What’s the difference between a road, a street and an avenue?

Jamie Stevenson
London 51° 30' 23.112" N, -0° 7' 37.956" E" E

Picture yourself walking from point A to B. You may start out on the High Street, before taking a detour down Old Road, finally ending up on Electric Avenue (if you’re musically inclined). Now, this may sound fairly unremarkable, but have you ever stopped to wonder why streets are streets, roads are roads, and avenues are avenues?

This video, created by Vox, delves into the reasons behind the different titles attributed to our roads, streets, lanes, boulevards and more, and the difference between these labels.

 

As it turns out, these names are used for a reason, signifying different elements to each design which separates it from its concrete-cousins. So, when describing your route, should you be “walking down the street”, or “heading down the road”?

Changing names

It turns out that cities adhere to naming conventions, likely in a bid to more efficiently plan their design, or potentially to offset the chance of a particularly enthused planner naming an area ‘Garyisthebest Street’.

So a ‘road’ is anything that connects two points, while ‘streets’ are public ways which have buildings on either side. Avenues, meanwhile, have the same attributes as streets but run perpendicular to them, while a boulevard is essentially a wide street (or avenue), with a median through the middle. A lane is, predictably, smaller.

The video helpfully points out that these conventions aren’t the same everywhere in the world, but give a good indication of why each road is named the way it is. Thankfully, such qualifiers are of no use to famously level-headed YouTube commenters, with many demanding answers as to why their roads differentiate from the video’s code.

Take the UK, for example. The video describes a ‘place’ as a road with a dead-end, usually leading to a ‘court’. Us Brits, however, are usually treated to ‘avenues’ which lead into a ‘close’. Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary (bear with me), describes avenues as ‘a road that leads to a large house.’

Also, while it won’t be apparent on any signs, UK denizens usually refer to such networks – with a fair degree of appropriation – as a ‘cul-de-sac’.

While road names being different in the UK may come as no surprise (motorways instead of interstates, anyone?), there are other instances of international differences. Australia, for example, sees boulevards in a slightly different light, with these generally meaning long roads which regularly curve.

There are also instances of the spelling of boulevard changing in Australia, with an extra ‘e’ included at the end – a fact that, realistically, couldn’t be much less interesting.

So, while there are notable exceptions from around the world, the code cracked by the video shows that there is an unmistakable pattern to the networks on which we travel. While it may not help you when you next get lost, at-least you’ll be prepared for that dead end when entering somewhere named ‘place’.

Do you live near any streets that buck the trend? Let us know in the comments below.

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Topics: Cartography, Features, Fun maps, Weekend reads

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