over here in the states on holiday and enjoying it. The descriptions or meanings of the terms of the major roads in the US (turnpike, parkway, highway, drive, boulevard, street, road etc) seem to differ or are rarely used in the UK. Is there any present day meaning to these names if they are used to name a new road, and is there a natural hierachy? (e.g in the UK a street is usually smaller than a road)
Descriptions like road, street, drive are pretty generic and don’t really mean anything specific as to size or function.
A parkway was originally a road with a wide landscaped median - a long park, more or less. Despite the name, you can’t park on it.
Boulevards are also usually wide and landscaped. No promises on either, though. Lots of times, it seems to be used just to make the road sound fancy.
A turnpike is another term for toll road, deriving from the rotating gate or turnstile originally to keep horses off roads, but soon became a means of enforcing the payment of a toll to use the road.
In the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut tri-state area, the parkways are limited to non-commercial traffic. Many of the parkways were built in the 1920s and 1930s and have minimal on- and off-ramps.
The word “Road” is generally used to indicate a route from one place to another, with no significant amount of pedestrian traffic. What buildings are along the road are generally set back a distance.
The word “Street” generally implies pedestrian traffic, or that houses or businesses fill the sides of the street.
Keep in mind that these are “general” distinctions.
In addition, New York State parkways do not have route numbers. Thus the Taconic State Parkway is only referred to by its name, never “route 11” or any other number. Robert Moses 's0idea was that they were designed to be parks for cars.
The names of highways vary due to whatever the particular highway department wants to use. In New York, you have the NYS Thruway, the Long Island Expressway, the Adirondack Northway, the Quickway and probably a few others. There’s also the Massachusetts Turnpike, and (a favorite of mine), Florida’s Turpike (I love the possessive – “We’ve got one, too, nyaah, nyaah”)
Other street names are chosen by whatever the namer chose to use. Generally, “Street” is an urban street; “Road” is more rural; “Lane,” more rural still (or at least, the namer wanted to give that impression). “Avenue” is a wide city street; “Boulevard” is wider still.
In Manhattan, “streets” go east-west and avenues go north-south (at least, above 14th street), but that distinction was planned.
But there’s little rhyme nor reason for any street designation, just some general impressions.
Freeway indicates a road that is similar to a turnpike (express toll highway with entrances/exits rather than intersections) but without the toll.
Highway is a general term, usually meaning a divided road with limited access (though not always), and is used for all levels. However, specifically:
Highway is used for state and US numbered routes, at least in reference. Usually the name is simply US or the state abbreviation with the number.
Interstates are large limited access numbered routes. Interstates may also be turnpikes if portions are tolled. They are the blue and red crests with the numbers in the middle.
In my experience there is absolutely no discernable difference between a street, road, way, avenue or boulevard. All are used interchangably, though most city streets tend to use ‘street’ or ‘avenue,’ especially if numbered.
To expand on this, interstates are specifically part of an interconnected nationwide highway system began by President Eisenhower to assist national defense. Interstates are also often dual named, the NYS Thruway incorporates parts of I87 and I90 along its route.
I’m not sure this is necessarily the case, either for new developments or for older roads. Googling turned up the policies for various local authorities, but none had a particular heirarchy for road vs. street, although many have other specific requirements. One random example (simply because it’s not a PDF):
With older roads, you’ll often pass along many The Streets, Church Streets etc. when driving on A-roads, without realising it.
As others have indicated, there is no formal differentiation with regard to the terms, except for “Interstate,” which is a reference specifically to the Eisenhower Interstate system. All Interstate highways are *limited access roads, meaning they do not intersect with other streets and access to and from them is governed by ramps in *interchange networks.
The other terms are used freely as parts of proper names of roadways. However, each word also has a “generic” meaning.
For example, any type of street might have highway as its name, but if you’re just referring to “a highway” or “the highway” in a generic sense, you are referring to a controlled-access roadway with a high speed limit (usually 55 or 65 m.p.h., but sometimes lower or higher). Freeway is synonymous to “highway,” but is usually used in a more faithful sense. (You won’t generally see a freeway that’s not controlled-access, but you might see a few highways that aren’t.) Parkway has been adequately addressed, but I should add that a parkway is generally in an urban setting. If it was in the country, then there would be no need to distinguish the presence of trees, etc.
A road in the generic sense, as has been stated above, is a roadway that leads from one inhabited place to another. A pike is a major intercity road (but usually not a controlled-access highway) and is often named for the town at the other end of it. A turnpike is a major toll road (and as a result is usually a controlled-access highway as well). A street is a roadway in an urban setting. A lane is a short rural pathway that may lead from a road to one or a few dwellings. A court is a dead-end street ending in a cul-de-sac. A circle in most places is a street that curves whose two ends intersect with the same road, forming a “C” shape. In some large cities, like Washington, D.C., a circle is literally a circle (roundabout). An avenue is a major urban artery where major public and commercial structures are located and may tend toward being divided by a median. A boulevard is an avenue dressed up with landscaping and is even more likely to be divided by a median. Drive is not used generically, but usually refers to a major suburban thoroughfare (through residential areas).
Other terms, like “trace” or “walk” or “way” or “trail” or “terrace” or “place” or “view” or “point,” are random and fanciful.
The history of long-distance roads in the U.S. is fascinating, but has to be put together from a number of sources so I don’t have a good offhand cite. (although the very earliest history is well told in Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation, by Peter L. Bernstein.)
But they evolved from roads - often along existing Indian paths - that were improved by brute force labor. At first these were state-funded projects. Although “internal improvements” is not in the national Constitution it is in several state constitutions, and it was the one thing that most people agreed was worthy of state tax money. There are a series of mountain chains running north-south that blocked the westward movement of freight and people from the East Coast and building usable roads was a huge undertaking requiring both engineering expertise - which the young U.S. almost entirely lacked - and large numbers of laborers.
Bernstein’s book tells of the development of these roads across the New York State mountains, and then the decision to build a canal instead because water and locks would make it hundreds of times cheaper to travel.
New York got there first and by the time other states got into the business it was usually cheaper and more sensible to build railroads instead. They had the same problems of needing flat routes through the mountains, but were more flexible in where they could wind up and soon overtook canal building.
Roads often paralleled the canals and railroads since it was easy enough to make the passages wide enough to encompass both.
Turnpikes and toll roads were private investments but because of cost were usually much shorter and not as well maintained. They gradually faded out of existence as government-funded road building became the norm.
The auto changed everything. Roads outside of cities well into the 20th century were terrible: rutted, muddy, and unpaved. Car owners - at first because they were rich and influential but soon because of their increasing numbers - demanded a better road system.
The crowded, high density eastern states - NY, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania - started building high-speed, limited access routes to get the wealthy - who were already living in suburbs or who had summer homes or vacation property in the sticks - in and out of the city. Robert Moses, the transportation czar of New York City, famously built a parkway out to Jones Beach on Long Island with bridges too low for most buses to travel under so that the poorer classes could not use the beach.
The first high-speed highways, The Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Turnpikes and the NYS Thruway, were and still are toll roads. The Merritt Parkway in Connecticut isn’t but it’s set-up is frightening for historic reasons: the entrances are so short that there are stop signs at the end of the ramps and you have to accelerate into dense 65 mph (100 kph) traffic from a dead stop!
The story that Eisenhower built the Interstate highway system for defense purposes is one of those urban legends that starts with a grain of truth but inflates it to wrongness. The system was built because it was needed to move cars and people out to the suburbs and across country because that’s the way the population was moving in a culture almost entirely dependent on cars and on trucks for delivering goods. National defense may or may not have helped sell it originally but it would have been built in exactly the same way regardless. It was just the thinking at the time.
Local names for local historic reasons have been applied to the various pieces of the route ever since.
Boulevards and Parkways, BTW, grew out of the City Beautiful movement at the beginning of the 20th century, trying to remake dirty, crowded, grimy, horse manure-strewn cities into something more pleasant. Almost every northeastern city of the time tried to put a system into place, often striving for (and seldom completing) an entire ring around the inner city.
This reached the heights of absurdity in Rochester, where the ludicrously named Boulevard Parkway is a side street that starts and ends nowhere. :rolleyes:
Speaking of road naming conventions, are there any places other than the Kansas City area where highways are referred to with the number in front, i.e. “71 Highway” rather than “Highway 71”?
thanks for the replies. Learnt a lot.
My comment about street/roads was general and historic. E.g the Exeter Road was usually the main road to Exeter, but may be now a small B road as opposed to a larger high Street in the town. However I suspect that on the whole roads were/are longer than streets, which tend to be congregated in towns.
Yep, it’s an interesting topic in itself. Etymonline offers interesting reading regarding the origin of the two terms, which is beyond anything I could offer:
However, if there’s a congregation of Streets, or Roads, or Whatevers, in a town, this is more indicative of the approaches taken by the planners at that time than anything else. Unless there’s evidence of a coherent plan, it’s likely that it depended on the people on the spot.
There is a road in Snohomish County, just north of Seattle, called Mukilteo Speedway. You won’t find any race cars using it though.