Road Test | Knowledge & Wisdom

Going round and round the Hub of the Universe.

By Yankee Magazine

Aug 13 2018

Boston from the Hyatt

Boston Skyline from the Hyatt

Photo Credit : Thetonia-Feitelberg, Liz
Boston Skyline from the Hyatt
Photo Credit : Thetonia-Feitelberg, Liz

Boston’s jumbled geography makes it hard to figure out which end is up. South Boston is east of downtown and north of more than half of the city. East Boston is north of downtown, and the South End is far north of West Roxbury, which itself is almost at the southern end or bottom. Compass directions are almost useless in Boston.

Hardly anywhere do parallel streets run north-south and east-west. When paths were needed to get across town, many of them followed uneven curves to connect radial streets. As a result, Washington Street and Congress Street begin a short block apart and are six blocks apart when they reach Summer and High streets only about five blocks south.

Visitors are shocked to see so many repeated street names. Forty-seven street names appear three or more times. Washington Street appears five times. It ties for second place with six others: Everett, Franklin, Mt. Vernon, Park, School, and Walnut. Lincoln appears six times. Ten street names show up four times each.

Some street names change midcourse. Atlantic becomes Commercial and then Causeway, and Stuart turns into Kneeland. Visitors springing along through Boston might fall down in amazement when they discover that Summer becomes Winter in Downtown Crossing.

—“Jumbled Geography”
by Judith Cohen, January 1990