On Development: Silly road names reflective of development trends

The move away from simply named streets laid in a grid and toward a collection of winding, oddly monikered cul-de-sacs signals a deeper disconnect.
High Street
High Street"High Street - Columbus, Ohio" by pasa47 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Columbus streets are pretty weird. 

Broad Street and Dublin-Granville Road (Rt. 161) are the only thoroughfares that extend east and west across the entire city. And High Street is the only one to span the city north to south. Weirder yet, Columbus streets are not really on a grid. It’s more like a checkerboard with squares that don’t quite line up and a line that angles down the middle about 12 degrees off-kilter from the rest of the board.

First Avenue is 1.3 miles north of Broad Street – the north/south dividing line for street addresses. On High Street, the numbered avenues stop at 18th, though there is no 10th Avenue east of High and Seventh Avenue becomes King Avenue west of High. Along Cleveland Avenue, the numbered avenues go up to 26th.

Still, Columbus has some semblance of a typical urban street pattern: Concise names for more-or-less gridded streets that stretch for miles: High, Indianola, Parsons, Neil, Summit, Fourth, and Cleveland going north to south. And Broad, Sullivant, Long, Main, Bryden/Town, Livingston, Weber, Fifth Avenue, Morse, North Broadway, and Henderson going east to west. 

Many streets were named for long-ago civic leaders, business titans, landowners, and farmers. The names were short and concise (except for outliers such as Chittenden, Osceola, Yaronia) and the gridded streets stretched for miles.

But the post-war baby-boom, annexation era brought new patterns that made the old drunken grid appear sober and distinguished.

The spare, simple names of long, straight streets gave way to florid, whimsical, hackneyed and obscure names for wide, empty streets that seemingly (or in fact) go in circles or give way to fancy dead ends. They appear to have been named by people who write the development company’s brochures. There are recurring themes:

Random topographical words: Ravine Creek Drive, Upland Meadow Drive, Bluff Crest Drive.

Marketing Major Rustic: Locust Post Lane, Wooden Plank Road, Misty Pine Court, Winding Hollow Drive, Corral Creek Drive, Arbor Rose Way, and Whispering Oak Boulevard. (The Franklin County engineer’s Road Atlas and Street Locator identifies four streets beginning with “Whisper” and another four “Whisperings” in the county)

Current or former Spanish-speaking capitals: Madrid Drive, Manila Drive, and Buenos Aires Boulevard. The same Blendon Township subdivision also has streets named Lima, Bogata, Montevideo, Caracas, Santiago, and Managua. Oddly, it also has streets named Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Saigon, Cairo, and Brazzaville.

Anglophile: Prince Charles Way, Scarborough Hall Drive, Nottinghamshire Lane, and Shire Landing Road.

Great Scots: Macduff Way, Carnoustie Circle, Traquair Place, and Domnall Drive.

Confederate states: Beauregard Boulevard and Pelican Place.

Other categories are more esoteric. The Pretentious group has only Rue de Brittany, Boulevard Bonaparte, and a dozen others in the French Quarter of the Continent development. Hits of the Early ’80s is limited to Electric Avenue. But there are other curiosities.

In Columbus, south of Blendon Woods Metro Park, a single subdivision is full of street names apparently pulled at random from an elementary-school early American History textbook: Wagonwheel Lane, Leatherstocking Trail, Freedom Ridge Drive, Tariff Pike, Declaration Drive, Stockade Place, Tri-Corner Court, Pewter Court, Town Crier Place, Plymouth Rock Court, Redcoat Lane, Militia Lane.

A bit to the north, a Westerville subdivision features cul-de-sacs off Liberty Lane north of Old North Church Road: Lexington Court, Concord Court, and Bunker Hill Court. It seems to be a cohesive grouping of short streets with a colonial Boston theme. Except for the fact that Valley Forge Court is mixed in with them.

But there’s an issue here that goes beyond silly street names. It’s more about silly development patterns. Many subdivisions have only one portal connecting them to the rest of the city – and only one way for police cars and fire trucks to enter the winding maze of streets in an emergency. There’s no easy way to walk to a school.

The old-fashioned, straightforward, simply named streets have a public orientation and pass straight through many neighborhoods.

The curly ones have a private orientation and turn inward.

Many of these are “courts” – sometimes called culs-de-sac, cul-de-sacs, or dead ends. They are very short, often much less than the length of a football field. Hundreds of other streets in Columbus, the suburbs and Franklin County are entirely within the confines of their subdivision. Huge portions of the region are made up of very short streets – typically curving less than a mile in length.

This means thousands of new streets have been dedicated in recent decades, and they all must be distinguished from other addresses. That leads to the sorts of names highlighted in this column, which only scratches the surface of inane names. And the need for these names arises because each subdivision is physically disconnected from the broader community.

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