Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
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.
These are the Chicago streets prioritized for plowing above 2 inches of snow: