Column: What's the difference between a street, a road, an avenue, a boulevard, etc.?

So there are numerous, enlightening examples of guidelines that different authorities have set up.
But what’s the difference between a cul-de-sac and a dead-end street (Guilford County, North Carolina)? The dictionaries I consulted say they are the same.
Any ideas?

Cheers, Martin

Link to column: What’s the difference between a street, a road, an avenue, a boulevard, etc.? – CKDH

My WAG is that a cul-de-sac has an area at the end to let you turn your car around, while a dead-end street usually doesn’t. It also seems to depend where the street is: In the city it’s a dead-end but in the suburbs it’s a cul-de-sac.

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Board, MartinL, glad to have you with us.

When you begin a thread, it’s helpful if you provide a link to the column you’re talking about. I’ve edited your post to do that. No biggie, you gave the title, it’s just that the link makes it easier for folks to read it before they look at your comment. Spares duplication of effort, keeps us all on the same page (or avenue), etc.

Here’s an odd one…

I live on a dead end street, off of a cul-de-sac. The dead end connects to the turn around in the cul-de-sac. The c-d-s is named “XYZ Court” and the d-e is named “XYZ Drive”.

Once an angry delivery man came to my house complaining that a c-d-s can’t have another street connected to it, but there it was.

BTW I agree with DoubleJ

I think that no one wants to say I live on a dead end street lest someone think they are speaking in metaphors. And what better way to grasp the beauty of hopelessness (dead end) than to use a little French hence we live in the “bottom of a bag.”

Or it could be that cul-de-sac is a newer term for a dead end.

I grew up in a dead-end street. It was rectangular in shape, and the road running into it was T-shaped. It had a lawn in the middle, which made it a ‘gardens’.

A cul-de-sac is a straight, narrow road with houses down either side, and a turn-around at the end.

Cecil mentions in his column that,

It should be noted that Queens also suffers from this problem. Right near my apartment, you’ve got 30th Ave, 30th Road, 30th Drive, 31st Ave, 31st Road and 31st Drive all running parallel! (And that’s one of the saner areas.)

We live on a street that is a dead end on both ends. It is fed by two other streets that dead end into it. One other street in the area dead ends into our street and one of the feeder streets.

To top it off, ours is a Drive, and within the same ZIP code, actually only a block or two away, is a Court with the same name. The numbering is different so there’s not a similar house number to ours on the Court, but if people address using our house number, we get the mail for the Court. Usually it’s junk mail so I feel safe in tossing it if it’s delivered to us. But if it looks important I wind up delivering it to the lady who lives on the Court. She says she’s never had any of our mail delivered to her.

The postman says that even though he knows there’s no such address as our house number on the Court, and even though he knows that the numbering system on the Court was changed to avoid the similarity, that if the item has our address on it, he has to deliver it to us. I don’t think our situation is unique since there are any number of Courts, Circles, Places, etc., that adjoin Streets, Avenues, Drives, Parkways, Boulevards, etc.

Urban planner chiming in.

Any street that terminates at a point other than an intersection with another street is considered a dead end. A cul-de-sac is a dead end, and like you describe, it terminates in a bulb (the “sac”) where passenger vehicles and small trucks can turn around without making any backing movements.

Dead end streets that terminate without a bulb or “t-style” turn-around were usually platted with the intent of continuing the street in the future. Residential streets in newer suburban areas often have temporary cul-de-sacs, with part of the bulb in an easement on adjacent properties. The temporary cul-de-sac would be removed when the street continues when the adjacent parcel is platted and developed.

On a related note, a “no outlet” sign is supposed to identify a network of streets that is accessible from only one entrance or access street. However, “no outlet” signs also identify simple dead end streets in some areas.

Well, a single street is a “network”, albeit a rather trivial one, and if it’s a dead-end, then it’s only accessible from a single entrance. So a dead end should properly be considered a “no outlet”.

But then, if you already have a “dead end” sign up, the “no outlet” sign is a bit redundant.

The usage I’ve encountered is to post “No Outlet” when it’s not visible from that location that you’re about to drive into an area that has only that one way in and out - something like a short street with a perpendicular alley - from the sign’s location, it may appear that you can go down the alley and on to elsewhere, but in reality, it’s a dead end.

As for screwball street names that depend on a descriptor, years ago, my brother lived on Birch St at the intersection of Birch Lane and Birch Court. The Lane and Court were opposing short perpendiculars off the relatively main route Street.

Memphis is notoriously bad with weird street naming conventions. I recall in particular Perkins Ave. You’d expect Perkins Extended to be tacked on the end of Perkins (maybe with some sort of blockage or dead-end separating them), but actually Perkins and Perkins Ext. are parallel. There are also at least a couple of streets where North XX Ave. and South XX Ave. are actually two different E-W streets instead of the northern and southern ends of one N-S street like they would be in most parts of the world. Of course, there are places in Memphis (or at least its burbs) were even and odd addresses show up on the same side of the street, so who expects them to be logical?


From the column:

Camino, Calle, Rue, etc. are prefixes rather than suffixes. I.e. El Camino Real, Calle Nuevo Estrada, Rue de Valle.

They are neither prefixes nor suffixes, they are nouns.

And modifiers generally follow nouns in Romance languages.

Even in English, the modifier follows the noun when it is a prepositional phrase, such as “Avenue of the Americas” in NYC.


This sort of system is the norm for Cleveland’s north-south streets. (Almost) all of the N-S streets are number streets, and West 50th st. is about a hundred blocks from East 50th st. Meanwhile, the E-W streets are named, and generally change names when they cross the Cuyahoga River (approximately the divider between east and west sides).

But if you want to get really screwey, there’s at least one street in Cleveland that runs parallel to itself in a few spots. When the city laid down Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, it absolutely had to be the longest street in the city, so they took bits and pieces of existing streets, lumped them all together, and even overlapped them for a block or two in places.

And if that’s not weird enough, there’s a street a few blocks from my current home (Bozeman, Montana) that’s wider than it is long. Really, it’s just a parking lot off of a larger street, but it has a street sign perpendicular to the larger street, and its own addresses.

In Washington DC, of course, you have 1st Street running from north to south a block east of the Capitol and a block west, 2nd Street a block further on both sides, and so on, and A Street running from east to west a block north of the Capitol and a block south, and so on. (Avenues run diagonally.) That’s why every address in Washington is followed by a NE, SE, SW, or NW.