Laneways as Complete Streets: Making an Impact

Complete Street Guidelines

Complete Streets are streets designed to be safe and welcoming to all users, such as people who walk, bicycle, take transit or drive, and people of varying ages and levels of ability.

The City of Toronto recently released the Complete Streets Guidelines which provide guidance on how to design our city streets.  The Guidelines will help the city’s street designers make decisions about how to design and allocate space on Toronto's streets. 

The most exciting part of the new Complete Streets Guidelines (in our humble opinion) is the inclusion of laneways.  As far as we can tell this is the first time any of Toronto’s policy documents have explicitly recognized the importance of laneways in the city’s public realm network. In previous plans, such as the city’s official plan, laneways were mostly considered utilitarian spaces for accessing garages, waste and deliveries.  But the Complete Streets Guidelines acknowledge laneways for their role in place-making, prosperity and quality of life.

This is really big step forward for Toronto’s laneway movement. 

Here is what the Guidelines say about laneways:


Mixed Use Lanes are found in the Downtown, Centres and Avenues, and other mixed use areas in the city. These lanes support vehicle and pedestrian access to buildings of various uses. They are typically narrow access routes flanked by the rear or side faces of abutting properties.

Design Objectives:

  • Support adjacent commercial and residential uses by providing access to the rear of buildings for service, delivery, loading, and parking garage access needs.
  • Minimize cut-through motor vehicle traffic and design for slow vehicle speeds.
  • Anticipate and accommodate through-access by pedestrians and cyclists and use of lanes as informal public spaces.
  • Durable street materials for heavier vehicles, like garbage and delivery trucks.
  • Provide adequate lighting for personal security
Image source: City of Toronto Complete Street Guidelines 

Image source: City of Toronto Complete Street Guidelines 


Residential Lanes are found throughout the city and typically provide rear access for pedestrians and vehicles to garages, parking, and rear entrances of single family homes and low-rise residential buildings. They are often narrow access routes flanked by fences or garages at the rear of properties. Residential Lanes have the opportunity to become attractive public spaces that support informal play and social interaction.

Design Objectives:

  • Provide access to rear of residential properties and encourage informal spaces for playing and social interaction through speed management (e.g., rightsizing of space).
  • By providing the residential lane, this reduces or removes the need for driveways and motor vehicle pedestrian conflicts from the parallel residential street.
  • Minimize cut-through motor vehicle traffic, enhance local access, and design to slow motor vehicle speeds.
  • Anticipate and accommodate through-access by pedestrians and cyclists.
  •  Provide adequate lighting for personal security.

Making an Impact

As part of the process of Developing the Guidelines, the City formed a Stakeholder Advisory Group  to provide advice and feedback to the Project Team.  The Laneway Project was a member of the advisory group.  We encouraged the inclusion of laneways as part of our city’s street and public realm network and provided advice on how to classify the two different types of laneways – commercial (mixed-use) and residential.

Part of our mandate at The Laneway Project is to inform and advocate for laneway-friendly policies and procedures at City Hall.  This is essential to achieving our goal of having laneways recognized, planned and designed as essential parts of the city’s public space network.

Needless to say, we are pretty excited about this.  Way to go Toronto!