How Did Speedway Blvd In Tucson Get Its Name? [Ultimate Guide!]

If you’ve ever been to Tucson, you may have noticed that there’s a section of the city named Speedway Boulevard. Now, we’re not talking about any type of automobile racing; we’re referring to the place where Will Rogers Way meets Swan Crescent. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s a quick summary of what happened.

A Century of Growth

The intersection of Will Rogers Way and Swan Crescent represents the center of Tucson and has been the city’s hub since the early 1900s. It was originally referred to as Plaza Five because it consisted of five corners: Plaza, Jackson, Marion, Will Rogers, and Swan. Plaza Five was the location of Tucson’s first traffic light, which was installed in 1912.

Most of the area’s early development was directed at satisfying the area’s growing population. Between 1912 and 1962, city planners built an outdoor pool, a trolley stop, and expanded the municipal airport. They also widened the road, built additional garages and apartment buildings, and laid down new streets. In 1930, the Roosevelt Dam was constructed, flooding an area of the city including Plaza Five.

Despite its growth, speed limits were still in effect in the area at the time and the new road was named after the former governor of New York, who at the time was an aviation enthusiast.

The Golden Age of Motorcycle Racing

In the 1950s and 1960s, this part of Tucson became known as “Motown” — the Detroit of the Southwest. It was a place where motorcycle enthusiasts could gather and show off their machines. There was also a motorcycle museum and even a few bars where you could find racers and fans of all ages drinking together.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Speedway Boulevard saw a decrease in crime and an increase in family-friendly attractions — like the Tucson Museum of Art and the Children’s Museum — encouraging more people to live and play in the area. Today, this part of the city is still considered one of the most bike-friendly places in the country.

But…Didn’t Someone Die Here?

Yes, someone did die here, but it wasn’t from a car accident. In 1914, a fire broke out on a cargo train traveling from Los Angeles to Phoenix. The wreck caused the train to derail, and many people — including the railroad’s fireman — died in the fiery crash. It was later learned that the train was traveling at such a rapid pace that it couldn’t be stopped in time, and that the engineer was intoxicated.

After the train crashed, the community decided to name the street where it derailed after the fireman. Today, the site of the deadly 1914 crash is marked by a small memorial and a plaque. The train wreck is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

…The Legend Continues

If you visit this area of Tucson today, you’ll see that the community has continued to grow and prosper. There are now over 100 restaurants, coffee shops, and bars lining the street. The area is also home to the Tucson Electric Park, which opened in 1911 and features a roller coaster, carousel, and other rides for adults and children. If that wasn’t enough, the last leg of the Superstition Mountain Bike Trail winds its way past the zoo and up the side of the hill, providing breathtaking views of the entire city. The last few miles are especially challenging and require you to ride with your eyes closed, in the dark, to avoid crashing into anything.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some mountain bike trails to explore…

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