Southern California freeways are a number, not a name

The 5 Freeway in the Newhall Pass.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Reader Ron King of Camarillo doesn’t like how The Times refers to local freeways.

A recent example, from Saturday’s paper:

The Getty fire started in high brush on the east side of the 405 Freeway near Getty Center Drive during the afternoon rush hour…

King — and other readers — think that reference should have been to the San Diego Freeway.

“Freeways should be referred to by their names, not federal interstate numbers like they do in other unimaginative places that don’t have interesting traditions,” King emailed.


The Times’ use of numbers to identify local freeways is fairly recent. A stylebook entry dated January 2011 says: “In keeping with the trend in local parlance, The Times now uses the numbers to identify freeways in the region”:

We say the 5 Freeway, the 91 Freeway, the 60 Freeway, etc. Second reference can be the 5, the 91, the 60. Note the use of the “the” and the uppercase “F” on “Freeway.” The names, such as Santa Ana Freeway and Harbor Freeway, are fine in quotes and historical references to the times before such freeways were assigned their current numbers.

The new style applies to Los Angeles County, Ventura County, Orange County and Greater San Diego. It also applies to the parts of Riverside and San Bernardino counties that are within the greater metropolitan area; that includes everything this side of the mountains, plus the Victorville area and the Palm Springs area.

King still doesn’t agree with the usage. “You know that Interstate 5 runs all the way from San Diego to Seattle (I assume), don’t you? So when you refer to the ‘5,’ you could be referring to anywhere from Mexico to Canada.”

For that matter, the 10 could refer to Santa Monica or Jacksonville, Fla.

But context is key. If an article is on the L.A. Now blog, like this one about a closure on “the 5 Freeway,” chances are it’s not referring to Seattle.

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