What's the translation of “surface roads" in French?

“Surface roads" in English can be defined as follows:

a road or street level with its surroundings. Example: surface roads and elevated highways.

Google translate translates "surface roads" as "route de surface", but Googling "route de surface" returns fewer than 100 results which makes me wonder whether there exists a more common phrase. No luck on https://www.linguee.com/english-french/search?source=auto&query=surface+roads either.

  • 4
    I can't see what the equivalent is in French, but I agree "route de surface" is not adequate: my first feeling was that "route de surface" should mean a road in the open air, as opposed to a road in a tunnel.
    – Greg
    Dec 7, 2020 at 5:51
  • The whole point of surface road is the fact it is contrasted to elevated roadway, thruway, freeway, etc. It is always used in reference to that kind of contrast. It is not used without that context.
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:56
  • There really isn't this contrast of surface road to elevated road in France: But in Canada, there is: 1990 The Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront also known as the Crombie Commission, suggested the removal of the entire elevated Gardiner Expressway and its replacement with a network of tunnels and surface roads. So the expressway (elevated) was replaced by surface (ground level) roads. –
    – Lambie
    Jul 27, 2021 at 0:11

6 Answers 6


A surface road is a regular road whose surface is at the same level (elevation) that the roads it crosses and thus is not avoiding direct crossroads by using bridges, viaducts and possibly tunnels like fast traffic roads do.

I would then suggest réseau secondaire, route secondaire or réseau traditionnel as opposite to autoroute / voie rapide (freeway/expressway/motorway).

A very common name for these surface roads is also petites routes:

"On prend les petites routes pour découvrir les choses. On vient d'aller à l'office du tourisme pour regarder ce qu'il y a dans le secteur" explique-t-il. "En passant par les petites routes, on peut voir les paysages !" complète Stéphanie. "On va aller à l'île Bouchard avec la petite route pour bien découvrir la région" poursuit-elle.

France-Bleu, 2020

Surface road (petite route):

enter image description here Image par LeFrolin de Pixabay

Non surface roads:

enter image description here Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels enter image description here Photo by clemthi2 from FreeImages

Reference: What does surface road mean? EnglishForums.com

Note that translating "surface road" by route plane doesn't make sense. On the opposite, a non surface road is more likely to stay plane when for using bridges and flyovers while a surface road will go down and up following the slopes of the land.

Here is an obvious example showing a surface street or road is not necessarily flat:

Aerial view of Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, California. United States:

enter image description here

Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. California, Los Angeles, 2012. Photograph.

And a document characterizing Mulholland drive as a surface street:

Environmental Impact Analysis
An extensive surface street network, including Mulholland Drive and Topanga Canyon Boulevard, provides access to and from the project site and surrounding uses.

Source: saveoaksavanna

  • DeepL suggère « une route ou une rue au niveau de ses environs », comme un passage à niveau, ‘route à niveau’ dans un contexte où l'on parle de route enclavée/surélevée/déviée/barrée…
    – Personne
    Dec 7, 2020 at 8:57
  • @Personne Oui, techniquement, ça veut dire une route de plain-pied mais personne ne comprendrait ce qui se cache derrière. Une surface road, c 'est une route qui est au même niveau que les routes qu'elle croise.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 7, 2020 at 9:10
  • Si je comprends bien le concept de "surface road" effectivement le "réseau secondaire" est une expression idiomatique.
    – Laurent S.
    Dec 7, 2020 at 9:23
  • @LaurentS mais une route secondaire (partie du réseau secondaire) peut utiliser un viaduc ou une chausée; une autoroute ou route principale peut être a la même niveau que ses environs. (In case my French is even worse than I thought: a secondary route/ part of the secondary network can run on a viaduct or causeway, and a highway/major road need not be elevated)
    – Chris H
    Dec 7, 2020 at 14:48
  • 3
    @ChrisH L'OP étant Californien, je suppose qu'il s'agit de la classification telle qu'elle apparaît dans le lien que j'ai ajouté à ma réponse plutôt que de le niveau de la chaussée par rapport au sol environnant.
    – jlliagre
    Dec 7, 2020 at 15:26

The concept in itself does not exist in French at all. As has been said by others, the closest translation would be "une route de plain-pied" but no French people would understand what you mean.

So, instead of using a single word, unfortunately you have to use a sentence that explains the whole concept, for instance by saying "les routes qui sont de meme niveau que leur environnement"

  • 1
    The concept isn't nearly as important even in British English as American. In particular the contrast with elevated highways is less important as we have fewer of them (there are plenty of examples, but nothing to compare to e.g. the highway network over LA)
    – Chris H
    Dec 7, 2020 at 14:51
  • 2
    In fact, surface street or surface road is only used in a small subregion of the U.S., including Southern California, where it means any road other than a limited access highway. Dec 8, 2020 at 0:22
  • @PeterShor Not sure that is entirely true: alpsroads.net/roads/ma/us_1 Generally, a surface road versus an elevated highway, thruway or freeway.
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2021 at 14:49
  • On peut toujours traduire l'idée. la/une voie surélevée et les routes (ou rues) planes environnantes. Et lá je pense que n'importe qui le comprendrait en français. Une route de plein-pied ne marche pas. Une maison de plein-pied: A house on one level.
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2021 at 15:26
  • @Lambie: How do you know that the author of that page isn't from California originally? I've lived in the Boston area for a total of over 20 years, and I've never heard anybody call anything a "surface street" here. We might say "back roads". (Although I definitely can't say people don't use "surface street" some places other than California.) Jul 26, 2021 at 15:36

Dans un taxi, par exemple :

-Where to?
-Downtown. 312 North Spring Street.
-Hold on. Take Sepulveda to Slauson to La Brea. Take La Brea north to 6th, into downtown.
-I'll take 105 east to the 110. It's faster.
-The 105 to the 110 will get you there quicker.
-The 110 turns into a parking lot around USC.
-But once you get to La Brea north of Santa Monica, it's jammed.
-The 110 north of the 10, you get people driving to Pasadena and they drive slow.
-Yeah, they do, but what I do is I get off on Grand and then l... Surface roads is what you want, that's what we'll do.

Extrait altéré du dialogue dans Collateral (2004, Michael Mann)

« Prends par1 la ville, par les quartiers et pas par l'autoroute... prends (par) les rues de quartier2 et évite la voie rapide. » Ou tout simplement « (Prends n'importe quel chemin mais) évite l'autoroute ».

Par ailleurs, dans le domaine de l'urbanisme et des transports, on a repéré les termes route de/en surface et voie de/en surface (Termium), possiblement en double opposition avec (voie/route) souterraine/rapide ; ou avec d'autres nuances (routes de surface de transit, voie de surface à usage local de desserte des habitations). On aime l'approche systématique avec « réseau » discutée dans une autre réponse.

1 That's like "take (the path) by" the city instead of the highway. See meaning 43 here; that would be like "select".
2 Incidentally the French subtitles for the movie use "Si vous préférez les rues à l'autoroute, on prendra les petites rues.".

  • Oui, au Canada pour voie de/en surface par rapport à une voie surélevée. Les termes vont ensembles. Au moins en ce qui concerne la compréhension de leur sens. Pourquoi dans le texte sur la Californie, voit-on surface roads? Parce que la ville de LA est bourée de voies surélevées!
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2021 at 18:11
  • 1990 The Royal Commission on the Future of the Toronto Waterfront also known as the Crombie Commission, suggested the removal of the entire elevated Gardiner Expressway and its replacement with a network of tunnels and surface roads. So the expressway (elevated) was replaced by surface (ground level) roads. – –
    – Lambie
    Jul 27, 2021 at 0:14

Dans le langage quotidien, on parle simplement de routes. Implicitement, cela exclut les autoroutes, les périphériques, les voies rapides et les rocades. Le code de la route désigne ces dernières par routes à accès réglementé et les indique avec ce panneau:



Selon TERMIUM Plus:

  • voie de surface
  • voie en surface
  • route de surface
  • route en surface
  • Oui, c'est bon.
    – Lambie
    Jul 27, 2021 at 0:12

A) surface road
in American English
a road or street level with its surroundings
surface roads and elevated highway

Translation: les routes planes [environnantes] et l'autoroute surélevée

Collins Dictionary

B) Sur routes planes :

Sur routes planes (c'est-à-dire qui restent au même niveau, sans montée ni descente

C) route plane

C'est à dire, pas une route ou voie surélevée ou en hauteur]

Code de la route

NB: Il s'agit d'une description de voie qui est "sur la superficie du terrain" et pas surélevée.


Everything that is flat and UNDER the overpass is referred to as the surface road. The name became official LATER, after the overpass was removed.

After the overpass was removed, the name stuck: Surface Road, but it goes back to the time of the overpass:

Surface Road

The pictures are from Boston Magazine Boston Magazine: Before and After

Also, in New York:

By 1989, the old elevated highway structure was totally dismantled except for a small portion from 59th Street to 72nd Street, which, in effect, became the southern extension of the Henry Hudson Parkway. Eventually, a grade-level six lane "urban boulevard" was built, which is generally referred to as the West Side Highway, although the elements of it use the names of the surface streets which existed before the elevated highway was built: West Street, Eleventh Avenue and Twelfth Avenue. It connects to the remaining elevated structure via a ramp at 57th Street. [Bolding mine]

West Side Elevated Highway and SURFACE ROADS

  • 1
    Cette traduction est un contresens en dehors de régions parfaitement planes, ce qui n'est pas le cas de la Californie. Les non surface roads ont bien plus de chances d'être planes grâces aux viaducs, ponts et tranchées qu'elles empruntent alors que les surface roads vont suivre le relief, et donc monter et descendre.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 26, 2021 at 16:42
  • @jlliagre Not at all. I'm afraid you don't get the English. Pourtant, l'anglais de la défintion du Collins est très clair et très simple...
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2021 at 17:06
  • 1
    Elle est en effet très claire et très simple, et elle ne veut pas du tout dire route plane. Une route surélevée peut parfaitement être plane. Tu confonds plan et de niveau.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 26, 2021 at 17:12
  • Sur routes planes (c'est-à-dire qui restent au même niveau, sans montée ni descente) See the link from FRANCE, in my answer. That is the idea. surface roads are FLAT, Je ne confonds rien du tout.
    – Lambie
    Jul 26, 2021 at 17:27
  • 1
    Exactement, les routes planes ont une pente nulle, ou du moins constante. Ce n'est pas le cas des surface roads qui sont au même niveau que leur environnement et qui suivent donc les courbes de niveau du relief environnant.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 26, 2021 at 17:33

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