Street fight: Rideau River Drive residents 'incensed' over name change

Homeowners on Rideau River Drive are fighting a street name change imposed by the City of Ottawa, saying their street is older, longer and more historically significant than a competing nearby private laneway.

'We should have been given an opportunity to be consulted,' says longtime resident

Subodh Anand, Doretha Murphy and Jean-Pierre Baribeau are all longtime residents of Rideau River Drive. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

Homeowners on Rideau River Drive are fighting a street name change imposed by the City of Ottawa, saying their street is older, longer and more historically significant than a competing nearby private laneway.

Residents were sent a letter by the city June 9 telling them their street name was changing because it was too similar to Rideau River Lane.

Since the amalgamation of the City of Ottawa in 2001, 80 streets have been forced to change names to avoid confusion in the event of an emergency.

"Quite frankly I'm incensed," said Rideau River Drive resident Doretha Murphy. "It goes along the river … it's appropriately called Rideau River Drive."

"Rideau River Drive existed a long time before Rideau River Lane," said Subodh Anand, who has lived on the street for 48 years. "That should be an important consideration."

Slightly more addresses on laneway

According to the city's own rules, once a decision is made that there could be confusion when police or an ambulance is called to streets with a similar sounding names, a set of criteria is followed to determine which street will get the short straw.

Typically the street with more residents gets to keep its name.

CBC News counted 23 townhouses on Rideau River Lane, which the city said make up 34 separate addresses. 

Rideau River Drive comes up short with 20 homes, which the city counts as 25 separate addresses. 

But there are other factors considered, including how long the street has existed, if it is a major road, its historical significance and if the street has an identifiable landmark.

Originally the city said Rideau River Drive was renamed from Main Street in 1968, but after consultation with the Archives department clarified that only part of the Drive was originally called Main Street.

The Archives department says the majority of houses started being built on Rideau River Drive in 1950. The homes in the private laneway were constructed in the 1970s.

While Rideau River Drive residents are organizing to fight the change, several residents on the Rideau River Lane CBC spoke to didn't want to talk about the street name.

One who did was Michael Wilson, who has owned his property for six years. He said he wouldn't mind having to make a change. 

"I think it would be a great idea to have a competition among us to come up with a more ideal name for the lane. It could be a great unifying process for us all."

No appeal due to 'public safety'

The city said Rideau River Drive residents have no say in the change, and no right to appeal. 

"Given that this is a matter of public safety, there is no appeal process available to the affected residents. Residents are encouraged to participate in selecting a unique street name," said Rebecca Anderson, the city's municipal addressing anomalies project lead, in a statement to CBC News. 

Murphy said she has called for an ambulance in the past, and that it arrived promptly. "There has been no safety issue here whatsoever," she said.

Her neighbour, lawyer Monica Song, said the lack of consultation is a problem. 

"Public notice and public consultation as to the decision to change a street name appear to have been eliminated in the name of expediency," she said in an email. She feels residents should be directly informed and given time to provide input before a decision is made.

For years, public consultation over changing street names was so acrimonious and time-consuming that the process became bogged down, so the city only managed to rename one or two streets per year. Under a newer, streamlined consultation method, changes don't require the approval of committee or council. 

Local councillor not getting involved

Coun. David Chernushenko said no one ever wants to have their street name changed. 

He will not meet with residents about their concerns, he said.

"If we as councillors were to get involved now that the process is rolling out, we would have potentially a dozen or more community meetings, full of upset people in almost every ward. Councillors and the mayor would be lobbied to intervene and make ad-hoc judgements, undermining the process we ourselves approved…."

"For this reason … I am declining all requests to meet with residents on this issue. That may sound harsh, but it is the only way to stay neutral and to avoid politicizing what is already a difficult and unpopular process."

Residents of Rideau River Drive have been given two-and-a-half weeks to come up with suggestions for a new street name. 

They said they are weighing their legal options.