Here's your sign: Dickinson uses unique addressing system for streets
Over the years Dickinson has developed a unique street naming system. North Dakota State Highway 22 is known as Third Avenue West on the north side of town, but dip under the railroad tracks and all of a sudden it’s Main Avenue. Twelfth Street turns into Museum Drive at Third Avenue West and changes back to 12th Street at 10th Avenue East. Sims Street travels north and south — the direction most avenues travel in Dickinson — and is the east-west zero point for addresses — on the north side, Main Avenue holds that honor south of Villard Street.
Most cities pick a directional place for street addresses and stick with it — all even addresses are on the north and west sides of the street, all odd addresses on the south and east — but Dickinson switches its house numbers per quadrant.
The system was set in place long ago. Community Development Director Ed Courton and the current city staff have only inherited it.
“I’ve planned in multiple jurisdictions across the country, and I have never had an addressing system similar to Dickinson’s,” Courton said. “It’s a unique system.”
In the three years Courton has been here there have been four or five address coordinators for the city. Since last year all addressing for the city of Dickinson is done by Stark County Emergency Management.
“When I get a plot map, I just address the whole thing at one time,” said Jolyn Bliss, 911 data specialist for Stark County. “I have a mapping program I work into and I place a point in 911 for every address.”
When the oil boom first hit Dickinson and there was staff turnover — before Bliss took over Dickinson’s addressing — there were some inconsistencies citizens might notice, Courton said.
“We’re correcting the past problems with our new subdivisions,” Courton said.
As Dickinson has annexed land, people who used to be on the county addressing system — which breaks the state into four sections — have had to switch to a city address, Bliss said.
“It’s a deeply personal issue, more than you would think,” Courton said.
Bliss recently re-addressed the Sundance development in north east Dickinson, changing 108X Avenue SW to Sundance Drive.
“That is quite a difference in an address when it comes to a name street versus a county named street,” Bliss said. “County-wise, we don’t allow any named streets, like Sundance Drive, we always go with numbered streets.””
GPS users have complained to Bliss’ department that newer addresses don’t show up on their device.
“We don’t govern what data they put into those,” Bliss said. “If they would request our data we could give them addresses, but they’ve never really been in contact with us.
As the trend in the city moves to more named streets, it is harder to determine where an address is simply by its name, said Deb Barros, fire prevention specialist for the Dickinson Fire Department. Anyone living directly east of 10th Avenue East lives on the 1,000 block of their street. Those living east of Elm Avenue lives in the 800 block of their street. Without the numbers it’s hard to make that determination.
“We just want to make sure we know the location beforehand,” Barros said. “We need to have our people educated in the location of those names.”
After firefighters are on the right block, it’s important that house numbers are visible — ideally in a color that contrast that of the house, Barros said.
One of the first things a new Dickinson Police officer will learn is geography, Capt. Dave Wilkie said.
“Once they get accustomed to it — it’s just a learning curve,” Wilkie said.
The names in the new subdivisions were initially a concern for the police department, but officers old and new learned them, Wilkie said.
“Once we realized that there were some street names out there that we weren’t aware of yet, or that we weren’t familiar with, our guys started working on that right away,” Wilkie said.
Even though Sims Street is the zero-point for east and west on the north side of Villard Street, when zoning the city for patrols, the police department uses Third Avenue, Wilkie said.
“It is more of a natural divider in the city,” Wilkie said. “There’s no way we’re going to get the city to renumber the whole west side of town just because we want to move the zero marker over three blocks.”
The “unique system” developed by Dickinson’s forefathers will stay in place, Courton said.
“It would be extremely difficult to change things at this point,” Courton said. “Our city is — we’re between (a population of) 26,000 to 28,000, projecting to go to 42,000, our boundaries are growing, that would be a massive undertaking.”
Feasibly, it wouldn’t make sense to change it, Courton said.
“Is it something the city should consider? At this point, probably not,” Courton said. “People slowly get used to our unique system. … Changing it midstream with our population would probably be more detrimental than a positive at this point.”