The Mean Streets of PDX

It’s Portland MADNESS at ExtentPNW! In anticipation of NACIS 2012 and with shameless hopes of piggybacking on the momentum from Nick’s awesome map of Portland’s bridges, in this post I’ll share some quick maps I made of the streets of Portland using Metro data. The first uses color variations to show changes in address numbers for the Portland area: double-digit addresses begin at red and then progress through the color spectrum as the numbers increase.

Although this map is wholly unoriginal (see Andy Woodruff’s “Paint by Numbers” post, as well as a follow-up for San Francisco at The Swordpress) and more artsy than data-y, some interesting aspects of the area’s geography jump out. The vertical and horizontal banding comes from numbers steadily radiating outwards from downtown Portland, mostly along Avenues and Streets (more on that in a moment). One of my favorite aspects of this map is how it shows the independent street numbering schemes of Portland’s satellite cities – hence the several nuclei of red, low-numbered addresses. Interesting patchwork effects pop up in many places, depending on which roads buildings front onto, which I assume are the results of decades of layered policies and development planning. Portland’s urban growth boundary is also distinctly visible. Vancouver, Washington is the inexplicably stripey black hole of no data in the top right of the image.

The second set of maps is also essentially devoid of originality (it’s sort of my thing). Echoing Bill Rankin’s street toponym maps, I made a series of graphics showing the patterns created by isolating the most numerous street names in the PDX Metro area. Most popular are Streets and Avenues:


Click to enlarge.

Nothing particularly groundbreaking: Avenues run from north to south, while Streets tend to  go from east to west. Still, similar to the patchwork on the address numbers map, the anomalies in these two images are interesting. One of the most prominent is a distinct “X” pattern visible southwest southeast of downtown Portland (near all of the bridges!). This is Ladd’s Addition, Portland’s first planned neighborhood. I’m not an expert on the city by any means – I wonder how many other stories about the history, landscape, culture, or economy of the area are hiding behind these variations in the density and direction of Streets and Avenues? (Share in the comments if you notice anything!)

I’ll leave you with a few more street maps to ponder (in order of name frequency): Roads, Drives, Courts, Lanes, and Places. Although the patterns for these names aren’t as dense as those of Streets and Avenues, the images highlight a few interesting things, such as changes in elevation and transitions from high-density areas to suburbs.

9 thoughts on “The Mean Streets of PDX”

    1. Thanks Jim. Both of these followed a pretty straightforward GIS-to-Illustrator flow. For the addresses map I used uDig for the first time, just out of curiosity. (In fact, I’m pretty sure the color ramp I used comes stock with that program!) For the streets maps I used a series of queries in QGIS for the data side of things. All of the purty stuff happened in Illustrator for both maps, though.

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for the response.

    How did uDig handle, compared to QGIS?

    Is the terrain data used for the nice shading on the road maps from QGIS as well, or was it added later inside of Illustrator?

    Thanks again

    1. Honestly it’s been a while since I made the first map up top, so I don’t recall many specifics about uDig. As I remember, it didn’t seem as polished as QGIS (which is saying something). It was promising, but I was frustrated by some of the features (or lack thereof). Of course, I often feel the same way about QGIS – and I often feel the same way about ESRI products despite having more extensive experience. As it stands now, I’m putting any GIS-learning efforts towards QGIS, although I’ll keep an eye on uDig.

      The hillshade on the street name maps was generated from elevation models derived from LIDAR data. In fact, I believe I used GDAL’s gdaldem command to create the actual images. (See this post at Development Seed for example of that workflow).

  2. Ladd’s Addition is _southeast_ of downtown Portland.

    Derek, you ought to add a map of all the alleys in Portland. The white space would say it all.

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