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Streets / roads How are alleys working for you?

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,807
Points
69
First, some background. Our proposed FBC has provisions for alleys for traditional neighborhood development. The current draft calls for:

T-3 and T-4 equivalent: ≥ 24' ROW, 14'-20' paved roadway (shared), ≥ 5' planting strip on both sides of the roadway.

T-5 equivalent: ≥ 28' ROW, 18’-24’ paved roadway (shared), ≥ 5' planting strip on both sides of the roadway.

Principal and accessory building setback from an alley for all building types that a zone allows is ≥ 10'. This would allow a 10' wide utility easement on each side of the alley roadway. (Our current subdivision regulations only require 5' wide rear utility easements.)

This is a community in the Northeastern United States, where both alleys and TND are uncommon. Our engineers are completely unfamiliar with alleys. They see them as another form of through street, and think conflicts from two-way traffic will be the norm. I know it's not. I lived on an alley block in Denver, and never faced oncoming traffic going to my garage. When there was a conflict, drivers found a way to get through it, using the extra width of rear driveway approaches to pass, or just not entering the driveway, and waiting for the other vehicle to leave. We have a lot of one-lane bridges in the area, and drivers deal with it.

The engineers also have concerns about snow removal (the planting strips would double as snow storage areas), and utility easements. They'd like to see the full 10' easement in the ROW, bringing the total alley ROW width to 35' for T-3 and T-4, and 40' for T-5. With this configuration, they're uncomfortable with a 5' setback, since it would place buildings 15' from the roadway -- a sweet spot that would make a rear entry garage approach just long enough to be appealing as a parking space, but short enough to result in the vehicle back ends projecting into the roadway area. They're asking for a 10' alley ROW setback, so rear load driveways have a minimum 20' long driveway. I made a graphic to illustrate what a "engineering preferred" alley configuration with minimum dimensions would look like in practice.

3 neighborhood design - thoroughfares - alley cross-section 01.png
My concern, also shared by planning staff, is that this is a bit too much. Land development costs are already very high in the region. We're asking for improvements in TNDs that our regular subdivisions don't have -- streets with curbs, real tree lawns, and sidewalks instead of the semi-rural shoulder and ditch profile that's now the norm. There's a perception that the cost of improvements would be much higher, but considering the higher density of a TND, infrastructure costs would be much lower per unit compared to a subdivision with default ≥ 15,000'² lots and semi-rural streets. Alleys would have less surface coverage than individual driveways. It would also reduce the nuisances of gravel driveways, like fugutive dust, trackout, aggregate scattering, standing water, weeds, and ruts. (Gravel driveways are the norm here, even in urban settings, and I've had a difficult time convincing others that their disadvantages far outweigh their "natural" look and low cost. In a TND, gravel is allowed only if it's in a cellular paving grid. For what it's worth, the FBC encourages green alleys.) Make alleys too large and expensive, and developers might ask to forgo them, leaving frontages sliced up by individual driveways.

The few alley systems that exist in upstate New York are what I call "legacy alleys" -- the narrow, awkward, blighted, and often "scary" rear ways that come to mind when most people think of an "alley". The closest TND with alleys is in southern Ontario, abut a four hour drive away. Their configuration: 8.5 m (±28') alley / laneway rights-of-way, with roadway widths of 3.6 m (±12'), 4.75 m (±15.5'), and 5 m (±16.4').

laneway_village_niagara.jpg

For those who live or work in communities where alleys are non-existent or rare, have you had any development proposals or TND/NU projects that include alleys? How were they received by your engineering staff? What about others? Who owns and maintains them? In the end, how well have alleys worked?
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
15,096
Points
52
I worked here. The city had no alleys, but the developer created this alley loaded product. The city didn't force it on them. It seemed to be a love hate thing for the people who bought homes. One guy complained because his F-150 extended everything couldn't fit in the garage and as you can see there is no driveway for him to park it in. The HOA at the time was going overkill on the no parking in the street for more than 24 hours. He was hating life. Personally I think it's a waste. Give the person more yard. If having a garage up front is so bad, limit the size or do side entry garages. I just don't see a big add for having an alley unless you have something like townhouses or brownstones going up.

Forgot the google link
 

Dan

Dear Leader
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
18,807
Points
69
Those alleys are really kind of nice!

Why the idea of alleys to begin with?

  • Lots for single family houses would be narrower than what's typical in the community. (Min/max range, with minimums of 20' for ≤1,500'² GFA cottages in T-4, up to a minimum of 45' minimum for >1,500 houses in T-3.
  • We're proposing a building type-based FBC, and it allows duplexes/paired houses, mansion apartments, townhouses, cottage courts, and apartment buildings of varying sizes, depending on the zone.
  • Alleys prevent the "Buffalo effect", where a frontage is broken up by driveways every 20'-30', reducing the amount of potential on-street parking. (The proposed code has no off-street parking minimums.)
  • Alleys make waste collection and dumpster pickups much easier. It will also prevent the effects of curbside pickup in storefront and streetwall areas -- bins, rolloffs, and piles of garbage and trash in the pedestrian zone.
  • Alleys also minimize the impact of curbside delivery in storefront areas.
  • Alleys allow easier access to utility easements, and wider separation of wet and dry utilities.
  • Homebuilders won't need to build long driveways to backyard garages.
  • Green alleys can be part of the train of treatment for neighborhood-scale stormwater management. (We now have very few storm sewers, instead depending mostly on onsite "pits and ponds", and roadside ditches, to deal with stormwater. There's the same kind of unfamiliarity with more urban and context-sensitive SMPs as there is with alleys, and green alleys provide another path to transport and treat stormwater. The proposed code considers an entire TND area or subdivision phase, rather than an individual lot, a single site for the purposes of stormwater management. )
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
15,096
Points
52
The developer had something like 6 square miles to develop. That was normal back in 2006 in Arizona. He wanted a variety of housing, parks, things like that to create a neighborhood with amenities and not just the same old thing. When you look around you'll see what we called 6 pack housing, alley loaded, and other stuff. You'll also notice a variety of home styles. That was because there were six home builders allowed to build in the area. They also scattered the home builders lots so you didn't have the same thing side by side. It's actually a pretty good development although meetings with the HOA had kind of a Stepford vibe.

I wasn't heavily involved in the project, but I do remember our fire reviewer wanting wider alleys and turning radius so they could get down there.

Here's a link to their PAD zoning book. https://www.surpriseaz.gov/DocumentCenter/View/22311/Marley-Park-Approved-PAD?bidId=
It might help, it might not. Enjoy.
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
14,133
Points
58
This was the alley next our first apt bldg in Chicago - https://goo.gl/maps/QXryvgoed5nUfQZQ8

This was the alley next to our first apt bldg in Oak Park, IL - https://goo.gl/maps/wz6UDWAg7Ux5kKBP8

This was the alley next to our 2-flat in another part of Oak Park, IL - https://goo.gl/maps/YMir8SKUkKUmDPV67

These are all platted and developed prior to 1930, but all work beautifully still.

This is a newish (about 15 years old now) TND development in Washington Twp, MI (far north suburb of Detroit) - https://goo.gl/maps/ELZo8BRVRs6suSYMA

I think the excess setback of the detached garages and the extra wide grassed easement areas next to your alley drive seem too much to me.

Are underground utilities being pushed to the alleys if alleys are proposed? Then I could understand the widths, but not that wide.

I like your reference to S. Ont. Canada - here's the Beaches TND neighborhood (about 20 years old now) in central Toronto - https://goo.gl/maps/MHzXLoQChRd9E9bu7

Edit: here's another newer TND development in central Arlington Heights, IL that's ~12 years old and still building out (this was a grayfield/old shopping center redevelopment) - https://goo.gl/maps/1FV7tpYXueWphyM6A These alleys are private alleys under a HOA.

My experience in Chicagoland and elsewhere is the alleys are public ROW and owned/maintained by the municipality. They are a wonderful part of the urban form and transportation network where I've lived with them. I miss them dearly.
 
Last edited:

RandomPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,770
Points
26
As you may know, Savannah was laid out almost 300 years ago with alleys (called lanes in Savannah) throughout the City.

1594840661468.png

I love lanes and have pushed in multiple communities for them to be utilized appropriately. You can see the variation here of housing types and lane-adjacent amenities. Some properties have a parking pad, some have a carriage house, some have a garage, and some have none of the above.

The only problem that I see for you, Dan, is the snow removal thing. Here in the south, lanes can be as tight at 10-12' and function successfully.

Also, very few lanes are paved in Savannah. I'm told that the City offered to pave them years ago and the homeowners refused -- in my opinion, a great decision for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is that the City is located AT sea level (or slightly below in spots).

*It should be noted that my truck would not fit in a garage or parking pad here; it's 208" with the tailgate closed. In this case, I would park on the street (and that's allowed).
 
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