A Rant: Stupid Street Names

If my blog is a collection of essays then this essay will likely fall into the “trivial” category. I should probably start out 2005 on a light note anyhow. But just for the record this particular topic is something that irks me. I’ll feel better getting it off my chest. Probably no one else in the world cares about this but me. But I would like to propose a grand crusade to replace really stupid and illogical street names. It’s a better use of our tax money than fighting wars in Iraq anyhow.

I don’t know what it is about Fairfax County but we seem to have stupid street names all over the place. It’s hard to know where to start. The one that comes immediately to mind is a road in Reston that connects Reston Parkway with North Shore Drive. What is the name of this street? Temporary Road. What’s that you are thinking? Maybe it’s some sort of gravel road or something? I wish. It’s not a long road, perhaps a quarter mile. But it is hardly temporary and has been resurfaced many times. It’s been around as long as I’ve lived in the area, and that’s at least 20 years. I am sure there is a story behind it but given that there are really no addresses on this road can’t we just rename the road? The obvious choice: Permanent Road. At least this one would be accurate.

A couple blocks away from Temporary Road, bordering the south side of the Reston Town Center is another one of these roads obviously named by a marketer: Bluemont Drive. What the hell is a bluemont? There actually is a town called Bluemont between Reston and Winchester but this road is certainly not the way to get there. I think whatever developer was creating street names was just randomly putting things together. “Hmm, the Blue Ridge Mountains are a hundred miles west of here. But Blue Ridge Mountains Drive is too long. Bluemont Drive it is!” What was he thinking? Didn’t he know I would cringe every time I saw that street sign? Surely I am not alone!

Driving to dinner last night with friends a street name caught my eye off Burke Centre Parkway: Oak Leather Drive. Of course I did a double take, but I don’t know why I was surprised. But Hello: Oak trees do not produce leather, and last time I looked cows weren’t growing oak trees out their tailpipes.

Also in Reston we have parallel roads on both sides of the Dulles Access and Toll Roads: Sunrise Valley Drive and Sunset Hills Road. Cute: they are sort of opposites of each other. But there is no valley on Sunrise Valley Drive, and no hill of note on Sunset Hills Road. This is false marketing. But they do go east and west so perhaps on a good day you can at least see a sunrise or a sunset on them.

I live on Emerald Chase Drive. It’s a nice neighborhood but it’s another one of these street names that make no sense. Presumably the usage of “chase” here is old English, where a chase meant, “A privately owned, unenclosed game preserve”. Fair enough. I guess there used to be farms where my neighborhood now sits, and perhaps there were foxes living there and occasionally a hunter on horseback would chase them for sport. But I doubt my neighborhood was ever a private game preserve. And there are no emeralds in our soil, nor do the grass or the leaves give off that particular shade of green.

Emerald Chase feeds into West Ox Road. I realize Ox Road is one of the oldest roads in Fairfax County, basically a paved over cattle cart track. But one thing is for sure: there are no oxen in Fairfax County. Oxen are native to Africa and Asia. Hello! Maybe the pioneers mistook bison for oxen. But bison, while native to North American, never lived anywhere near Fairfax County either, except possibly in the Reston Animal Park. Maybe they meant steer? Anyhow, if I had an ox, what part of the ox would be its west side? Are oxen supposed to point in one direction all their lives? And why is there no East Ox Road?

Other misnamed streets in my neighborhood: Rover Glen Court (a dog gets a whole glen?), Lazy Glen Lane (how is that possible?), Ruby Lace Court (sorry, you can’t make lace out of rubies) and Ladybank Lane. Also in Reston: North Shore Drive (which comes no closer than 1000 feet to Lake Anne, which is shoreless), Spyglass Cove and Yellowwood Court (show me some yellow trees please).

I am sure Fairfax County must have a process for approving street names. Presumably they must all be unique, but there should be some sanity check on the process. To start out with, how about calling the same road the same name instead of changing its name every couple miles? Consider Centreville Road which if you follow it south becomes Walney Road, then Westfields Boulevard, then Popular Tree Road, then Stone Road. And if you follow it north it turns into Elden Street, then Baron Cameron Drive and finally Springvale Road. I mean, if you get on it going south guess where it goes: straight to Centreville! Why not call the whole thing Centreville Road? But Centreville Road is hardly unique. There is also Route 123, which has names from Dolley Madison Boulevard, to Chain Bridge Road, to Maple Avenue, to Chain Bridge Road again to — you guessed it — Ox Road! Because you see Ox Road and West Ox Road aren’t actually allowed to connect anywhere.

And what about towns and cities? Do they have to suffer too? Some of them should be shot and put out of their misery. Here in the DC area we have some outstanding badly named places. A couple make me cringe whenever I hear them. Dumfries, Virginia comes to mind. Can you imagine anyone boasting, “I’m from Dumfries!” Across the Potomac we have Beltsville, Maryland. Perhaps as a result neither are places where you would want to live.

I understand it is hard to come up with good street names. “Oak Leather Drive” may make me cringe but is perhaps more marketable than “Cow Dropping Court”, which might be more descriptive of its predevelopment status. All the good variants of upscale trees, minerals, flowers and animals have been taken. Desperate real estate developers have to start randomly throwing classy sounding names together and hope for the best. I’m just glad that Oak Leather Drive is near Burke, and not in Dumfries.

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