The good folks of Minneapolis can sing the alphabet to find their way around much of their downtown. Drivers in Salt Lake City need only...

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The good folks of Minneapolis can sing the alphabet to find their way around much of their downtown. Drivers in Salt Lake City need only look toward Temple Square to know how the street numbers should climb.


Even Seattleites have a nifty mnemonic device to remember the order of things near the waterfront: Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest (From south to north: Jefferson and James, Cherry and Columbia, Marion and Madison, Spring and Seneca, University and Union, Pike and Pine).


But what’s the trick to remembering how the numbers work on the Eastside? What’s the deal with Bellevue’s seemingly random dead ends? How come Issaquah and Snoqualmie name their streets after flora, fauna and snacks (Indigo Place, Shy Bear Way, Huckleberry Avenue) when other cities usually stick with numbers? And why is Kirkland’s downtown on a different layout than everyone else’s?


As one reader (and pizza deliveryman who’s been confounded by the Eastside’s grid) put it, “The street planners had to be on drugs.”


To help those who say they just can’t figure out the lay of the land, we asked King County Metro officials, historians and people in charge of naming roads in cities for some insight and suggestions.


For starters, you should know that King County’s ground zero for its road-numbering grid is roughly First Avenue South and Main Street in downtown Seattle.




Dear Reader


Got an Eastside traffic question? Send it to us by e-mail, east@seattletimes.com; by fax, 425-453-0449; by mail, The Seattle Times Eastside News Bureau, 1200 112th Ave. N.E., Suite C-145, Bellevue, WA 98004.


Head north, south or east from First and Main, and the numbers climb (though you’ll notice many of the streets in the vicinity have names instead of numbers). Head northwest to Ballard, and you’ll notice a “Northwest,” or “N.W.,” to the numbered streets. Head south to Federal Way and add a “South” to the street signs. You get the picture.


Now, follow Main Street east and jump across Lake Washington to downtown Bellevue, where you’ll add “N.E.” or “S.E.” to all the street signs. And so it goes along the Eastside, from Bellevue on out to North Bend and the hinterlands of East King County.


“Anything that’s northeast is north of Main, and anything southeast is south of Main,” said Hillary Stibbard-Terrell, Bellevue’s traffic-engineering operations and design manager.


When in doubt of where you might be, remember this: Typically, avenues run north-south, and streets run east-west. The directional comes after an avenue, but before a street. Hence, Northeast 124th Street and 124th Avenue Northeast. Unless you’re in downtown Kirkland or on Issaquah’s Front Street. But more on those in a minute.


First, let’s try to make sense of some of the Eastside’s most frequent frustrations.


Q: Why does Bellevue have so many dead ends? I have headed to an address, after looking at a map, only to discover that the city, at some time or another, and for what reason I don’t know, decided that that particular street should no longer go through. So there I am. In the “middle of the block,” at a dead end.


A: Whew, a mystery we can attempt to solve, with the help of Mark Poch, Bellevue’s traffic-engineering manager. At one time, Bellevue had a street layout with through streets on every block. As Bellevue grew, the city wanted to accommodate larger building layouts and footprints. So the city sold some of the land back to developers and ended up with a street every other block, an outcome the city’s Transportation Department calls a “superblock.” Some folks (such as the Bellevue Police Department) like them because they force more cars to stick to main roads rather than cruise through neighborhoods. But the superblocks drive other folks batty trying to get around.


Q: I’ll be driving along Bel-Red Road, only to find that suddenly I’m crossing 156th Avenue Northeast when I’ve just crossed Northeast 24th Street. What’s going on here?


A: Some officials jokingly call Bel-Red, once the main way to travel between Redmond and Bellevue, an “abomination” for the way it forces drivers to momentarily suspend logic to find an address. All the more reason to post your address prominently to help law-enforcement and emergency rescue workers find you faster, county workers say.


One way to conquer the confusion is to visualize Bellevue’s streets as a giant tic-tac-toe grid, avenues running north to south, streets running east-west, with Bel-Red running diagonally through it, Stibbard-Terrell said.


“Sometimes it can throw you off. You’re looking for 130 [Bel-Red Road] and I’m in the 20 block?” she said.


Q: All this talk of streets running east-west and avenues running north-south is good and fine. But how come downtown Kirkland seems so different?


A: Under state law, cities can tackle street naming however they feel is best. And hence, Kirkland has opted to maintain its own original downtown street layout from the late 1880s rather than conform to the county’s grid.


From Northeast 68th Street to 20th Avenue, Kirkland does everything in reverse. Thus, avenues run east-west and streets north-south. Many of the roads are set at a diagonal because city founder Peter Kirk and his engineer wanted to make the most of the area’s water and mountain views, said Bob Burke, past president of the Kirkland Heritage Society.


As Kirkland grew, however, it kept the street names of the county neighborhoods it absorbed, Burke said. And that’s why drivers encounter 110th Avenue Northeast after Ninth Street.


Q: How come some cities use names for their streets and others use numbers?


A: It pretty much is a matter of preference. Some cities, including Bellevue, prefer numbers because they think it’s easier for people (such as police, ambulance drivers and firefighters) to find addresses. Others, including Issaquah and Snoqualmie, name their streets after trees, landmarks and historic families out of tradition or because they think it contributes to a community’s identity.


“I suppose for me it gives a greater sense of place to have a name rather than a number,” said Issaquah Mayor Ava Frisinger, who lived on named streets during her childhood in Michigan and for most of her adult life. “It was just so customary to me, I never even thought about the idea of having a numbered street.”


Issaquah, however, is a story in compromise (or some would say confusion).


The city used both names and numbers in its Issaquah Highlands and Talus housing developments after requests from Eastside Fire & Rescue. Those numbers follow the city’s own numbering system rather than the county’s, meaning that First Avenue Northeast suddenly becomes 230th Avenue Southeast. As a point of reference, Front Street bucks convention and runs north-south, and it serves as the city’s numbering ground zero where it crosses Sunset Way.



Karen Gaudette: 206-515-5618