DDOT

Street grids of necessity.

If you love the geometry of street grids – the spare way they convey differences in scale, density, and development patterns – the below maps reduce a city's shape to something even simpler: those essential arteries worth plowing in a snow emergency.

With this elegant (but functional!) map of Washington, D.C.'s emergency snow routes in mind, we tracked down maps of several cities as they appear on days like today on the East Coast, in the heart of a sweeping snow storm. Bad weather reduces a city to its critical bones, as most of us stay home. All but the most important roads remain inaccessible. Residential neighborhoods stay snowed-under in favor of commercial corridors and highways. Major bus routes take precedent over side streets, as do downtown districts over peripheral communities.

Compare these maps against each other, and they also reveal an underlying logic in how each city is organized, by grid (Chicago), by waterway (Philadelphia), or by relative chaos (we're looking at you, Louisville).

If you live in any of these cities, you may also know these routes by another name: When it's snowing, this is where you dare not park.

This is the emergency snow route map in Washington, D.C.:

In Philadelphia:

Baltimore:

These are the Chicago streets prioritized for plowing above 2 inches of snow:

Here is radial Richmond:

And Louisville:

Oklahoma City:

Minneapolis:

About the Author

Emily Badger

Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.

Most Popular

  1. Homeless individuals inside a shelter in Vienna in 2010
    Equity

    How Vienna Solved Homelessness

    What lessons could Seattle draw from their success?

  2. Two New York City subway cars derailed on the A line in Harlem Tuesday, another reminder of the MTA's many problems.
    Transportation

    Overcrowding Is Not the New York Subway's Problem

    Yes, the trains are packed. But don’t blame the victims of the city’s transit meltdown.

  3. Postcards showing the Woodner when it used to be a luxury apartment-hotel in the '50s and '60s, from the collection of John DeFerrari
    Equity

    The Neighborhood Inside a Building

    D.C.’s massive Woodner apartment building has lived many lives—from fancy hotel to one of the last bastions of affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood. Now, it’s on the brink of another change.

  4. Life

    Why a City Block Can Be One of the Loneliest Places on Earth

    Feelings of isolation are common in cities. Let’s take a look at how the built environment plays into that.

  5. A row of Victorian homes in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco, California.
    Equity

    San Francisco's Civil War Over Affordable Housing

    The country’s most expensive rental market grapples with high rents, homelessness, and the politics of Bay Area tenant activism.