Fashion avenue street sign
Fashion Avenue Street Sign in New York City
Depending on where you live, your address will end in a different designation. You might live on 10th Street, or Meadow Lane, or Red Fox Road. Maybe those throughways intersect a road with a name like Washington Avenue or Park Place. Why the difference? There’s actually a method to the road-naming madness that goes beyond just the whims of urban designers.
Just like there are defined factors that distinguish a highway from a regular city street, there are characteristics that make streets, roads, and avenues distinct from one another. The difference between names like C Street and Avenue B comes down to variables like the size of the path, what surrounds it, and how it intersects with other roads.
A plain old “road,” for instance, is a general term for any throughway that connects two points. Like a square is also a rectangle, streets and avenues are types of roads.
“Streets” are public roads that have buildings on both sides. They’re often perpendicular to “avenues,” which historically were grander and wider. These days, the difference tends to be directional.
In Denver, for instance, naming conventions dictate that Streets run north-south and avenues run east-west. In Manhattan, it’s the opposite, with “Avenues” running north-south and streets running east-west. This isn’t always the case, though: in Washington, D.C., avenues run diagonal to the street grid.
Oddly enough, avenues and streets can be combined, too. In a naming convention particular to Tucson, Arizona, some roads are “Stravenues,” which run diagonal to the normal north-south/east-west grid. (The U.S. Postal Service recognizes these by the abbreviation “Stra.”)
There are many other kinds of street names, of course. “Boulevards,” designed to funnel high-speed traffic away from residential and commercial streets, are even grander than avenues, with trees on either side and a sizable median. Then there are the smaller roads, with names that might feel familiar to anyone who’s driven around a suburban housing tract. A “Way” is a smaller side street that splits off from a road. A “Place” has a dead end, as does a “court,” which usually ends in a cul-de-sac. A “Lane” is narrow, and is usually located in a more remote, rural place. A “Drive” tends to wind around a natural landmark, like a mountain or a lake.
To get a better sense of the visual differences, a video from Vox handily illustrates these principles:
Now, you can look at an address and know plenty about the street without even seeing it.