| North and South
This is my take on why people in Southern and Northern California
refer to their freeways in slightly different ways.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area in the heart of Silicon Valley. It is a small thing,
but it is easy to tell if a person is visiting the area from Southern California. It shows up
when people refer to freeway names.
In Southern California the freeway name or number is usually preceded by the word "The"
as in "The 210" or "The 405." There are a couple of heavily traveled highways, in California,
that go through both the north and south parts of the state. One is U.S. Highway 101 (US 101)
and Interstate Highway 5 (I-5). In the south US 101 is referred to as "The 101" while in the
north you will hear the same highway referred to simply as "101." Likewise, the southern name
for I-5 is "The 5" and in the north the same highway is called "I-5."
I have my own theory as to why there is a difference in the naming conventions. Freeways
first appeared in Southern California. Many of the super-highways were the first routes through
an area. Freeways in the Southland started out with descriptive names, usually a destination
away from Los Angeles. So you would hear traffic reports about "The Santa Monica Freeway," "The
Harbor Freeway," or "The San Diego freeway."
In the northland there were regular state and U.S. highways that were referred to by there
number preceded with the word "Highway" such as "Highway 101" or "Highway 17." These highways
were converted to limited-access freeways after people had become accustomed to using highway
numbers. As a result, even though the freeways were given names such as "Bayshore Freeway" and
"Nimitz Freeway," people were used to referring to the highways by their numbers.
As more and more traffic situations needed to be reported on the radio, the highway names
were abbreviated to save time. (Seconds saved could be used for additional commercials.) A common method of abbreviation is to remove the common or redundant
words, such as "Freeway" and "Highway" from a traffic report. So, in the Los Angeles area, The
Harbor Freeway became "The Harbor" and "The San Diego Freeway" became "The San Diego." At the
same time in the San Francisco Bay Area, "Highway 101" became a very simple "101" and Highway
17 became known simply as "17."
When the Interstate Highway System came along, the cross country freeways tended to be known
by their number preceded by the word "Interstate" as in "Interstate 80" or "Interstate 10."
Following my rules of north and south naming customs, Interstate 10 (in the Southland) became
"The I-10" or simply "The 10" and Interstate 80 (in the north) was referred to as
"I-80" or just "80" in traffic reports.
There were a couple of scenes in a popular TV series, placed in San Francisco, that illustrated
how the different naming patterns can show up. When the TV show "Nash Bridges" starring Don
Johnson went on the air, an early episode had Nash Bridges talking on his police radio telling
headquarters that the bad guy had turned his car onto "THE 101." This let the audience in the
San Francisco Bay Area know that this cop was not from around here. Because Don Johnson has
lived many years in the Los Angeles area, he quite naturally referred to the freeway in the
manner he was accustomed. This also happens occasionally when a new reporter from Southern California
goes to work for a TV or radio station in Northern California.