View Full Version : Streets, roads, avenues, boulevards
The April 23rd column:
What's the difference between a street, a road, an avenue, a boulevard, etc.? The column can be found here (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/990423.html)
[Note: This message has been edited by Dan Kaplan]
in your recent article you wrote:
where are the French when we need them?
Shouldn't that be Germans?
By the way, I've heard that 2nd Street is the
most usual street name in US. Is this true?
Cecil talks about the "suffix" on steet names. Then there's also a label in fron. I lived in a town in Minnesota where the streets ran, I think, nort and south. But then there was NW 2nd St., SW 2nd St, NE 2nd St.,SE 2nd St. and all started numbering from the main drag through town (east to west). The post office couldn't disregard the NW label!
One appendage neglected by Cecil is pike. Where I live, in Huntsville Alabama, a pike is a road that leads to another city. Thus Pulaski Pike is the road you take from Huntsville to get to Pulaski Tennessee. We have a few of these around here and I find that to be the only useful knowledge I have thus far gained as to the assignment of appendages to names.
Goober says Hey!
To Will Lampe, who asked this question:
You live in Englewood, New Jersey where
Grand AVENUEbecomes Engle STREET right
after Palisade Avenue. I mean, obviously
the suffixes mean nothing.
And don't forget about Teaneck ROAD becoming
Washington AVENUE! Is Bergen County the
only place where this happens?
My experience comes from having a spouse working at the post office. In general, streets in our town were named by the developers of the property, subject to review by the PO. One wise guy developed a neighborhood and wanted to name every street "Redbud" something; i.e. Redbud Lane, Redbud Drive, Redbud Court, etc. The PO put a stop to this as it would obviously be a problem. Another consideration is how the houses/buildings are numbered. It isn't nearly as confusing if 21st STREET and 21st AVENUE are side-by-side if they are numbered differently. For example, 21st STREET would have the addresses 102, 106, 110 and so on, where 21st AVENUE would have 104, 108, 112... (same for odds on the other sides of the streets). People often leave off suffixes from addresses whether the PO decides to pay attention or not, so this type of system really helps.
BTW, my wife is retired now; no shots fired.
I disagree with your comment that "these rules appear to have been widely adopted by local officials." I admit I'm not exactly a world traveller, but nonetheless, I can't remember a time when I've visited a city without at least two carriageways named the same.
I've found that often the names of a famous lad or lass in town is the focus of such names--here in Rochester, we've got a Crittenden Road and Crittenden Boulevard within a mile of one another, running in parallel and intersecting the same roadway. Ironically, the intersecting roadway (Route 15) is named West Henrietta Road when it intersects Crittenden Road and Mount Hope...uhh...I guess it's just Mount Hope when it insersects Crittenden Boulevard. (Don't even get me started on paved strips that change name.)
I'd suspect there's at least a pair of State's, Main's, Park's, or East's in almost any city. It would of course make sense to try to make your city navigable, but "sense" and "government" aren't often used together for a reason.
Just to keep things interesting, the street name gods in Toronto have named a major throughfare Avenue Road. As an out-of-towner who is baffled by the sheer genericity of this name, my attempts to convince the locals of the general stupidity of it have been mostly rebuffed.
The best street 'naming' system I have ever seen is that of Brasilia, Brasil. There are no real street names. Major roads are given designations based on which side of the central strip of the city there are on (ie, W3 Sul is the third major street down on the South (Sul) side of the central strip). Minor roads are all numbered in blocks. The street number of a house / business and either a North or South designator will tell you exactly where it is located with no other information. It helps that the city was built pretty much all at the same time and was built in perfect grids.
The "Forest Hills - Rego Park" section of Queens, New York, has the following street names. These parallel streets run east and west. I am not making this up, I am copying it from a map:
Starting at the Long Island Expressway, and going south past the JAckie Robinson Parkway:
It keeps on going! Some numbers get three street, and some only two, with a few (like 81st Ave) getting only one. This continues to 89th Rd, and then they are all Avenues, from 90th Av onwards.
Chicago has nothing on the DC metro area. In Arlington, Virginia 24th street is parallel and next to 24th road. There are atleast three 2nd streets. (this is not a simple change of street names where 2nd becomes main street and then 2nd again!)
Chicago? Try Boston. The city started out small, then in the 19th century annexed a whole lot of other towns (now called "neighborhoods.") There's more than one "Arlington Street," for example, and it seems like a lot of Old New England surnames are well-represented throughout the neighborhoods.
It seems as if they all had a street called "Washington Street." To make it more complicated: by decree, with certain exceptions, streets were required to change names when they crossed Washington Street. Thus, if you're driving on "Chestnut Hill Avenue" and cross the intersection at Washington Street, you immediately find yourself on Market Street.
FL also uses a system of "direction number suffix" ie NW 5th St.
The directional is in reference to a specific two streets (in Ft. Lauderdale/Broward Co., I believe it's Broward Blvd and US1.
The only "named" streets are heavy traffic areas, ie Broward Blvd, Commercial, Atlantic, etc. Everything else is named in relation to its position to its parallel. IE NW 55th Court would be 55 blocks north of Broward Boulevard, and runs east-west.
Court, Boulevard, Avenue and some others are designated for east-west only, Street and some others (ain't I chock full of info?) are for North-South.
Lastly, the building numbers are based of the lower of the two streets running perpendicular directly adjacent to the street on which the building is located. IE To get to 4764 NW 4th Ct from the center point, you take Broward Blvd west to 47th Street, turn north, and go 4 blocks. Turn left on 4th Ct. The system made it real easy to find places.
I went to college in St. Joseph, Missouri. Just north of the college is a housing development called "Stonecrest", which consists almost entirely of winding, multiply-intersecting, goat trails (albeit well-paved goat trails) named "Stonecrest XXX" where XXX is one of Way, Avenue, Drive, Ridge, etc.
I suspect this may have been intentional; if you don't "belong" there it's fairly easy to get lost in the maze and wander around for a while before stumbling out. This tends to keep the college students from using it as a shortcut to and from campus.
I have no idea why the post office let them get away with it (well, I have _some idea: at the time it was built it was one of the most expensive/exclusive sections of town, which may have had something to do with it).
Well, when I went to visit my brother in Tucson when he was in school there, he showed me the corner of First and First. How does the Post Office figure that one out?
Give me European street names every day!
Rue de la Gare des Eaux Vives
Chemin de la Bossiere
Rue de la Croix Rouge
Promenade des Bastions
You have no idea where you are, but you learn history while you're trying to find your way to the train station on time.
Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.
Topi asked for the Germans ? Ha, here they are and -- can provide no solution at all. German cities are very seldom in a rectangular shape, probably becouse most of the german towns originated before we could apply the sentence of Pythagoras. So in Germany the street name must be unique, as there is no standard numbering possible. We also have several suffixes, but they are rather descriptive in their meaning. Problems occured in the early seventies when most of the smaller communities (below pop 3000 or so) were affiliated with a neighbouring bigger city. Problem: Several market places, church roads, Main streets existed within the same city and no one could tell which one was meant. So the street names were changed, and me living in church road before, inhabiting Saint Stephans road (the Saint the church was designated). Next tragic thing happened with reunion of Berlin East and Berlin West. Despite the fact no single Kennedy Blvd could be found in East and Stalin Plaza was uncommon in the Western Part of the town, you can have up to ten streets of the same name in one town, only specified by the part of town. Numbering of buildings is also a desaster. They numbered their streets in loops in Berlin. Starting on the one side, counting up til the end of the road, changing sides, and numbering further up while going down. So the opposite House of No 37 could be 90 - or 298, if the street is long enough. If the street is built farther after nubering is finished, you got no numbers left, so you need a new street name. So, in conclusion, your address in Berlin requires a Street, a Number, a city Part, of course a zip code (5-digit, no one remembers, and the same street can have up to 10 different zips), and if you want to recieve not only mail, but also visitors, a street crossing nearby so that one can find your number. Lucky Phoenix, Az !!
Stefans first law of life: Dont do anything you dont like that good that nobody else performs better
All of the mail I've read about the street-naming has been highly entertaining and educational! I think I know now why internet street maps are not quite as helpful as one would imagine. THEY can't tell where anything is EITHER! Didn't work for me in Sacramento, and didn't yesterday in Sarasota, FL. Finding my own way the hard way is (so far) the best (tho sometimes painful) way...
Have a blessed day
If you want confusing streets, come to Atlanta and try to sort out all the Peachtree streets, parkways, roads, avenues etc. It's absolutely ridiculous how many roads are named Peachtree here.
I think the *easiest* city to navigate has got to be Minneapolis, MN. All the streets are in grid configuration, and the street names are in alphabetical order.
The hardest is Abilene, TX. For some reason, the streets are designated North First and South First, N. 2nd and S. 2nd and so forth. What makes Abilene a pain is that the numbered streets run parallel. Also, it's a law somewhere that no street can keep a name for more than a few miles. Therefore, Buffalo Gap Rd. becomes Sayles Blvd, then turns into Graham St.
I'm not a dingbat. I'm common-sense challenged.
Around here, we've got the "Old"s. Willow Road and (East) Old Willow Road (but only on one side, the other is Sycamore(?--some tree name starting with S). Buffalo Grove Road and Old Buffalo Grove Road. Half Day Road and Old Half Day Road. McHenry Road and a couple of Old McHenry Roads. Rand Road and about 6 dozen Old Rand Roads.
"The truth is out there - and it's got bloody great teeth!"
These discussions remind me of a wonderful comment a local New Orleans columnist made a few years ago. He wrote about a friend of his from Phoenix who complained bitterly about New Orleans' non-sensical place-naming conventions and unusual street patterns. For instance, there are almost no numbered or lettered streets in this city and since the city lies nestled in a bend of the river, many of the streets follow this curve. So for much of the city a roadway gird system is impossible. In fact, because of the river's meanderings, South Carrolton Ave. and South Claiborne Ave. start off parallel to each other at one end but cross perpendicular at the other end. Figure that one out.
Anyway, the friend pointed out how annoying this was compared to the orderly streets and regular naming scheme imposed on Phoenix. Getting anywhere and finding any place in Phoenix was a snap. No questions about locations, no confusion about directions, just simple efficiency. That's all fine and well, replied the columnist, unfortunately whenever you easily and efficiently get to where your going, you're still in. . . Phoenix.
My apologies to the Phoenixers (Phoenixians? Phoenixites?) out there, but I'll trade character for efficiency any day.
And just so as to add something useful to the discussion… In New Orleans, divided roadways are called avenues and undivided roadways are streets. Usually. The most notable exception being one of our oldest thoroughfares, Canal Street, which is most definitely divided.
--Derek in New Orleans
Good heavens! Confusion rules across the U.S.! In Salt Lake the majority of street names are based on a simple N/S E/W grid system. So, you'll see addresses like:
825 E 300 S
The whole system is centered on the temple built by the Mormon Pioneers. The temple itself sits on the block formed by four streets:
North Temple, East Temple, South Temple and West Temple
From there the system radiates outward with the street numbers incrementing in units of 100 for each block. The higher the number, the farther you are from the Temple. (102600 South 500 East is almost due south from the Temple, for example.)
Oh sure, we've got the Olympic scandal to contend with, but at least we can find our way around the city.
These designations used to make sense because they refer to different kinds of structure. A street (rue, calle, strasse) is a thoroughfare with buildings on both sides within the walls of a city. A place (plaza, platz, square) is a paved open space inside a walled city, usually in front of a church or opera house or something, often accommodating a market. A boulevard (from the French for "bulwark") is a broad ring street built in the space where the ramparts of the city used to be; it would originally be broad and leafy, a kind of greenbelt between the city and its 'burbs. An avenue is a way marked by rows of trees, through the country, to a country house, or through a hunting forest; hence "Maple Avenue", etc., after the kind of tree lining it. A lane is a smaller, less formal sort of country road, sometimes like an avenue but often without trees. A pike or turnpike, by the way, is just a country toll road; the pike being the barrier that was turned when you paid.
When American developers built cities from nothing, they adopted these terms to evoke the character of the place. "Place" or "Square" indicates urban housing close to power centers; "Avenue" means open suburban areas with broad, tree-lined streets; "Lane" indicates country rustic charm. "Boulevard" evoked high-toned commercial and retail districts, or impressive new cultural facilities like the necklace of museums, opera houses, concert halls, and ritzy shops and hotels on the Ringstrasse (built along the course of the old city walls) around the old city of Vienna.
Now, in these sad latter days, of course, none of this means anything.
Boulevard is also used to describe the median between both two directions of travel and the sidewalk and the road. The latter green space is rarely found these days--more is the pity.
Although this usage is not in my Oxford dictionary, I do hear it from time to time.
"Phoenicians", I should think.
Speaking of French in the response (and you do), did you know cul de sac actually translates to "bag's ass" in French, presumably due to it's shape.
I reference to the prefixes, I know in Albaquerque, NM The two major interstates bisect the city at right angles to one another, creating four well defined quadrants of equal size. The need for the prefixes, is not only because of the repetitiveness of street names, but because several of the steets that bound the city are nearly circular in shape and carry the same name all the way around. Therefore intersecting the e-w and n-s steets twice. Really a very simple explanitory system. Also good to direct cab drivers and the such to your location.
For all you foriegners (non-Chitowners) who have posted your complaints that Chicago has nothing on the older cities, you are more right than you know. I read (possibly by Cecil) that the city of Chicago really has it better than any older city. From my understanding the Great Chicago fire was a stroke of luck for the urban planners. It so completely wiped out the city that, they basically were able to start from scratch. Now all the old narrow winding road problems that plague the east coast cities, as well as antiquated naming and numbering were eliminated and the need for nostalga was minimal. Having this basically blank template, now all the streets are n-s and e-w at fairly even spacing, with radial streets filling the gaps at diferent angles. The numbering is fairly simple, with a street dividing the city n/s and 90% of the city is all west of the lake. These facts make navigating Chicago really easy.
Mathman, i have a complaint about your post. Being these two examples were 21st st. and 21st ave. wouldn't the correct numbering example be 2102, 2104, 2106, 2108, and so on?
The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw...
[[I know in Albaquerque, NM The two major interstates bisect the city at right angles to one another, creating four well defined quadrants of equal size]]
I agree that Burque's grid is excellent for finding stuff, but one minor correction: the grid in AlbuQuirky is actually formed by the AT&SF Railroad, which divides east from west, and Central Ave (Rt 66), which divides north from south. It's tempting to think of the freeways as the dividers, since they seem to fit so well over the map, and it's a problem in the older part of the city, as the entire downtown is south of I-40 and west of I-25, but much of it is in the NW, and some even in the NE.
Ian Rey, I stand corrected.
Although I must say that being a frequent visitor to the city for a few years, left me with one opinion. The city is merely a giant suburb littered with strip malls. As opposed to Sante fe there is no semblance of culture or history, or style in that easy to navigate city
The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw...
It seems that cities in the Great White Northwest have the most confusing addressing. Nothing seems simple up there-- every address is "214 S.W. 232nd Street" or some such. Bleah.
But still unanswered is why we drive in the parkway and... oops. Sorry.
* Another fine production from Nitrosyncretic Press *
Mathman, Ignore, my comment, I gave it some consideration and realized, my rational was a touch flawed.
The facts expressed here belong to everybody, the opinions to me. The distinction is
yours to draw...
[[The city is merely a giant suburb littered with strip malls. As opposed to Sante fe there is no semblance of culture or history, or style in that easy to navigate city]]
Oh, we keep all that stuff hidden. Wouldn't want people stumbling on some reason to stick around for too long. :) As opposed to Santa Fe, where they lure people in with culture, but then get rid of them with their attitude.
I happen to live on Boulevard Road,
which causes no end of confusion when
ordering merchandise by phone. Most
everything I order from catalogues comes addressed to BLVD RD due to the company's
software compulsively abbreviating Boulevard.
It may be that the street is called
Boulevard Road because it runs roughly
parallel to a parkway, but long it is not.
It's all of one blocks
In New Haven, CT there is a street named "Boulevard." Just that, and no more.
I always thought that was odd.
09-12-1999, 04:12 PM
Somebody already mentioned Arlington, VA (where I grew up) - amen. Northern Virginia in general doesn't seem to have heard about this alleged USPS rule (uniqueness not including postfixes) - in Reston, where I live, it's common to have, e.g., X Court branch off from X Way which branches off from X Road. Gotta be hell on the mail carriers.
BTW, in Blacksburg, VA, where I went to college, we had a University City Boulevard; seeing this name the first time, I pictured some big thoroughfare like the Sunset Strip. In fact, it's a two-lane medianless road about a half-mile long.
09-12-1999, 06:50 PM
Be happy your streets HAVE names. I've been living for a year in Japan and I still haven't figured it out.
In villages only two or three streets have names. They don't bother naming the rest. Instead, they name significant corners, only a few mind you. If you don't know the neighbourhood, you're doomed to never find what you were looking for.
I understand that was the purpose in medieval times, but those years are long gone. I've lost so many of my western friends already. The last you hear of them they were trying to find the corner store and then they just dissappeared. No body ever found. When will the madness stop!
Only humans do inhuman things.
09-13-1999, 04:08 PM
All this reminded me of the old canard (I'm surprised someone hasn't already posted it) that the definition of a suburb is where they cut down all the trees and then name the streets after them.
12-26-1999, 11:16 PM
On the subject of cities with confusingly repeated street names, let me submit my hometown of Houston, Texas.
Post Oak Circle
Post Oak Blvd
Post Oak Parkway
S. Post Oak Ln
Post Oak Park Drive
Post Oak Road
To make matters worse, most of the above are clustered together within a few miles of each other, just north of the Galleria, and are in a heavily traveled area that everyone in town ends up traversing at one time or another. Two "Post Oaks" run parallel one block apart, a couple intersect each other, one's just on the other side of the freeway from the others, and so on. If you set out to make the most confusing street names ever, you could scarcely do worse. I've lost count of the number of times that someone I know has gotten lost, or been given erroneous directions, because of this debacle.
One of the most commonly spoken sentences in Houston must be, "Oh, you meant *that* Post Oak!"
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