5th Ave N in Billings Doesn’t Exist, Here’s Why
Next time you want to mess with a friend, ask them to tell you where 5th Avenue N is in Billings. They'll likely say it's downtown, right between 6th Ave N and 4th Ave North. That would make sense, right? You can take the trick question a little further by asking them if 5th Ave N is a one-way street (which direction?) or if they can name a business address on 5th Ave N.
Here's the thing.... there is no 5th Ave. N in Billings. I'm embarrassed that I didn't know this until this week. In fact, I doubted the co-worker who broke the "no 5th Ave N" news to me. I promptly pulled up Google Maps, hoping to prove them wrong. Dang. She was right. 5th Ave N doesn't exist, not really anyway.
The non-existent 5th Ave N should run from Division St to the Metra, just like all the other downtown Avenues. 4th and 6th are probably the busiest, with 1st Ave N and Montana Ave also seeing heavy east-west traffic. So, why isn't there a 5th Ave N?
TRAINS! There never was a 5th Ave N downtown because of the railroad spurs that run through town. Much of Billings was originally mapped around trains, which were largely responsible for igniting growth in the newly booming west. Zooming in on a cool, hand-drawn 1904 Billings map I found, you can see the tracks where 5th Ave N street should be, labeled Burlington Northern.
The tracks no longer receive a lot of train traffic (perhaps the exception being Schnitzer Steel on the east end of the corridor) and there have been various proposals to utilize the ghost-street for different purposes. In 2020, the Billings Yellowstone County Metropolitan Planning Organization issued a request for proposals for a 5th Avenue North Corridor Feasibility Study, with the goal:
To analyze opportunities to develop transportation connections to, from, and within the corridor for non-traditional motorized and non-motorized facilities and identify connectivity opportunities to the existing transportation system in the area.
The Billings City Council shot down a similar study in 2016, as reported by the Billings Gazette, noting some businesses in the area opposed the plan to eliminate the rail spurs.
Here's another Billings street fact... there is no Avenue A.
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