorist navigation, there are essentially two ways to do it:
- The block number on the blade indicates the block of the street named on that blade, based on where the intersecting street cuts across. In other words, if I'm in Salem, and I'm on 12th St SE, and I look at a sign saying 12th ST SE and the block number says 3000, then what that street sign is telling me that it's directly labeling that block of the street that I'm on. This seems to be the most common way of going about it. Or:
- The block number on the blade indicates the block of the street you're on as defined by the intersecting street, which in Portland will be whatever block you're either entering or leaving as you go. Say I'm on SE 52nd Avenue and I come to a stop at SE Woodstock Blvd. The block number on the Woodstock blade will read 6000. This does not mean that's the 6000 block of Woodstock; it means Woodstock defines the beginning of the 6000 block of whatever street's crossing it. I'm either entering the 6000 block if I'm heading south or leaving it for the 5900 block if I'm heading north.
Number 2 is Portland's way of going about it. From what I've been able to see, though Portland is hardly the only city that does it this way (Salt Lake City has perhaps the most extreme idea of this sort of thing). It also lets you know how many streets away from, and quickly estimate your distance from said baseline (Woodstock at 6000 is the sixtieth block south of Burnside, and is therefore three miles from it).
It also influences geographic parlance: in Portland it's common to hear it put as "Woodstock is the 6000 block" or "Hawthorne is the 1500 block". It's particularly useful in a town like Portland where the grid is so strong through most of town. It's also why you don't see block numbers on the numbered avenue signs; since the hundred block of numbered avenues in town is keyed to the avenue number, it follows directly from the street name (NE 15th Avenue is the 1500 block of named streets that cross it).
There's more I could say but all that I've laid down so far should have set the table for what I'm about to lay on you. Pay attention:
At this intersection, you have two major traffic streets, NE Sandy Boulevard and NE Fremont Street, and a local side street, NE 72nd Avenue. Sandy runs at a diagonal, so it has no standard block number; it depends on the rise/run at the point of intersection. Now that does happen to be Fremont. What's Fremont's block? It's the 35th block north of Burnside; Fremont Street is the 3500 block, at least of NE 72nd Avenue (Sandy Blvd is numbered as an east-west street, so it's building numbers at that point would be the same as Fremont's which would be 7100 7200.
Okay, knowing all this, what would you assume would be the block numbers on the named blades for NE Sandy Blvd and NE Fremont St? Since Fremont is the 3500 block north, and Sandy cuts 72nd at the 3500 block, you may have guessed that the block number on those street blades would read 3500.
That's an entirely reasonable assumption. It's also incorrect: Here is what they do say:
That's right. Not 3500, but 7200. That's the block that 72nd intersects both those streets at.
It's like that on all points of the intersection. I've walked the entire thing more than once and I did on that day. The following picture is the extreme northeastern corner of the intersection, where the northbound side of NE 72nd north of Sandy leaves Sandy Blvd:
The block number on the Sandy Blvd blade?:
Yep. 7200. As is the one on the blade of Fremont Street pointing east from NE 72nd Avenue.
I've done a lot of reasoning about this because it is rather bewlidering. The Portland system of street sign information is actually fairly simple but just like every system it will run into cases where the demands of reality test it to a limit and this would appear to be one of those situations. It fails in a way at delivering the information one expects. But my going over my multi-decade store of impressions and expectations as to the information this system can deliver, I can at least, I think, provide an insight, that will cause it to at least make sense.
Bear in mind that I can't read PDOT's collective mind and that I do not function as any sort of consultant on these matters to them (I mean, I should, that would be just and righteous, but I don't. C'est la guerre, mon frere).
In referring to Portland street blades over my adult life one decoding principle I've used in interpreting this information is that the intersecting street blade tells you all you need to know about where you are on the street you're travelling on. You, presumably, don't need to be reminded of the name of the that street you're travelling on; you intentionally put yourself there. Here am I, say, going northbound on NE 60th Avenue crossing Glisan. I look at the sign and I see NE GLISAN ST 500, and I say to myself Well, I know I'm going into the 500 block on NE 60th and I just crossed Glisan St.
That street blade told me information relating to the street I was most likely to be on. Since 60th and Glisan only is composed of two intersecting streets, that further possibility is like an algebra term that multiplies by zero and falls out. I'm only going to be on one street or the other.
But what if the intersection I was at had three streets intersecting and only two of them were major through traffic routes? With the limited amount of room on the sign, what would I do?
What if, proceeding from the example of 60th and Glisan, I prioritized the needs of travellers coming into or through the area rather than those who wanted a reassurance that Fremont is the 3500 block north of a relatively-much-lesser travelled intra-neighborhood street? If that were true, then maybe I'd want to put 7200 on all those named street blades:
- If you're on Sandy Blvd, the intersection of NE Fremont Street defines the 7200 block of NE Sandy.
- If you're on NE Fremont Street, the intersection of NE Sandy Blvd defines the 7200 block of Fremont
- NE 72nd Avenue, being a comparatively little-used street, and less likely to be travelled on by people who are through-bound on Sandy and Fremont, can be left off the signs and cause minimal confusion and inconvenience because most locals already know that the 3500 block starts there and those through-bound people are more likely to be concerned with what block of Sandy or Fremont they're at.
So, there it is. I'm not saying I approve or disapprove, what I am saying here is that this is what I think the method behind this madness is. And there are other places in Portland where block number blade mistakes exist, and even some intersection signs which appear to contradict this logic within blocks of this very sign too ... Sometimes I don't know where PBOTs mind is on some of this.
And ... I still like the Portland system better than any others. But it does have its weaknesses where confusion can occur. This'd be one. But then, why even be in a city if you aren't going to take your time when you can, and look carefully around at your world.