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How streets, roads, and avenues are different

The method to the madness of streets, roads, avenues, boulevards, places, plazas...

What if there were a grammar to the types of roads we drive every day? Streets, avenues, and roads aren’t named at random — many use a series of conventions that, once you recognize them, becomes impossible not to see. Though some of these rules have been muddied over time, if you tour your neighborhood you may find these names are a surprisingly effective way to decode our roads.

The above video takes you on a virtual tour of these roadways (and you can read a list of common road types below). There are lots of exceptions to the rules we’ve listed, but in general, state departments of transportation, postal departments, city planners, and lexicographers have carved out a certain order to our road types.

The list and video do omit some of the glorious footnote road types that still exist. For example, you won’t find the notorious "stravenues" that residents of Tucson know well. In fact, persistent unusual names like the stravenue are one of the obstacles that geocoders tackle every day. But for the most part, this list includes the roads you’ll encounter on a daily basis — and now maybe you’ll have a chance to understand them.

  • Road (Rd.)

The most general category, this is a way that connects two points.

  • Street (St.)

A public way with buildings on both sides. Often, it runs perpendicular to an avenue.

  • Avenue (Ave.)

A public way often in a city, usually with trees or buildings on the side. Frequently, it runs perpendicular to a street.

  • Boulevard (Blvd.)

A large, wide street with trees on both sides. Often, there's a median with trees.

  • Lane (Ln.)

A narrow road, often in a rural area.

  • Drive (Dr.)

Often taking its contours from the natural environment (like a mountain or lake), it can be a long, winding road.

  • Way (Way)

A small street off a road.

  • Court (Ct.)

Ends in a circle or loop and doesn't provide a throughway.

  • Plaza (Plz.)

Also called a square, an open public space surrounded by buildings or streets.

  • Terrace (Ter.)

Usually used to describe a street following the top of a slope.

  • Place (Pl.)

A road or street usually has no throughway.

  • Frontage Road (Fr.)

Also known as an access road or service road, it runs parallel to a larger road, providing local access.

  • Highway (Hwy.)

A major public road that usually connects multiple cities.

  • Interstate (I.)

A large, typically federally funded network of roads that are part of a highway system. It may go between states, but it doesn't have to.

  • Turnpike (Tpke.)

A part of a highway, it is usually a toll road.

  • Freeway (Fwy.)

Part of a highway system, it is a large road with two or more lanes on each side.

  • Parkway (Pkwy.)

A large, decorated public road (named a parkway for the parkland that often appears on the side of the road).

  • Causeway (Cswy.)

A raised road that passes across low or swampy ground or water.

  • Beltway (Bltwy.)

A highway surrounding a city.

  • Crescent (Cres.)

A winding road that resembles a crescent, which may attach to a road at both ends.

  • Alley (Aly.)

A small pathway between buildings, which may or may not be drivable.

  • Esplanade (Esp.)

A long, open path near the ocean, or a road near the ocean.