Brit asks: "Is there any rhyme or reason to calling a road an avenue, a
boulevard, a street or a lane? Is it just at the discretion of whoever
names the street?"
Although both terms are often applied to the same thing, a road is
different from a street, at least in theory. Looking at the definitions
that folks like city planners use and the history of the usage of the
words, the difference is a matter of place and purpose.
Roads run between two distant points — two towns, for example. In each of those towns, you'll find streets:
paved roads lined with houses and other buildings. It used to be the
paving and the buildings that made a street a street, but today you'll
find many paved roads that have buildings on them (I grew up on Wisteria
Road). Modern sticklers for usage will tell you that what sets streets
apart today is the street life that comes with them. On Main Street in a
given town, you might find people walking their dogs, having lunch in a
sidewalk cafe, waiting for a friend on the corner, or simply people
watching. On the road connecting Town A to Town B, you're not likely to
find any of this.
The term street, then, should be specifically applied to urban
roadways. Streets connect people for interaction, while roads connect
towns and cities for travel.
In the real world, though, these textbook distinctions aren't always made.
As cities grow, roads can become urbanized and serve the purposes of
streets without having their names changed. Some cities and towns may be
planned with naming systems that designate roadways one thing or
another without regard to their function. Other roadways serve different
purposes along different parts of their length and get different
designations accordingly. Pennsylvania Route 611 is a major state
highway that runs from South Philadelphia north to Coolbaugh Township in
the Poconos. Within Philadelphia, 611 is Broad Street, where you'll
find homes, businesses, street life and, on New Year's Day, Mummers
urinating everywhere. At the northern end of Philadelphia, PA 611 leaves
Broad Street and becomes Old York Road, a historic road that connected
Philadelphia to New York City. As it continues north, it also becomes
Easton Road, Delaware Drive, and Fox Town Hill Road along certain
Other Places on the Map
Street sign via Shutterstock
Now that we've hashed out roads and streets, what about the alleys,
avenues, boulevards, circles, courts, drives, expressways, highways,
lanes, parkways, paths, places, squares, terraces, trails, ways and
other roadway name suffixes we use? Here are some select definitions
(that aren't always followed):
An avenue is traditionally a straight road
with a line of trees or shrubs running along each side, which emphasize
arrival at a landscape or architectural feature.
A boulevard is usually a widened, multi-lane arterial street with a median and landscaping between the curbs and sidewalks on either side.
A court is a short street that ends as a cul de sac.
A drive can be short for driveway, a private
road for local access to one, or a small group of structures. Other
times it refers to meandering, rather than straight, roads and highways.
An expressway is a divided highway meant for high-speed traffic.
A freeway is a road designed for safe high-speed traffic through the elimination of intersections at the same grade or level.
A highway is a main road intended for travel between destinations like cities and towns.
A lane is a narrow road or street usually lacking a shoulder or a median.
A way is a minor street off a road in a town.