Wootton Parkway. Photo from Google Maps.

Which roads do you refer to by their names, and which by state or US highway numbers? This question came up while we were editing some posts in recent days.

MD-355 changes names several times along its route, from Wisconsin Avenue to Rockville Pike to Hungerford Drive to North/South Frederick Road/Avenue to Urbana Pike to North Market Street (did I miss any)? Though most people I know who live in Montgomery County still talk about Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda, or say they’re headed to Rockville Pike for stores.

What do you call the main roads in Tysons? Are they Route 7 and 123 or Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road?

Let’s put aside freeways for a moment, which people almost always (but not totally always) refer to with numbers. What about major roads that serve through traffic while also having businesses and homes?

I’ve never heard someone talk about Route 1 instead of Rhode Island Avenue in the District, but it’s usually Route 1 and not Baltimore Avenue in College Park, right? Some people refer to Richmond Highway and some to Route 1 in southern Fairfax. What about in Old Town Alexandria?

Greater Greater Wife, who grew up in Montgomery County, speaks of Georgia Avenue, Norbeck Road, Veirs Mill Road, Connecticut Avenue, University Boulevard, Old Georgetown Road, River Road, and so on rather than MD-97, MD-28, MD-596, MD-185, MD-193, MD-187, and MD-190. I’ve driven them all many times and still had to look up most of those numbers.

I have heard more references to MD-410, perhaps because it isn’t always East-West Highway between New Carrollton and Bethesda. But MD-193 is Greenbelt Road east of about the railroad tracks in College Park and then has other names as it winds through Prince George’s County.

Is it Arlington Boulevard or US-50? King Street or VA-236? Glebe Road or VA-120? Columbia Pike or VA-244?

Often, people seem to use the number more when talking about places they’re mostly passing through, and the name for places they’re going to. Rockville Pike is not just a road, but an assemblage of shopping centers that you go to on purpose. Columbia Pike (the Virginia one) is a corridor of neighborhoods, whereas Route 50 more bypasses neighborhoods and moves commuters. It’s Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring, a destination, and becomes Route 29 somewhere north.

If this is right, maybe Tysons’ main roads will gradually evolve from Routes 7 and 123 to Leesburg Pike and Chain Bridge Road as Tysons becomes more of a walkable place.

Still, this isn’t an absolute; Veirs Mill Road is not that much of a destination, or at least I’ve rarely gone somewhere on Veirs Mill versus using it as a conduit to or from Rockville.

When do you use names, and when do you use numbers?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.