John Tauranac

Just Another New York Crazy

Month: May, 2012

Where Is West End Avenue at 110th Street? Worse, Where is West End Avenue at 116th Street?

The answer to both questions is … well, West End Avenue isn’t. West End Avenue does not exist at either 110th or 116th Streets, unless, that is, you accept at face value various subway maps published by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority since 1978, some of which went out under my “O.K.  J.T.”

110th Street Broadway - 1978Despite what those years’ worth of MTA maps might say, Broadway does not intersect and subsume West End Avenue at 110th Street, as both the 1978 prototype map and the 1979 system map and consequent maps had it, as you see in the first two snippets from those maps, nor does Broadway intersect and subsume West End Avenue even further north at 116th Street at the Columbia station, as today’s MTA map shows it.

West End Avenue, the gussied-up name for the northern end of Eleventh Avenue, runs from 59th Street to 107th Street, where it encounters and is indeed subsumed by Broadway, which raises its pesky cartographic head on MTA subway maps again.  (The whereabouts of Broadway at 66th and 72nd Streets on MTA system maps has been wrong from the 1978 prototype ‘til today.)

110th Street-Broadway - 1979Broadway runs a straight course between Amsterdam and West End Avenues from about 86th to 102nd Streets. From that point, Broadway follows a northwesterly path to 107th Street, where Broadway does indeed subsume West End Avenue, taking it over and proceeding north. Just as Dorothy knew she wasn’t in Kansas any more, so you know that you are not on West End any more when you are walking north and cross 107th Street. West End Avenue is 100 feet wide, and Broadway is half again as wide. It’s the Boulevard.

The early maps whose accuracy I was responsible for are bad enough, and you would think that I would have known better, since I have lived on the Upper West Side for most of my life. I can find some consolation in knowing that at least those maps showed Broadway where it ought to be at 110th Street. The problem with the original maps is that the bend between 103rd and 110th Streets is angled too gently. It does not show Broadway’s intersection with West End Avenue at 107th Street. Consequently, West End Avenue flows right into Broadway at 110th Street. That’s bad enough.

116th Street-Broadway - 2012Worse is the presentation today, as you see in the third snippet, here on the left. The 2012 MTA subway map has Broadway going straight from 72nd Street to 110th Street, with West End Avenue shown west of Broadway at 110th Street. Broadway is then depicted as turning on a northwesterly angle to 116th Street and merging at that point with West End Avenue, taking West End Avenue nine blocks further north from its terminal point at 107th Street.

It means getting out of the subway on Broadway and 116th Street at Columbia and expecting the intersection of Broadway and West End Avenue. Or getting out of the subway at Broadway and 110th Street and walking west, expecting to find West End Avenue, only to find Riverside Drive and no West End. To find West End Avenue you’d have to walk three blocks south on Broadway, but who would know, based on any of these maps.

It’s a “mea culpa” and an “oy vay” all over again, at least for the original 110th Street SNAFU.

Stay tuned.

N.B. As a true New Yorker, my skewed perception of north is uptown on the numbered avenues. I know that true north is angled about 28.8 degrees to the left of our perception of north, but let’s keep this geography lesson in bounds. North is straight up the numbered avenues, just as these tilted maps depict. Ergo, northwest is at an obtuse angle that leads off to the left.

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Both a “First Street” and a “1 Street” on the Street Commissioners’ Map of 1811? And a “Second Street” and a “2 Street”? … And a “Sixth Street” and a “6 Street”? Yup.

The Street Commissioners’ Map of 1811 as depicted here has north to the right.

 

I gave a tour the other day for the Museum of the City of New York in conjunction with their marvelous show, “The Greatest Grid,” a celebration of the Street Commissioners’ Plan of 1811.

As I was doing my homework and plotting the route on the Street Commissioners’ Map, my eyes wandered to an area south of “North Street,” the aboriginal name for today’s East Houston Street, and east of Bowery Road, “when, what to my wondering eyes should appear” on the map but First Street, and Second, Third and Fourth Streets and, though interrupted by Orchard Street, Sixth Street. All the streets were north-south streets, all were given ordinal numbers, and all were spelled out. This is odd, said I to myself.

One of the basics of the gridiron plan was that “streets” – in opposition to “avenues” – went crosstown, or east and west from river to river, and they were numbered, beginning with “1 Street,” as the commissioners had it on their map. However, here we are presented with numbered streets going north and south, and not just numbered streets, but duplicative numbered streets. There were two First Streets, two Second Streets, and so on.

The street commissioners had abandoned all hope of making sense of the streets south of today’s Houston Street and simply accepted them, and those numbered north-south streets were there first. First, Second and Third Streets were already making their trajectory north from Division Street by 1789, according to a map of that year, and they were still there 22 years later, along with two more streets that had been cut through and accorded numbers (Orchard Street was already “Orchard Street.”). The streets were part of the Delancey Farm, land that was confiscated after the Loyalist Delancey family had fled the scene. Their property was sold off, and I assume the streets were given those simple names to distinguish boundaries for sale purposes.

The street commissioners intentionally choose not to rock the established boat. They simply incorporated the existing street names in the “unimproved” section of their map, despite the obvious confusion over the duplicative nature of the street names. They ignored their proclamation that numbered streets would go east and west, and they accepted the fact of the confusing street names without commenting on their anomalous position. They could have said “Caveat emptor cartae. The following street names are duplicated….” Or, to avoid confusion, they could have begun their numbering at 7 Street instead of 1 Street. Or, perhaps they believed that the average map reader would suffer no confusion because of this subtlety: the numbered streets with ordinal numbers were spelled out (“First,” for instance) in distinction to the numbered streets with cardinal numbers that were presented as numerals (“1”).

Clearly, even the above-average reader was confused. In 1817, the Common Council rode to the rescue and changed the aberrant numbered north-south street names south of Houston Street: First Street to Chrystie, Second to Forsyth, Third to Eldridge, Fourth to Allen, and Sixth to Ludlow (all men distinguished by military service).

And to think that I saw it near Mulberry Street.

An afterthought: I recently bumped into Gil Tauber, who operates the best on-line trove of old street names of New York, called, originally enough, “Old Streets of New York” (www.oldstreets.com). He already knew all about what I had just “discovered.” It’s not easy being a babe in these woods, all apologies to Sarah Palin.