Mårten Trotzigs Gränd, 90 cm wide, the narrowest alley in Gamla stan, Stockholm
Alley in downtown Washington, D.C.
Broadway Alley, a rare alley in Manhattan, is not near Broadway
An alley or ginnel in Moss Side, Manchester, UK

An alley or alleyway is a narrow lane found in urban areas, often for pedestrians only, which usually runs between or behind buildings. In older cities and towns in Europe, alleys are often what is left of a medieval street network, or a right of way or ancient footpath in an urban setting. In older urban development, alleys were built to allow for deliveries such as coal to the rear of houses. Alleys may be paved, or simply dirt tracks. A blind alley has no outlet at one end and is thus a cul-de-sac.


Modern planning

Many modern urban developments do not incorporate alleys. In some locations installation of gates to restrict alleyway access have significantly reduced burglary rates.[citation needed] On blocks where gates are not installed, residents sometimes erect home-made barricades at alley entrances.

Andrés Duany, American architect and urban planner has long espoused the use of alleys as leading to a better integration of automobile and foot traffic in a neighborhood.[citation needed]

In some modern urban developments, a service road may be built to allow for waste collection, or rear access for fire engines and parking.

United States

In the United States alleys exist in both older commercial and residential areas, for both service purposes and automobile access. In residential areas, primarily those built before 1950, alleys provide rear access to property where a garage was located, or where waste could be collected by service vehicles. A benefit of this was the location of these activities to the rear, less public side of a dwelling. Such alleys are typically roughly paved, but some may be dirt. By 1950 they had largely disappeared from development plans for new homes.

Chicago, Illinois has about 1,900 miles (3,100 km) of alleyways.[1] In 2007, the Chicago Department of Transportation started converting conventional alleys which were made out of asphalt, into so called Green Alleys. This program, called the Green Alley Program, is supposed to enable easier water runoff, as the alleyways in Chicago are not connected to the sewer system. With this program, the water will be able to seep through semipermeable concrete or asphalt in which a colony of fungi and bacteria will establish itself. The bacteria will help breakup oils before the water is absorbed into the ground. The lighter color of the pavement will also reflect more light, making the area next to the alley cooler.[2]

Manhattan, New York City is unusual in that it has very few alleys.

United Kingdom

Other countries

  • In Australia and Canada the terms lane, laneway and serviceway are also used.
  • In some parts of the United States and Canada, alleys are sometimes known as rear lanes or back lanes because they are at the back of buildings. "Mews" is also used for some alleys or small streets in Manhattan.
  • In the Netherlands the equivalent term is steeg. Cities such as Amsterdam have many stegen running between the major streets, roughly parallel to each other but not at right angles to the streets. See [1].
  • In Belgium the equivalent term is gang (Dutch) or impasse (French). Brussels had over 100 gangen/impasses, built to provide pedestrian access to cheap housing in the middle of blocks of buildings. Since 1858, many have now been demolished as part of slum-clearance progammes, but about 70 still exist.[6]
  • In India the equivalent term is Gali which were prevalent during Moghul Period (1526 C.E to 1700 C.E.)
  • In Singapore, there are many alleys in Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats. Those are often brick roads, have many humps and very few traffic signs and road markings.


Reduced usage of alleys can result in their decline. Under use, poor maintenance, poor night time illumination and narrow width may contribute to an increase in anti-social or illegal activities.

On the other hand, in some cities, such as Melbourne, the laneways are vital and popular parts of the city and filled with shops, bars and cafés.

"Allee" is a term used in contemporary landscape architecture to denote a narrow passageway, sometimes for pedestrians only, other times for both vehicles and pedestrians, that is lined with copious numbers of trees. The result is a peaceful, verdant place for strolling and sitting.

Use by automobiles

Many alleys, particularly 19th century ones, are wide enough to support automobile traffic. Such alleys are used in residential areas to gain access to garages that were built behind houses after the rise of the automobile. Others can be found in older industrial areas. Because alleys are narrow and often have only enough room for one vehicle to pass at a time, many alleys are one-way only. An alley serving the main entrance of residential, commercial, or industrial buildings, or carrying significant traffic, may be given a separate street name.

Other languages

"Alley" is of French origin, meaning "a way to go", and has been adapted in English as above. It is also used in parts of Europe such as Croatia and Serbia as a name for a boulevard, an avenue or a parkway (such as Bologna Alley in Zagreb). The Swedish word "allé" and the German word "Allee" refers to any type of road lined with trees (such as Karl-Marx-Allee in Berlin). Czech and some other Slavic languages use the term "ulička" instead,[7] a diminutive form of "ulice", the word for street.

Other meanings

In typography, "alley" is also used to refer to the gap between two columns of text.[8]

See also


  1. ^ Link text, Using alleys to fight heat, water runoff, Chicago Suntimes.
  2. ^ Conscious Choice
  3. ^ 'Putting SY on the wordmap', BBC, 22 August 2005
  4. ^ Where I live:Sussex dialect words
  5. ^ Jones, Mark W. A Walk Around the Snickelways of York
  6. ^ Impasses de Bruxelles, Lucia Gaiardo, Région de Bruxelles-Capitale-Ville de Bruxelles, 2000
  7. ^ " Translation of "ulička"". Retrieved 2010-02-18. 
  8. ^ Typographical definition of "Alley"

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Alley — ist der Familienname folgender Personen: Alphonse Amadou Alley (1930–1987), Präsident von Dahomey (heute: Benin) 1967/68 Candice Alley (* 1983), australische Sängerin und Songwriterin Fred Alley (1963–2001), US amerikanischer Librettist Gene… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • alley — alley1 [al′ē] n. pl. alleys [ME aly < OFr alee < aler (Fr aller), to go < ML alare, contr. < L ambulare, to walk: see AMBLE] 1. a lane in a garden or park, bordered by trees or shrubs 2. a narrow street or walk, specif., a lane behind …   English World dictionary

  • Alley — Al ley, n.; pl. {Alleys}. [OE. aley, alley, OF. al[ e]e, F. all[ e]e, a going, passage, fr. OE. aler, F. aller, to go; of uncertain origin: cf. Prov. anar, It. andare, Sp. andar.] 1. A narrow passage; especially a walk or passage in a garden or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • alley — (n.) mid 14c., passage in a house; open passage between buildings; walkway in a garden, from O.Fr. alee (13c., Mod.Fr. allée) a path, passage, way, corridor, also a going, from fem. of ale, pp. of aler to go, which ultimately may be a contraction …   Etymology dictionary

  • Alley — Al ley, n.; pl. {Alleys}. [A contraction of alabaster, of which it was originally made.] A choice taw or marble. Dickens. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • alley — index way (channel) Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • alley — [ˈæli] or alleyway [ˈæliˌweɪ] noun [C] a narrow street or passage between buildings …   Dictionary for writing and speaking English

  • alley — has the plural form alleys …   Modern English usage

  • alley — [n] narrow passage alleyway, back street, lane, passageway, path, pathway, walk; concept 501 …   New thesaurus

  • alley — ► NOUN (pl. alleys) 1) a narrow passageway between or behind buildings. 2) a path in a park or garden. 3) a long, narrow area in which skittles and bowling are played. ORIGIN Old French alee walking or passage , from Latin ambulare to walk …   English terms dictionary