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Austin: City Layout

In 1839, Austin was laid out in a grid on the northern shore of the Colorado River, bounded by Shoal Creek to the west and Waller Creek to the east. The section of the river abutting the original settlement is now known as Town Lake, and the city has spread far beyond its original borders in all directions. The land to the east is flat Texas prairie; the rolling Hill Country begins on the west side of town.

Main Arteries & Streets -- I-35, forming the border between central and east Austin (and straddling the Balcones Fault Line), is the main north-south thoroughfare; Loop 1, usually called Mo-Pac (it follows the course of the Missouri-Pacific railroad, although some people like to say it got its name because it's "mo' packed"), is the westside equivalent. Highway 290, running east and west, merges with I-35 where it comes in on the north side of town, briefly reestablishing its separate identity on the south side of town before merging with Highway 71 (which is called Ben White Blvd. between 183 and Lamar Blvd.). Highway 290 and Highway 71 split up again in Oak Hill, on the west side of town. Not confused enough yet? Highway 2222 changes its name from Koenig to Northland and, west of Loop 360, to Bullcreek, while, in the north, Highway 183 is called Research Boulevard. (Looking at a map should make all this clear as mud.) Important north-south city streets include Lamar, Guadalupe, and Burnet. If you want to get across town north of the river, use Cesar Chavez (once known as First St.), 15th Street (which turns into Enfield west of Lamar), Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (the equivalent of 19th St., and often just called MLK), 38th Street, or 45th Street.

Finding an Address -- Congress Avenue was the earliest dividing line between east and west, while the Colorado River marked the north and south border of the city. Addresses were designed to move in increments of 100 per block, so that 1500 N. Guadalupe, say, would be 15 blocks north of the river. This system still works reasonably well in the older sections of town, but breaks down where the neat street grid does (look at a street map to see where the right angles end). All the east-west streets were originally named after trees native to the city (for example, Sixth St. was once Pecan St.); most that run north and south, such as San Jacinto, Lavaca, and Guadalupe, retain their original Texas river monikers.

Street Maps -- The surprisingly detailed maps available for no cost at the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as at many car-rental companies at the airport, should help you find any place you're likely to want to locate. Alternatively, I'd recommend the Gousha city maps, available at most convenience stores, drugstores, newsstands, and bookstores.

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