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Driveway, Parkway, and Dooryard

Erik Deckers has the answer to George Carlin's famous question: Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?

By
Erik Deckers, read by Mignon Fogarty,
Episode #455

driveway parkway dooryard

George Carlin once famously asked, "Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?" and the crowd went nuts. Of course, the crowd would go nuts for anything Carlin said, but that's not important right now. 

But Carlin's razor wit notwithstanding, there's a reason we park on driveways and drive on parkways—a perfectly sound and etymological reason, one that you can use the 37th time you see the question on Facebook.

Streets with ‘Way’ in the Name

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word way comes from the Old English word weg, which means "road, path, or course of travel." It's also from the Proto-Germanic wegaz. If a street is named, for example, "Pirates Way" or "Broadway," it means the road may have once been a path. Or even better, a path used by pirates who sang show tunes.

Parkway

The word parkway is an Americanism, created between 1885 and 1890. Both the Random House Dictionary and Dictionary.com tell us the word is a simple mashup of both park and way. It's literally a path to or through a park.

According to the New York City Parks Department, Eastern Parkway was the world's first parkway, designed by architects Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted in 1866. Vaux and Olmsted originally started working together in 1857 to develop the Greensward Plan, which later became known as Central Park.

Their parkway was designed as a landscaped road for "pleasure-riding and driving" and led to Prospect Park, which was also designed by Vaux and Olmsted. You walked or drove on the path to, and through, the park with your horse and carriage.

Their two-mile design called for a 55-foot wide carriage drive between two pedestrian malls and four rows of trees. There were even side roads for delivery wagons. Eventually, the carriages and wagons were replaced by automobiles, the paths were paved over, and they became major commuter routes carrying heavy traffic into, and out of, the city.

While many parkways still maintain the landscaped median and shoulders, as well as its limited access and lack of pedestrian traffic, others only carry the name, and lack any natural aesthetic or beauty. The name parkway may remain, but rarely are they driven on for pleasure, especially during rush hour.

Next: Driveways and Dooryards

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