What is the difference between lane and road and street?

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1) Let's start with street.
The word comes from the Latin 'strata' and it means a public way that is paved with slabs of stone (strata/stratum).
(Latin strata via = paved way)
So it would mean a public road in a city, town or village, probably with houses or other buildings on either side. Possibly with a pavement for pedestrians, but not necessarily.

2) A road is a path or way that has a specially prepared surface and is used primarily by vehicles, although pedestrians can also walk on a road.

3) A lane is a narrow, often rural, way. It may be just a path, perhaps even a rough 'unmade' way between fields, or trees, beaten flat by frequent public usage. Or it can be a narrow street or a narrow road.

These are the Old English meanings of lane, street and road, and, in many cases, these words are still used in this way today to describe and demarcate between different types of public ways.

However, the distinction between them has become somewhat blurred with the passage of time and the growth of towns and cities.

For example, some public ways which were formerly 'roads', perhaps joining one village to the next, are now in the middle of a large populated area and may also have paved pavements, and houses, on both sides. But if this public way was called a road in the past, it would probably still be called a road now. e.g. the old City Road (i.e. 'the road to the city'), even though it might now be in the middle of the city, might still be called City Road!

With the growth of inhabited areas, town planners often give names to public ways that are not directly connected to their physical function or nature. "Maple Way" may not have any maple trees in it, and may even be cul-de-sac, and not a 'way' to anywhere!

In a similar fashion, a street map today might show a variety of Streets, Roads, Lanes, Avenues, Ways, Drives, etc. but these may simply be the official names of these public ways, without meaning to specifically indicate the width, usage or type of road surface of each 'street/road/lane/path' on the map!

REVIEW POINTS
  1. Compare the high street with the main road, where would you be more likely to find shops and banks, and which is more likely to be the principle route through or to a town?
  2. What would be the difference between a street map and a road map?
SUMMARY
So we have official names ...Road, ... Street, .... Lane, and we have the common nouns 'road', 'street' and 'lane'.

In broad terms,
  • lanes are the narrowest, and rural
  • streets generally have pavements and buildings on both sides, and are in villages, towns and cities
  • roads are the main highways between population centers.
But sometimes, in everyday conversation, the terms street/road are used interchangeably, to mean the same thing, particularly in populated areas.

Note: The word road is also often used to distinguish 'the public way used by vehicles' from the way/path used by pedestrians. "Don't walk in the road!"
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