The D.C. Streets – Understanding the Quadrants & Names

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January 18, 2009 by Evin

Washington, D.C. is defined by four quadrants: NW, NE, SW, SE. Northwest is where you will probably spend your time. This section of D.C. is comprised of many neighborhoods, each with its own charm and personality. SW is small since it was the part of DC taken back by Virginia way back when. 

Some find the streets confusing, but if you know the rules you will always know exactly where you are just by looking at the nearest intersection’s street signs (just remember that the quadrants are key).

·      The Capitol Building is the center of everything. All streets and addresses are numbered based on their location from the Capitol. A building’s street address signifies its distance from the Capitol in the direction of the street (north-south or east-west).

·      All North-South Streets are numbered (First Street, Second Street, 17th Street, and so on)

·      All East-West Streets are alphabetical. There are three alphabets (none include X, Y, Z). Starting closest to the Capitol, the first alphabet streets start with “A Street” this follows the alphabet as you go away from the Capitol with one exception, there is no J in this alphabet and “I Street” can sometimes be referred to as “Eye Street” and the same sometimes goes for “Q Street” or “U Street”. The second alphabet is two-syllable words (example: “Calvert Street”). The fourth alphabet is three-syllable words (example: “Brandywine Street”). There are some other tree names used as a fourth alphabet, but only in part of NW as it approaches Maryland. Non-Street names do not follow this, so beware Place names.

·      State names are Avenues and run diagonally, intersecting with Avenues & Streets at traffic circles.

·      An address can give you all the information you need to find a location in the District. If you in the 5400-block of Wisconsin Avenue of Chevy Chase, Maryland (the numbering carries over to Bethesda and Chevy Chase) and want to go to 3600 Connecticut Avenue


The following information on grid-based naming systems is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

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” or “Circle”) is used for streets which go at a diagonal or curve around, and hence don’t 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. 

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One thought on “The D.C. Streets – Understanding the Quadrants & Names

  1. […] The D.C. Streets – Understanding the Quadrants & Names […]

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