Boulevard, Avenue, Road, and Street in Detroit


Over the last three years working as a community health worker in Detroit, I have logged over 80,000 miles on my tiny car with the majority of those miles being from getting around Detroit to meet with clients, families, and community events. After a while I became really interested in street naming.

I first saw this street name mapping idea from Bill Rankin’s work in Vancouver to the Derek Watkins applying a similar effort to the Portland – Seattle area. I was finally given my last push and decided to create this map after following Bostonography. The piece that took the longest was finding a good file of Detroit streets (finally acquired one from my GIS professor this summer).

In order to understand the layout of Detroit “streets” you really have to know Detroit’s history. The different groupings of “street” names shows the development of Detroit and its expansion over the years. Arthur Mullen of Cityscape has a great explanatory article, here are some highlights:

“In the immediate downtown area, the earlier French physical imprint was removed by the devastating fire of 1805. Nearly the entire small village was destroyed by that fire and the new territorial governor, Judge Augustus B. Woodward, decreed that the town would be reconstructed utilizing a grand urban grid based on a spoked wheel system […].”

“The French rectilinear grid was built off of their “ribbon farms” which was their method of dividing property near Detroit. These farms, usually ranging between 200 to 400 feet wide, stretched linearly inland for approximately three miles, thus the name. […] After the fire of 1805, the new Woodward grid was laid on top of the French property grid in only the central portion of downtown.”

“Eight Mile road became the Base Line for all of this surveying in the NW territories. (For your information – Eight Mile Road stretched across Lake Michigan becomes the border between Wisconsin and Illinois.) […] The outlaying parts of Detroit and the suburbs follow this true north south grid pattern as evidenced by our regions north-south and east-west mile roads. This explains why there are three basic grid systems in the City of Detroit. Their existence physically illuminates the early history of the city of Detroit.”

“Our Native American heritage is also evident in the physical layout of the city. Michigan Ave.– aka U.S. 12, Chicago Road, Sauk Trail — follows an old Native American trail used for trading to circumnavigate around the south shore of Lake Michigan. This earlier history is visible in the subtle twists the road makes as it nears Dearborn, and it becomes even more profound as you head west on the road.”

Maybe that was more than you wanted to know, but the history of Detroit gives incredible insight into its present day make up. As evidenced by all the orange in the map, the term “Street” was used widely in all three of Detroit’s street grid systems. It’s hard not to go anywhere in the city and not drive on a street.


Detroit’s “Avenues” show the lasting impact of Detroit’s initial plan of 1806, Augustus Woodward’s hub-and-spoke grid plan. These Avenues are still important connectors to other Michigan cities and regions. It seems that “Avenues” also became popular again after official US control of Detroit, notably on the Westside and as important cross-city routes.

detroit_avesBoulevard’s aren’t the most widespread in Detroit, but they are some of the most prominent streets in Detroit’s history. The most recognizable “Boulevard” is Grand Boulevard, which at one point was one of the most prominent streets to build your house. Modeled after the French design, Grand Boulevard encompassed the outer limits of the city in 1913 and was decorated with beautiful landscaping.

detroit_blvds“Roads” in Detroit follow the convention of the true East-West Mile roads and North-South street naming after official US control of Detroit after 1837. It is easy to see that “Roads” are limited to the outer areas of the city, away from the city center.


“Streets” and “Avenues” may be timeless as far as street naming in Detroit, but “Boulevards” and “Roads” reveal Detroit’s historical planning past. Depending on where you live in Detroit, there may be some street names that you never encounter – but everyone will live or drive on a “street” (from Census 2010 data, Social Explorer).

detroit_st_popdenSee also: Map of Detroit Land Annexation 1806 – 1926

6 thoughts on “Boulevard, Avenue, Road, and Street in Detroit

  1. Pingback: Map: Detroit’s Second Great Fire | DETROITography

  2. Pingback: Map: Detroit’s Pattern of Growth 1960s | DETROITography

  3. Wish that each Street , Avenue , Road , Boulevard & Other were named for the sake of learning or reaching others

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