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Laneway No-Brainers

While every laneway in Toronto is unique and has locally-specific conditions, there are a number of improvements that would strengthen the appeal and usability of most laneways across the city, turning them into a more integrated part of our city’s public space network.

The Laneway Project has put together this list of eight “no-brainers” based on the issues and opportunities that have come up in all of the laneways that we’ve worked in. Our hope is that this document is used as a resource by planners, designers and policy-makers across Toronto, and inspires action and change in the way that we plan, design and manage our laneways.


#1 Effective Management of waste & traffic

Toronto’s laneways provide important service functions. They are used for deliveries, garbage pick-up, and are often emergency access routes. Laneways function best when all modes of traffic can easily move through and across the laneway. Unobtrusive temporary waste storage areas and timely removal of waste from adjacent properties are also key. Planning for this type of efficiency, and enforcing the resulting waste and traffic regulations, can ensure the service needs of adjacent properties are met, while also creating more appealing, safe and sanitary conditions for all laneway users. 


#2 Effective maintenance & care

Toronto’s laneways are currently cleaned and maintained periodically by Transportation Services, however there is no regular cleaning and repair schedule similar to what exists for city streets. This often leads to “broken window syndrome”, as a state of disrepair and lack of cleanliness causes further lack of regard for the space. Periodic and seasonal maintenance of laneways can help to ensure they are safe, welcoming places. Local communities can also help with laneway maintenance through annual clean-ups and everyday stewardship of the spaces.


#3 effective mode share planning & traffic safety measures

Toronto’s laneways range from 3 to 6 meters in width and do not usually have space for sidewalks and bike lanes in addition to car traffic. Nonetheless, our laneways are often used as mid-block connections and access routes by pedestrians and cyclists, as well as by drivers. As a result, laneways function as shared spaces. All laneway users would benefit from the addition of contextually-appropriate traffic control and safety features to help them share the space safely — things like speed bumps, signage, rumble strips, fisheye mirrors at blind corners and road painting at intersections. 



Laneways are typically repaved every 25 years. Spot repairs are sometimes carried out in the interim to fill potholes and repair cracks in paving when they are brought to the attention of Transportation Services and thought to be a public safety issue. Increasing the frequency of pavement repairs in laneways could help to improve walking, cycling and driving conditions, as well as address drainage issues for the laneway and adjacent property owners. Expanding the range of standard paving types to include open-celled pavers and solid unit pavers as well as poured concrete would also allow greater customization of laneways to suit local contexts.



Toronto Hydro is responsible for the installation and maintenance of all street lighting in the city, and uses a minimum standard to set lighting level requirements in Toronto’s streets. There is currently no required minimum lighting level in Toronto’s laneways. Lighting is typically based on the needs of vehicular traffic, and may not address the safety and visibility requirements of pedestrians and cyclists. Pedestrian-oriented lighting requirements for the city’s laneways, paired with requirements for shielding and sensoring to guard against light pollution, would benefit all laneway users. 



Many property owners and artists, and increasingly Street Art Toronto (StART), are working to beautify laneways through the addition of murals to laneway adjacent walls and garage doors. Installation and performance artists are also creating temporary pieces and performances in laneways. Encouraging and supporting the use of laneways as sites for creative expression draws attention to these spaces, promotes their use and care and can add cultural and community value. Laneway beautification also has significant tourism potential, as seen with Toronto’s Graffiti Alley.



Toronto’s laneways are typically bounded by hard surfaces — impermeable paving, and stone, concrete and glass building walls. With some strategic changes, laneways can become a web of greened space connecting our parks, backyards and local destinations. Greening interventions can include large-scale interventions, such as the replacement of areas of impermeable concrete with open-celled paving stones, or smaller-scale projects, such as the addition of planters, planting beds and vertical trellises to the laneway edge of adjacent private properties. Laneway greening can provide local-scale access to nature, improve stormwater management, reduce the local heat island effect and improve overall environmental sustainability of our neighbourhoods. 



As a rapidly growing city, there is no shortage of new infill projects in Toronto, many of which abut laneways. Typically new developments pay little to no attention to the laneway, and focus streetscaping and beautification efforts on the front or sides of the building. There is an opportunity for new developments to contribute to the beautification of laneways and incorporate them into the design of the overall public realm. This would increase the amount of public space available to the local and surrounding community, improve mobility, and contribute to the overall revitalization of Toronto’s laneway network.