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What Kind of Person Ranks DC’s State Avenues by “Gravitas”? Meet Michael Grass

Virginia Avenue and G Street, Northwest, in 1927. Photograph via Library of Congress.

Michael Grass once drove across the US without a map. He says he has a “weird way of remembering how to get around from Point A to Point B” and has “drawn out a mental map of every road trip I’ve been on in my life.” So it’s not too surprising that the former Michigan Geography Bee semifinalist was drawn to DC’s state roadways—not only are there 50 of them spread throughout the city, but they’re cartographically quite challenging.

On Thursday Grass, the editor of the Atlantic Media publication Route Fifty, published a study of DC’s state avenues, ranked by “gravitas”—their length, relative to boasting rights like crossing other state avenues, occupying more than one quadrant, how many traffic circles they hit. He then took each state avenue’s gravitas score and compared it to its Electoral College clout.

North Dakota? “About right.” New York? “Pretty close.” Alabama? The golden boy of this comparison, with a perfect 1.0.

Grass says he first proposed this project when he was at Express, and has toyed with publishing it at subsequent jobs—he’s worked at DCist, Washington City Paper, Roll Call and the Huffington Post—but never pulled the trigger on it until after Washingtonian published a quiz about state avenues. (Grass has hit them all.) But that still leaves a Massachusetts Avenue-length question in the room: Why, Michael Grass, why?

This is a pursuit of curiosity and not anything of great consequence,” he says. “Except bragging rights.”

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.