Why L.A. Has Streets, Avenues, Drives, and Boulevards

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Do you know the difference between a road, street, boulevard and avenue? Do you use the correct designation for the roads — or streets, or otherwise — upon which you drive (or sit) every day in Los Angeles? We all know Sunset is a Boulevard, but what about Western? Franklin? La Cienega? La Brea? Cloverfield? Bundy?

Historically, the term “street” designated an urban thoroughfare, lined with paving and buildings, while a road connected two distant points, like towns. The definition of a road, according to the Los Angeles County Street Naming Committee (yes, this exists) of the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning is “a public way or highway connecting two or more settlements or towns, generally bearing the name or names of the settlements connected.”

However, in practice this definition is not necessarily apparent; for example, N. Carson Road in Beverly Hills is an interruption between Gregory Way and Clifton Way on what is otherwise known as S. Sherbourne Way. It seems that in Los Angeles, the term “road” is given primarily only to residential passageways. Meanwhile, the DRP’s definition of a street is “a public way forty or more feet wide, used to give pedestrian and vehicular traffic access to the various parcels of land making up a community.” In addition, it specifies that a street runs in “a direction contrary to that of the avenues of the community.”

“Avenue” once referred to a grand thoroughfare, something to be shown-off, like a grand ballroom. It would have presented itself with an extra width, and a bustle of commerce. The formal DRP definition is: “A broad public street. A street handsomely laid out with trees. A public way named avenue rather than street to denote its peculiar direction. (Avenues north and south, streets east and west). A public way named for its objective or after the thing approached.” For example, La Brea Avenue is named for the tar pits, “la brea,” meaning “the tar” in Spanish.

Perhaps the most-used street designation in Los Angeles, a boulevard, is “a broad formally laid out paved public way, 100 feet or more wide, ornamentally illuminated or decorated.” Once meant to designate its hoity-toity, high-falutin status, “boulevard” now mostly designates its capacity, which in L.A. usually means one thing: traffic (and greater L.A.’s fanciest street isn’t even a boulevard, it’s a drive, called Rodeo).

So what about drives, and alleys, circles, courts, lanes, parkways, paths, places, squares, terraces, trails, ways, etc? Here are the rest of the definitions from the almighty Street Naming Committee. You can find the full list here.

ALLEY – A narrow service street for serving rear of lots, less than 30 feet in width.

BYWAY – A narrow obscure street probably private. A subsidiary way.

CANAL – (Unique to Venice) A canal or lineal body of water used as transportation.

CIRCLE – A circular junction of streets or highways. A circular street.

COURT – A rectangular pocket off a public way. A “dead end” streets.

COVE – Local road following the configuration within a cove or small bay (see

dictionary definition).

DRIVE – A recreational or scenic way of local extent. A road through a park.

HIGHWAY – A publicly owned and maintained way with interurban directness and

arterial importance through several cities or communities.

LANE – A narrow informal street or passageway.

LOOP – A circumferential way. A street or way which returns into itself.

MOTORWAY – A truck trail or trail through mountainous terrain usually for fire

equipment usage or service access, e.g., power lines, Nike sites, etc. Not for public use.

PARKWAY – A broad public way, divided into drives, bridle paths, walks, and planting

strips. A broad formally laid out public way with a planting strip along the center.

PLACE – A short street or court. Also the junction on several highways.

ROAD – A public way or highway connecting two or more settlements or towns

generally bearing the name or names of the settlements connected.

ROW – A short street or passage.

TERRACE – A short hillside street; a street on a terraced hill.

TRAIL – A pedestrian way through mountainous territory. A rough path in wild country.

A public way following an historical route.

WALK – A pedestrian way.

WAY – A narrow road or highway. A lane.

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