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Driving Around Detroit

The snow is melting and Detroiters are enjoying the warm weather that March has bestowed upon us. And all I can keep thinking is, ah, Construction Season is right around the corner. Yep, just as the trees start sprouting their blooms the concrete will also start flowering the orange construction barrels (Ampulla fabricatio barrelus).

Try not to think of construction season as the pain that it is. Instead, think of it as extreme driving. Don’t forget to avoid the potholes!

Now, as you know, my husband is not from around these parts. He is used to driving on the wrong side of the road and shifting with his left hand.

Driving in Detroit has some unique particularities that I had to explain to him.

The Michigan Left

In the Detroit metropolitan area you can’t just turn left whenever your heart desires. No, sometimes you must either turn right and then make a U-turn or you must go straight, past where you wanted to turn left, and then make a U-turn and then turn right.

A street sign on Telegraph Road that attempts to show how to make a Michigan Left.

Easy enough, right? If that confused you take a look at this animated explanation of the Michigan Left from MDOT.

The first Michigan Left was installed at 8 Mile and Livernois in Detroit in the 1960’s. More on Livernois later.

The Lay of the Land: Mile Roads

The mile roads run east and west and it’s a pretty simple system. Although, I’m still not sure that my husband understands. Apparently, when giving directions in the UK they don’t use north, south, east, and west. At least he still has "Little Miss Garmin" to help him out.

The first few months he was here I gave him directions to everywhere via 15 Mile Road (Maple Road). One day he declared, “all roads lead to Maple.” Um, no they don’t but thanks for playing.

The only time the mile roads can be confusing is when they change names as they cross city and county borders like 15 Mile & Maple as stated above. 6 Mile Road is also McNichols and 5 Mile is also Fenkell.

Eight Mile Road is always Eight Mile. It is also somewhat of tourist attraction to non-locals who only know of it because of the movie. Thanks, Eminem. So, a bit of a PSA to all the tourists: It’s just a road! Move on, there’s nothing to see here.

My "Big Beaver Road, Exit 69" t-shirt.16 Mile Road probably has the most names; Metro Parkway, 16 Mile Road, Big Beaver, and Quarton. Our exit off of I-75 is Exit 69, Big Beaver Road. It always gets a chuckle and I even bought the t-shirt.

How Do You Say That?

For those of you who are new to the area or are visiting, the easiest way to stand out as someone ‘not from around these parts’ is to mispronounce the following street and city names. The husband still giggles every time we pass Schoenherr, like he’s in on an inside secret.

  • Grosse Pointe, the E’s are silent people!
  • Schoenherr Road is pronounced SHAY-ner.
  • Livernois is pronounced LIVER-noise. Yeah, we pronounce the S.
  • Gratiot Avenue is pronounced GRASH-ut.
  • Notice that the h is before the s in Lahser Road. It’s pronounced LAH-ser. If you say Lasher to me I’ll punch you. Seriously.

Now, as far as the driving goes you’re on your own. However, I will say that if you are going the “suggested” speed limit on the major freeways then you’re going to have some trouble.

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Reader Comments (26)

Hm. Most of the folks I know pronounce it "LIVER-noy" and leave the s off. ;-)

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie B

Love the t-shirt!!! I live on the west side right now and the humor of it would be lost on people over here.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBecky

This transplanted Noo-Yawkah is sufficiently Michiganized after 34 years here to avoid your fist . . .

. . . and expand the How Say list:

* Chene is SHAY-nnn, not CHAY-neh or anything that sounds like a former vice-president's last name.

* Beaubien is BOW-bee-ENN, not BOW-bean or BEAU-bye-eeen.

* Cadiuex is cad-YOU. Don't humiliate yourself with any ex sound.

* Moross seemed simple 'til a friend non-jokingly called it Morose en route to the delightful Dirty Dog Jazz Cafe two days ago.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Stamm

I have to agree with commenter number 1. While I still can't break myself of the LaSHer mistake (family habit, I guess) I want to cut people who say LivernoiSE. Sadly, since I live about a block away from LiverNOY and have to hear it fairly often, I usually want to cut a lot of people.

8 Mile isn't always 8 Mile, either.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterabbie

Since I grew up here in Detroit, it all sounds very simple to me. It's all just a part of the beauty of the city.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJackie

8 mile isn't 8 Mile in Grosse Pointe... I think its Vernier. My brother constantly likes to point out its similarity to the word "Veneer." If you're familiar with the Pointers you may or may not chuckle as well..

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterwandered

There may be east side/west side differences. Like Carrie said, most people I know leave off the "s" in Livernois. Also Lahser is pronounced "Lasher" in some areas.

There are some Canadians who call it Dee-TROY-it. To most people it's Dee- troit Two syllables.

As for the mile roads, they start at 5 Mile. There are no 1-4 Mile Roads. I don't know how high they go on the other end, but I do know when you get up in the higher numbers you are in what we call "Kid Rock territory". 16 Mile is also called "Walnut Lake Road" for a bit.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

And I hope no one ever has to explain Outer Drive to anyone from out of town.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Thank you all for stopping by and sharing!

Carrie, Abbie, and Donna,
I leave the S off of Livernois but that may be from living in Illinois. I hear people pronounce it with the S all the time and it's like fingernails on a chalkboard!

Thank you for the additions to the list, much appreciated!

Yes, 8 Mile isn't always 8 Mile. You caught me! ;-) That was more tongue-in-cheek trying to make the point that it isn't a landmark or tourist attraction.

I think you're right about East/West side differences. I live on Lahser and I'm politely asking for you all (I'm looking at you Abbie) to stop saying Lasher!

And you are so right about Outer Drive!

I heard a story a long time ago about a typo on one of the Lahser street signs and that is how all this got Lasher crap got started but I couldn't find anything to back up that theory.

Yes, to most of us this is simple. Beautifully simple!

Thanks for the kudos on the t-shirt. I kind of forgot about it, I need to start wearing it again!

March 8, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Entertaining post. I've heard every single variation that all the comments have mentioned. When I start to explain the Michigan left turn to out of towners, I get a blank stare. I'll have to use the MDOT diagram. Also, I've read on the + Detroit blog last year that the orange barrels are considered the state flower...I'd have to agree!

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine


Also couldn't document that Lahser sign misspelling theory, but whilst looking I came across this:

"Lahser Road was named for Charles A. Lahser, president of the Redford State Savings Bank. Mr. Lahser was the longtime postmaster of the village of Redford and owned a general store there."

[Yes, that whilst floated in for a rendom spot of nostalgia . . .]

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Stamm

Yes, I think I did read that the orange barrels are the state flower! I forgot about that. :D

"Whilst" is quite widely used in the UK. I must admit it slips out of my mouth on occasion.I use it more than I should, I think it ages me. ;-) Thanks for the info on Mr. Lahser.

March 9, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Mile roads go up to 38 Mile in Macomb County, although the system continues up to 50 miles in Lapeer County. See the wiki for "Roads and freeways in metro Detroit".

March 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercabri's my Detroit area driving tip (it's an old truck driver/traveling salesperson trick). If you want to know where a particular address is located on a north/south road relative to the Mile Roads, and your destination has a 5-digit address, do this:
Take the first two numbers of the address and subtract 5.
Divide that total by 2.
That total will be the number of the Mile Road your closest to your destination.
The last three numbers of the address will tell you, relatively speaking, how far north of the Mile Road (or half mile road) your destination is.

In honor of St. Paddy's Day, here's an example-Duggan's Irish Pub in Royal Oak is between 13 and 14 Mile on Woodward. The address is 31501 Woodward. 31-5=26, and 501 shows us that the pub is about half way between 13 and Normandy (13 1/2 Mile) Roads.

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

I forgot to say divide 26 by 2 in the example...which is, of course, 13 :)

March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

Cool tip, Dominique!

We (my family) were just talking about that the other day. Not the tip, but how you know where the closest mile road is to an address. That tip would have come in handy. :)

March 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

had a good laugh at this, nice post! 8 mile is Basline Rd. for a bit too. and there is a 12 1/2 mile road in Novi. always got a kick out of that.

March 18, 2010 | Unregistered Commentercraig

It tickles me that you got a laugh at this! That was the point. Yes, there is Baseline Road too, how very uncreative of the city planners. I'm not getting into the half mile roads, you're on your own there.

March 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Just stumbled across this post I have to comment. The Lahser thing drives me crazy. It IS pronounced lash-er. It's not a misreading. The s is pronounced sh like the s in pressure or sugar. If I recall correctly, although Charles A. Lahser was German, his name was Hungarian and that accounts for the pronunciation. Say LAW-ser if you wan't - but you're the wrong one.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary

I was just wondering where did you get your information on Charles A. Lahser? "Charles A. Lahser, president of the Redford State Savings Bank."

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon

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