Data Compares Houston Street Grid With Others From Around the Country (Update)

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For the non-GPS drivers among us, do you ever marvel at how the city's streets follow a north-south axis? Of course not.

But a data scientist from the Northwest put together a few comparisons of street grids using Census data and came up with this:

The plots reveal some stark trends. Most of the counties considered do conform to a grid pattern. This is particularly pronounced with Chicago, even though much of Cook County is suburban. Denver, Jacksonville, Houston, and Washington, D.C., also have dominant grid patterns that are oriented in the cardinal directions.

While Philadelphia and New York are primarily gridded, their orientations are slightly skewed from the traditional N-E-S-W bearings. Manhattan is particularly interesting because it has a notable imbalance between the number of streets running the width of the land (WNW to ESE) and the length of the land (NNE to SSW). New Orleans and San Francisco express some grid-like forms, but have a nontrivial proportion of roads that are rotated in other directions.

Downtown Boston has some gridded streets, but the suburban grids are differently aligned, dampening the expression of a single grid on the rose diagram. Finally, the minimal geographic extents of the grids in Charlotte and Honolulu are completely overwhelmed by the winding roads of the suburbs, resulting in plots that show only slight favoritism for certain street orientations.

What does this all mean? We're not really sure. But what we do know is that it's an ancient form of urban planning that follows the Earth's axis, believed to connect Heaven and Earth and pass through the celestial poles. But the thing you probably need most to remember is that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. With that you shouldn't get lost in Harris County, if your cell phone dies.

Here's a look at five cities that look crooked and don't follow our perfect north-south-east-west road pattern.

5) New Orleans

New Orleans is almost there. Not too bad.

4) St. Louis

St. Louis isn't too far off, either. But not perfect.

3) San Francisco

It's possible an earthquake knocked San Francisco off its axis. But they're so close.

2) Philadelphia

Philly is close. You'd figure with all that colonial history, they'd have planned a more perfect urban outlay.

1) New York

For all that "Greatest City in the World" stuff they hit you with, you'd expect the city to conform to a cardinal direction. Sure, it's not too hard to get around once you're there, but this surely looks ugly, New York. It's what happens when you're longer than you are wide.

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