This post is the first post in a series of posts that I will be starting focussing on Portland’s geography. Later this spring I plan on starting a continuing series of little mini neighborhood tour guides where I will be identifying parks, restaurants, cafes, and other aspects of each neighborhood. But before doing so I thought it would be helpful to talk about the city as a whole. Today’s first “lesson” is the layout of the city.
Portland is laid out in a grid pattern. Once you understand the grid Portland is a pretty easy city to drive and you can find almost any place in town with just knowing the address and cross street.
The Willamette (Will-Am-Ette not Willa-Mette) river divides the city by east and west. Notice Burnside St. in the middle of the map above? Burnside splits the city between north and south. Everything north of Burnside and west of the river is Northwest Portland; east of the river and south of Burnside is Southeast Portland, etc…
Also take note of the part of the river which starts to angle to the Northwest. If you scroll up slightly on the map, you will see that parts of the city are north of the river, so of course this area of town is referred to as North Portland. All in all pretty logical stuff.
With the above layout in mind Portland is pretty easy to navigate with the understanding of a couple of more rules:
1. All roads labeled street run east/west.
2. All roads labeled avenue run north/south.
3. All numbered roads are avenues.
4. All named roads are streets (with some noticeable exceptions).
5. The smaller the number of the avenue the closer you are to the river.
6. In NW Portland the named streets are in alphabetical order starting with the letter B for Burnside.
7. North Portland follows none of these rules.
Got all that? Great, lets look at an example. Let’s start with the Pearl District. The Pearl District is in NW Portland. Burnside St. and Quimby St. mark the southern and northern borders respectively and 15th Ave. and Broadway (our first exception think of it as 7th Ave.) mark the western and eastern borders. See map below.
View The Pearl in a larger map
Imagine you are looking for the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop on NW 10th Ave. and Everett St. and you are on NW 15th Ave. and Couch St. With the above rules in mind, you know to walk 5 blocks east (towards the river) to NW 10th Ave. and 2 blocks north (alphabet) to NW Everett St. Pretty simple stuff.
Things are little more complicated on the other side of the river, but generally speaking still pretty easy. The big thing to remember is that the numbered streets increase as you move east away from the river and Burnside splits the city between North and South. Knowing these things you can still find almost anywhere in town with just an address. For example if you want to go to a restaurant on SE 19th and Hawthorne, knowing nothing else, you know at the very least if you drive out Burnside to 19th Avenue and head south eventually you will reach Hawthorne and your destination. It may not be the most efficient way to get around but you won’t get lost.
My one word of caution for driving around Portland pertains to the downtown area. Most of the streets downtown are one way streets. And it is easy to find yourself on a oneway street and next thing you know you are forced onto a bridge heading across the river. This can be a bit of an annoyance. So keep that in mind when driving around downtown.
Overall Portland is a very easy city to navigate and with the above rules in mind it is easy to find most any place in Portland.by