A road by any other name

Staff WriterSeptember 19, 2009 

So Durham's planners and county commissioners have created clarity by putting five street names where there used to be one. It actually makes a kind of sense (see story on this page), even if a couple of the newly named dead-end after 100 yards or so.

Which is a lot more than can be said for some of Durham's other byways, highways and nomenclature.

In Durham, one name may apply to two or more lengths of pavement -- Glendale Avenue, for example, comes in triplicate. On the other hand, what appears continuous asphalt on the ground may go by multiple street signs: for example, the Swift-Broad-Kenan thoroughfare running (in reverse order) from Duke Homestead Road south to Duke University Road.

Duke University Road, now, dead-ends on the west at the point where Cameron Boulevard somehow becomes Academy Road but is just as well known as 751 either way.

To the east, D.U. Road morphs into (of all things) Chapel Hill Street, not to be confused with Chapel Hill Road, Old Chapel Hill Road or Chapel Hill Boulevard, which is also known as 15-501 Business (not to be confused with 15-501 Bypass).

To keep it straight, remember that what looks like a continuation of Chapel Hill Street to Chapel Hill Road is actually Kent (which used to be Cameron) Street, and Chapel Hill Road is separated from Old Chapel Hill Road by a block or two of University Drive, not to be confused with Duke University Road, much less Duke Street.

In some cases, history has an explanation. Portions of the Downtown Loop go by "Ramseur," "Roxboro," "Morgan" and "Great Jones," as if to suggest the city's inner street system didn't always go around in circles. The two Acadia Streets and Erwin Roads were one of each before Solomonic highway planners cut them in two -- with, respectively, the U.S. 70/I-85 and 15-501 Bypass corridors -- and left them in that condition for the wonder of future generations.

That information isn't much help, of course, if you're trying to get to Sam's Quik Shop and find yourself halfway to Chapel Hill. In such cases, changing names might have been in order, and it's not like The City of Exciting Stores hadn't had practice. Chapel Hill Street used to be Green; Campus Drive was Myrtle; South Roxboro (the part uptown, not the part in Hope Valley Farms) used to be Pine Street, South Mangum was McMannen and, before that, Shake Rag; Pettigrew was Dog Trot and Dillard Street, Henpeck Row.

Then again, changing names isn't always such a hot idea. In the past few years, local boosters have boosted "Innovation Highway" for the Durham Freeway (aka "N.C. 147," aka "Buck Dean Freeway"), which hardly made an impression. As Grandpa Jones used to say, Merely foolish.

jim.wise@nando.com or 932-2004

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