Street Orientation Maps Show Boston’s ‘Charming’ and ‘Quaint’ Layout

Stephen Von Worley's maps confirm everything we already knew about Boston's disorganized layout.

boston map

Boston Map courtesy of Stephen Von Worley /

How many times have we compared the layout of Boston streets to New York’s? How many times have you debated with friends the merits of a convenient grid system versus Boston’s “charming” and “quaint” nooks and crannies?

“Isn’t it so great to be able to wander down cobblestone paths and get lost?” people argue.

Sure, but sometimes you don’t want to get lost. This meme really says it all.

To better visualize the organization of street layouts in various cities around the world, scientist and artist Stephen Von Worley created a set of maps out of OpenStreetMap’s metro-area grids. His glowing maps apply different colors to streets that run in different directions or a 90-degree perpendicular. More uniform areas indicate easier navigation. Red means streets run north-south and east-west, and other colors correspond to the color wheel.

Chicago, for example, appears almost all red. The monochrome quality suggests that Chicago’s layout is very rectangular and very simple to figure out. New York has a similar organized grid quality, lighting up mostly purple.

chicago new york maps

Chicago and New York Maps courtesy of Stephen Von Worley /

Cities that are interrupted by winding rivers, like Boston, or cities that are just really old, like London and Paris, have much more rainbow-like colorations. This means the streets change orientation often, creating quaint, charming, and oftentimes aggravating travel experiences. Only a few patches of grid-like areas appear in Back Bay and Southie.

In other words, the Boston map confirms what we already knew: our streets are twisty winding routes great for getting lost in. On a sunny lazy Sunday? Fine. On a Wednesday when you’re late for a work meeting? Not so much.

But Von Worley points out that it could be worse. “Regarding Boston’s streets, I’d heard a lot about how messed up they are, but compared to the older European cities—London, for instance—it’s not that bad. There’s some rhyme and reason, on a very local scale, at least,” he said via e-mail.

There you have it folks. Maybe that should be our new city slogan: “Not as bad as London.”


Check out more of Von Worley’s maps at