Toronto has more than 2400 publicly owned laneways, covering more than 250 linear kilometres of public space.
- Toronto currently lacks laneway-specific planning policy, leaving this massive store of public space in a grey zone.
- Toronto’s laneways are currently used by residents and businesses for passing and pop-up uses – mid-block connections for pedestrians and cyclists, spillover from temporary workshops in garages, street art, community parties.
- Toronto’s public laneways vary quite a lot in width - standard right-of-way widths are 3 m, 4 m, 4.5 m, 5 m, and 6 m.
- The City of Toronto is responsible for maintaining the paving surface and storm drains of public laneways, but does not currently shovel snow from public laneways during the winter months.
Toronto Laneway Manual
Toronto has a huge number of laneways, with different neighbourhood characteristics, ownership structures, access requirements, microclimates, edge conditions and more. This variety easily leads to confusion and complication when local organizations wish to initiate laneway activities or improvements.
The Toronto Laneway Manual is a resource for anyone requiring information on the variables governing the use and improvement of Toronto's laneway spaces.
QUICK REFERENCE CHART - 'HARD variables'
Public laneways are owned by the City, which bears responsibility for maintaining them in a state of good repair. Public laneways are public rights-of-way, and you must always obtain a permit to do projects in these spaces. Private laneways are owned by private landowners, usually as part of an adjacent property or properties. Aside from city-wide requirements for emergency access, revitalization of these laneways is more flexible.
Laneways with a single owner will usually have a simpler project planning process, as there is only one set of owner requirements to negotiate; multiple owners will require the laneway project team to do more extensive and complex outreach.
All land in the city has designated allowable uses, which determine what use types are permitted on a given plot of land. These zone categories affect the feel and character of the neighbourhood and the appropriate design of the laneway itself. Learn more.
Allowable adjacent building heights
The Zoning Bylaw also sets the building height allowable on a given plot of land. The allowable heights on adjacent plots of land affect the character and microclimate of the laneway by determining how open or closed-in the space feels. Learn more.
Right-of-way (ROW) width
The width of the laneway between adjacent property lines determines how much space you have to work with. There five standard widths for public laneways in the city, and any number of widths for private laneways. Learn more.
Several City divisions, including Solid Waste Management, Toronto Fire Services and Infrastructure Services, have minimum requirements for the laneway width that must be left clear at all times so that they are able to access laneway infrastructure and adjacent properties. The ease of accommodating these requirements is affected by the laneway ROW width, its length and whether it is a dead-end or a through-route. Learn more.
Any work that makes temporary or permanent changes to or requires temporary or permanent setup in a public right-of-way (like a publicly-owned laneway) requires a permit or permits from the City. Work in a privately-owned laneway typically does not require a permit, unless that work includes the construction of a building. Learn more.
QUICK REFERENCE CHART - 'SOFT VARIABLES'
Adjacent open spaces
Laneways that can enhance the open space network by providing a safe and attractive route between nearby parks and/or privately-owned public spaces (POPS) are great candidates for revitalization.
Pedestrian / bike routes & desire lines
Laneways that can help to connect local and city nodes, or can bridge gaps in the network of pedestrian and bike lanes and trails, are great candidates for revitalization.
Upcoming neighbourhood developments
Planned local developments, including transit upgrades and repairs, new buildings, and upgrades and repairs to streets, sidewalks and laneways can catalyze and act as partners in the revitalization of local laneways.
Active local organizations
Engaged and organized local BIAs, Neighbourhood Associations, community centres and recreational groups can help to support laneway revitalization.
The orientation and ROW width of a laneway, as well as the height and massing of adjacent buildings and the surface materials of the ground and walls, greatly affect things like solar access, wind, shadowing and temperature and consequently how comfortable the laneway space is at different times of the day and year.
State of repair
The shape that the laneway is in affects the first steps of a laneway revitalization project – a community cleanup might be a priority, while an already well-maintained laneway might be the sign of an engaged local individual or organization that can act as a partner for further improvements.
The “walls” of a laneway greatly affect its character and feel, and can vary from parkland to blank concrete walls, murals, fire escapes, garage doors, asphalt and gravel.