Edmonton

Street sense: What's the logic behind the confusing road names in Edmonton's suburbs?

Getting around Edmonton is pretty simple when you're on the numbered grid. But once you head out into some of the newer suburbs on the city limits, things can get tricky with street names that seem to have no rhyme or reason.

City’s street naming policy has been evolving since the early 20th century

The City of Edmonton's street name policy may cause some confusion, but has logic behind it. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

Getting around Edmonton is pretty simple when you're on the numbered grid. But once you head out into some of the newer suburbs on the city limits, things can get tricky with street names that seem to have no rhyme or reason.

To make matters even worse, some neighbourhoods use the same name repeatedly on its streets, drives, boulevards or ways.

So, why are some of Edmonton's street names so confusing? We have a few answers.

Who comes up with these names?

We've all been there — those parts of the city where we'd be lost without our GPS.

Depending on your viewpoint, there's a team of people you can blame (or praise) for the naming system.

The naming of roads is a collaboration between city administration, the city-appointed naming committee, experts with insight into an area's history and ecological importance, and even the neighbourhood developer.

The final say? That goes to the naming committee, which is the ultimate arbiter on the names that get stamped onto street signs and maps.

Why change? Numbers are so simple!

Why would the city trade in the street and avenue numbering system that it started with? Well, the format isn't totally gone but it's now part of a hybrid system.

The numbered grid was originally implemented in 1914, two years after the city of Edmonton merged with the town of Strathcona.

This method worked well to keep navigation simple because roads were mostly linear, and followed a predictable path from north to south, east to west.

By the mid-century Edmonton was sprawling, and developers started building neighbourhoods around infrastructure like small ravines, human-made lakes and pipelines. Roads were no longer straight, so it became difficult to keep using the numbered grid in a way that wouldn't cause confusion.

Edmonton started to break away from the numbered grid format in the 1970s when Mill Woods was being developed. At that time, the city's naming policy was updated to say roads could use proper names.

Under the W: Where's the consistency?

In some neighbourhoods, the street names start with the same letter as the neighbourhood. But that protocol isn't applied consistently to all neighbourhoods.

In the 1980s, the policy went further to say street names in these new, non-linear neighbourhoods had to start with the first letter of the neighbourhood.

But when the Griesbach neighbourhood was developed in the early 2000s, the city realized that policy wasn't going to work.

"The Griesbach lands are owned and managed by Canada Lands and they wanted to honour all kinds of names relative to the military," said Cory Sousa, a principal planner for the city that advises the naming committee. 

"It just wouldn't make sense to honour the military when you limit yourself to the letter G."

This started the city down a new path of setting themes for neighbourhoods, with street names following the theme.

For example, the Big Lake area of Edmonton is a migratory bird corridor. All five neighbourhoods in that area are bird-themed, like Starling, Trumpeter and Hawks Ridge. The streets are also bird-themed, with charming names like Blue Jay Point and Chickadee Drive.

Am I seeing double?

Some might say it is confusing, or even a wee bit annoying, when the same name is used on multiple roadways in a neighbourhood.

It shouldn't make sense or be allowed. But the naming policy for streets has five main criteria, two of which address using the same name for a roadway.

  • In the event that the major collector road is not numbered, it shall be named after the neighbourhood.

  • Roads within the same neighbourhood may bear the same name but with a different descriptive word providing the roads intersect.

What this means is that as long as the roads intersect, they can have the same name as long as they had a different suffix — avenue, boulevard, crescent or the like. So what may seem annoying and illogical, actually has some logic behind it.

Think about Windemere, where you have Windermere Drive, Windermere Road, Windermere Boulevard, and Windermere Wynd all in the same concentrated area.

"We try to limit one particular name into what's called a cell of a neighbourhood," said Sousa. "Part of that rationale into using that collector name is that at least you know you're in the right neighbourhood."

Call 911: How do they manage?

Getting turned around while trying to visit a friend is frustrating enough, but how do emergency services and post office employees manage?

Those services don't have any decision-making powers when it comes to street names. However, the city does consult with various service delivery groups to make sure naming conventions don't throw a wrench in the way they navigate the city during an emergency.

Getting lost is normal, right? (Asking for a friend)

Take comfort in the knowledge that getting twisted around in a new-to-you neighbourhood is a classic Edmonton experience.

Even people who drive professionally say they'd have trouble if it wasn't for technology.

"It's rough trying to figure these addresses out sometimes," says Chantal McInnis, a part-time driver for Skip the Dishes. "The Skip app will give us directions. There's just too many new subdivisions and there's no way we could do it without our app."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanara McLean is an award-winning producer and journalist based at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.

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