Slant Streets

Missoula’s Slant Streets neighborhood, well known for its difficult navigation and fascinating history, took off on social media over the weekend, after a Baltimore photographer tweeted out an overhead shot of the incongruous area.

Wilson Freeman (known on Twitter as @the_sidecarist) was an urban planning major in college and said he’d heard of the Slant Streets years earlier, but recently came across the Google Earth screenshot and decided to tweet it out.

“It always looks funny,” Freeman said in a telephone interview Monday. “I think people forget stuff like that happens.”

The very first reaction to the shot came from another friend of Freeman’s who’s interested in city planning. He lives in Virginia and immediately recognized Missoula.

Missoulians are well-aware of the problems the Slant Streets pose — development along Brooks Street can be tough due to the triangle-shaped lots and a lack of left-hand turns, and walkers through the neighborhood can quickly get turned around. 

The Missoulian, as well as the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, has covered the history of the Slant Streets in the past, including a deep dive in 2005 from reporter Rob Chaney.

According to a condensed version of the story on the museum’s website, two Missoula lawyers, W.M. Bickford and W.J. Stephens, plotted the town of South Missoula in the 1880s along a wagon road.

They wanted the streets to run along the wagon road, which cut diagonally across the plains.

When the Higgins Bridge was replaced, the South Missoulians angled to connect it to the Bitterroot wagon road, but were overruled by C.P. Higgins, who connected it to South Higgins Avenue.

That led to another grid system south of the river following South Higgins Avenue that eventually swallowed up the cluster of diagonal streets.

As of Monday, more than 15,000 people had retweeted the image and nearly 47,000 liked it. More than 400 comments have been posted.

2015 Thrillist article on the worst-designed cities in the world listed Missoula’s Slant Streets and Malfunction Junction alongside Jakarta, Indonesia; Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Boston, Massachusetts.

Freeman added Seattle to the list — there’s an area on the ocean where one designer wanted to follow the harbor and the other wanted an orderly grid following the compass directions.

“It’s a little better put together,” Freeman said. “In Seattle they actually kind of align.”

The post also ended up on Reddit, on the r/oddlysatisfying thread. Several commenters suggested reposting it in r/mildlyinfuriating.

Freeman agreed. Since the Slant Streets don’t cleanly hook into the surrounding grid, “it looks like a glitch.

“I had a lot of people who were saying things like, ‘This makes my OCD twitch or gives me anxiety,’ ” Freeman said. “It’s the fact that it’s just slightly off that makes it so unnerving.”

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