The Logic Behind the Selection of Manhattan's Major Cross Streets

34th St and Broadway in Manhattan
34th St and Broadway in Manhattan
Photo: Wikimedia

In the Commissioners' Plan of 1811, the City planning guide which laid out the famous Manhattan street grid, there is a passage which describes the reason for the selection of certain East-West streets to be two-way, wider and cross from river to river.

Those passages which run at right angles to the avenues are termed streets, and are numbered consecutively from one to one hundred and fifty-five. The northerly side of number one begins at the southern end of Avenue B and terminates in the Bower lane; number one hundred and fifty-five runs from Bussing’s Point to Hudson river, and is the most northern of those which is was thought at all needful to lay out as part of the city of New York, excepting the Tenth avenue, which is continued to Harlem river and strikes it near Kingsbridge. These streets are all sixty feet wide except fifteen, which are one hundred feet wide, viz.: Numbers fourteen, twenty-three, thirty-four, forty-two, fifty-seven, seventy-two, seventy-nine, eighty-six, ninety-six, one hundred and six, one hundred and sixteen, one hundred and twenty-five, one hundred and thirty-five, one hundred and forty-five, and one hundred and fifty-five–the block or space between them being in general about two hundred feet.

Untapped Cities recently published an analysis of each of these crossings, noting…

…that there are fifteen major cross streets, almost the same as the number of avenues (16)… ignoring the minor cross streets, you can thus envision Manhattan as roughly a 15 x 15 Cartesian grid, stretched in the uptown-downtown direction because the island is an oblong rectangle.

Check out the full article for the complete list and photos of the famous intersections they create.

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