Parkway vs. Highway: What’s the Difference?

parkway vs highway

Parkway vs. highway, freeway vs. expressway. We certainly have a lot of names for major roadways. Why is that? Is the expansive list just an expression of our love for the English language? Can the variations simply be chalked up to regional differences? (e.g., do you call it “soda” or “pop”?) Or is there another explanation altogether?

Granted, many of these terms are used interchangeably today. But they were each originally created for distinctive purposes and with defining characteristics. By and large, these purposes and characteristics remain today.

So, what exactly is the difference between a parkway and a highway. And what about freeways and expressways?

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Parkway vs. Highway

What is a Highway?

The major difference between highways and other types of major thoroughfares is open access. Highways often intersect with side streets and private driveways that provide motorists with continual entry points. Parkways are only accessible via designated entrances.

Highways can also be lined with businesses, gas stations, parking lots and even private homes. This, coupled with the aforementioned intersections, contributes to a slowdown in traffic that limits a highway’s effectiveness in promoting movement.

What is a Parkway?

Parkways were originally devised of in the late 1800s to connect large, urban parks that were becoming increasingly popular. As such, they were developed as extensions of these lush spaces. Early parkways were constructed along wider corridors, allowing them to be lined by trees and lawns. The roads themselves were broader, which promoted a sense of leisure and recreation that directly opposed the cramped city streets of the time.

To this day, parkways typically provide a more scenic route than other types of major roadways. As opposed to highways, parkways are limited-access roads and, in sticking to their recreational origins, are often only open to passenger vehicles.

Did You Know? Famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux devised the world’s first parkway, New York City’s Eastern Parkway, as a scenic accessway to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

parkway vs highway

Freeway vs. Expressway

What is a Freeway?

Highways and parkways successfully facilitated traffic in the nascent stages of the automotive era. But as more and more cars took to the road during the early 1900s, a new type of roadway was needed to handle the increased traffic.

Edward M. Bassett, one of the founding fathers of American urban planning, developed the solution. Bassett envisioned a roadway that incorporated features of both highways and parkways to create a freer flow of traffic. As such, these new thoroughfares would be known as “freeways.” Like highways, freeways promote transportation by providing a faster, more-direct route between destinations. They did not, however, intersect with other streets or be lined by private business and homes. Freeways would also be open to both personal and commercial vehicles, unlike parkways.

What is an Expressway?

Expressways are similar to freeways, with one major distinction. Expressways are defined as divided highways with partial control of access, according to the Federal Highway Administration, as opposed to freeways, which have full control of access. This means that expressways may intersect with other roads.

With the parkway vs. highway issue in the rearview mirror, learn about some other dueling automotive topics, such as synthetic vs. convention oil and manual vs. automatic transmission.


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