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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Casual Observation

If you're taking the freeway that runs between the Douglass and Sousa Bridges, it's the Anacostia Freeway. But if you keep driving north, people will refer to what ultimately becomes the Baltimore Washington Parkway as simply "295". In Bethesda, it's Wisconsin Avenue, then it becomes Rockville Pike, but further north nobody calls it Hungerford Drive or Frederick Road... simply "355".

This has always bugged me. It seems that the further away from good urbanism you get, the more major roads are called by their route number instead of their name. I have often thought of this strange fact to be a symptom of bad urbanism. Close in freeways and arterials have common street names by which they are referred, like the Southeast Freeway, New York Avenue, Shirley Highway, and the Beltway. But sprawl areas tend to latch on to the rural custom of referring to just the route, like 198, 28, or 97, referring to the Maryland routes. But this even happens with routes that came with the sprawl, and weren't there when the areas were rural, like I-97, MD-100, and VA-28, which on large portions aren't even given another name.

Why do I think about crazy things like this? I live off of Route 1 (which fits this pattern for the most part). Even I never say "Baltimore Avenue". I have even incorrectly referred to it as Baltimore Boulevard when trying to remember the actual street name!

I wonder if encouraging colloquial street names might have a positive impact on good urbanism? If "East-West Highway" were renamed, say, Hyatt Avenue (i.e. after the founder of Hyattsville) perhaps it would have a psychological effect on what sort of growth developers would push there. East-West Highway sounds like a great place for a Wal-Mart and an office park, whereas Hyatt Avenue sounds more like sidewalk cafes and brick walk-ups. Okay, that's pushing it a bit, but I'm just trying to think outside the box here.

Traditionally, urban streets have odonyms like "Avenue" and "Street". Should we promote these in our inner suburbs over "Highway" and "Road"? I think it has the potential to add to sense of place. Anyone have thoughts on how we ought to name our streets?

1 comment:

IMGoph said...

i'm a big fan of a boulevard name only being applied to a road with a treed-median.