Streets and Lanes and Avenues, Oh My!

What’s the Difference, Anyway?

I’ve been moving around quite a bit over the past two months, and with very good reason; my boyfriend and I just moved into our first apartment together. After collecting all our belongings from each of our parents’ houses, we’ve finally settled into a new place that we can call our own.

When I first learned of our new mailing address, I found myself curiously comforted by the fact we live on an avenue, just like I did with my original home address. There was some kind of nostalgia I felt in that fact. Plus, I always thought “avenue” was a lovely word. My appreciation for the street name afterwards had me wonder, “Well, what’s in a name? Is there a difference between an avenue and a street? What is that difference? How do roads get classified as a street, or lane, or boulevard?”

According to URBO, categorizing a road depends on a few things: size, function, and aesthetics. A road, by itself, is “any throughway that connects any two points,” while the definition of a street is a public road that has buildings on both sides. An avenue also has buildings (and sometimes vegetation) flanking its sides, though it is usually wider and runs perpendicular to a street. Thus, we can see how the surrounding land and placement of these roads determine their classification.

In addition to roads, streets, and avenues, here are a few more examples and definitions of different road types from Vox and URBO:

  • Lane: A narrow road that often leads to a rural/residential area.
  • Court: A street that ends in a circle, cul-de-sac, or loop. Courts do not provide a throughway.
  • Way: A short street off of a road. Like a court, they also usually have a dead end.
  • Place: Another kind of road or street that has a dead end, though without a circle.
  • Boulevard: This is a wide street with trees or plants on both sides and a median that splits up traffic lanes.
  • Drive: Drives are long roads that wind around the layout of the land. Whether there’s mountains or water, they take the shape of the surrounding geography and, in many cases, lead to private property.

Notice how many of these examples name another road type in their definition. For example, a court is indeed a street (i.e. a public road with buildings on either side), but not all streets are courts, since there must be a cul-de-sac in order for it to be a true court.

Several more examples could be added to this list — interstates, highways, parkways, alleys, and so on. The important thing, however, when it comes to naming roads is to ensure consistency in their categorization. While there are universally understood definitions for each type, developers can sometimes change the name of a street, for example, to an avenue. This tactic is mainly done in real estate, since an address such as “First Avenue” might sound “fancier” than “First Street.”

Although there is some variation when streets receive official names, there are plenty of restrictions in place to prevent roads from being named as something they are not; it’s important for these designations to be precise. If you were to live on Daisy Way, according to the definition of “Way,” it would be collectively understood that you live off a road that leads to a dead end. If that dead-end road were named Daisy Street, however, it’s incorrect naming would cause people to think the road is a throughway when it’s not. Can you imagine the kind of traffic this would cause? That’s why it’s crucial to ensure roads are correctly named.

After learning the different types of roads, I now realize that my new address may actually — by definition — not be an avenue (there’s a turn at the end of the road that becomes a dead end). But this doesn’t particularly bother me. I am more than content and extremely grateful to be living on a new avenue, in a new home, with my beloved partner.

There’ll be plenty of new roads ahead to traverse in our next chapter.

Julia Collucci writes big thoughts about the things she sees on her walks in both local neighborhoods and far-away places. Follow her Medium account Little Walks, Big Thoughts to read more of her articles.

Julia writes big thoughts about the things she sees on her walks in both local neighborhoods & far-away places. Instagram: