A paper street is a street that doesn’t exist; it’s only on paper. Paper streets exist all over the place – or, don’t exist all over the place. I’m trying to say they’re common. They’re not quite the same thing as a trap street or a paper town, but they’re also exactly the same. A trap street is a street that a mapmaker (your Rand McNallys) pulls out of the air and puts on a map to see if some other mapmaker is plagiarizing their maps. Maps are copyrighted, you see. Paper towns are the same thing – created by mapmakers to track if someone is stealing their map data. There’s a story about how a mapmaker put a fake town on their map, and it was indeed copied to other maps, but people referencing the map thought that the area was really named that, and a hamlet did grow there. A paper town willed into life.
But a paper street is not quite that (despite being the same: a street that only exists on paper), because it is an intention that was never carried out. Every town has them. Olean has a handful (Bob guesses 15-20, but that’s unofficial), and they were at one point planned, but to this day remain invisible, unknown. Paper streets can be problematic. They’re right-of-ways, owned by the city, just like any other road. That means you can’t build on them, you can’t dig them up, and you have to respect the easements (you may not be able to build anything within 5 or 10 feet of the paper street, for example). The city owns the deeds to those streets, and if they require access to them, they’ll take access.
Sometimes these streets almost exist. They’re dirt tracks, or trails, routes that people have taken for years, even if they’re not particularly driveable. Sometimes paper streets are also real streets, just with missing sections. Once in a great while, a paper street will be given (or sold) by the city for a specific purpose.
Here are some of Olean’s:
3 responses to “Paper Street”
So interesting. Loving the story about the paper town that germinated a new community!
99% Invisible had an episode about maps, and mentioned something similar. A map maker created a fake town in the corner of their map to track who was copying their map.
Years later an investigator visited the area and found the town. It was created by the residents because the map said there was a town there ..
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That’s such a great story!