Around Town

Why don’t Charlotte’s streets run north/south, east/west?

Why don't Charlotte streets run north-south? An extreme wide angle view looking north on Tryon Street near the intersection of Trade Street in Charlotte. In this city of skyscrapers and trees, the streets don't run north-south. Tryon Street runs northeast out of the city.
Why don't Charlotte streets run north-south? An extreme wide angle view looking north on Tryon Street near the intersection of Trade Street in Charlotte. In this city of skyscrapers and trees, the streets don't run north-south. Tryon Street runs northeast out of the city. mhames@charlotteobserver.com

If you’re driving up North Tryon Street uptown, which direction are you going? Hint: It’s not due north.

Seriously. Look at the map.

Streets in other cities — Chicago and (sigh) Raleigh — go north-south and east-west in a classic grid pattern. Charlotte’s uptown streets are also in a grid, but they lie diagonally.

So, to answer the question above, when you’re going up North Tryon Street you’re actually going northeast.

Why? Garrett Nelson has some answers in this PlanCharlotte.org article.

– Cities normally form based on a particular topography, whether set on hills for protection, or along rivers or coasts, where trading by ships provided livelihoods.

– Charlotte, a relatively new city, started on a small ridge between two local creeks — Irwin Creek and Little Sugar Creek. Those creeks, like many of the other streams in the county if you look at a topographical map, flow northeast to southwest.

Meck_topography_final2edit

– Tryon and Trade streets follow older Native American trading paths.

– The street grids in Charlotte followed those diagonally-flowing creeks, resulting in an uptown grid map that looks more like diamonds than squares.

Meck_topography_final1edit

So, in short: Because the creeks said so.

Now go wow your friends with your new Charlotte smarts.

Photo: Mark Hames/Charlotte Observer (top); Garrett Nelson/PlanCharlotte.org (topography). 

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