I think I’ve figured out why numbered streets are such a nuisance for me. It may just be personal wiring, but there it is.
My work is on 194th St. It’s a reasonably quiet street. On the other hand, 196th St., just two blocks to our south, is a busy commercial strip.
I was giving directions to our building to a delivery driver over the phone. And, as I frequently do, I started to tell him to turn on 196th to get to us. I corrected myself (and a good thing, too — it would never have worked out), but it got me to thinking about why I’m making that mistake.
I suspect it’s because when the numbers get that high, hey, in my head I just start rounding. Looked at that way, the difference between 194 and 196 is negligible. In other words, I’m not thinking of the two numbers as labels, I’m thinking of them as values. If they were Washington Ave. and Fillmore St., I’d almost never get them mixed up.
It was the realization that those digits are labels, not values — that is, they’re not really numbers except in the most attenuated sense — that struck me as a real usability issue. Even if it doesn’t happen often, it’s tough to believe I’m unique in seeing the numbers this way.