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Laneway “No Brainers”: A toolkit for improvement


Danforth Village is a mixed-use neighbourhood located in Toronto. This residential area has been evolving for the past few years as new families have bought homes and joined the existing population of homeowners, private tenants, and Toronto Community Housing tenants. This growing population is largely cut off from local parks by the Danforth, railway tracks, Main Street, and Victoria Park Avenue, and, thus, lacks local-scale outdoor gathering space. It does, however, have quite an extensive network of interconnecting laneways.

The Laneway Project began working with the Danforth Village Residents’ Association (DVRA) in late 2017 to develop an action plan that will transform these laneways from utilitarian to complete, living public spaces— supported by Section 37 funds from a new condo tower under construction at the area’s west end. At a visioning workshop in 2017, DVRA members identified the potential for greening, art, pedestrian routes, and monthly community events in their laneways, as well as the need to address the littering, dog waste, insufficient lighting, poor maintenance of adjacent property edges, and speeding that currently impact the usability of the spaces. These improvements were implemented in the summer of 2018.

Standard concrete paving can provide a safe and accessible surface when adequately maintained. IMAGE/ Ralph Kroman

Over the past five years, The Laneway Project has worked with residents, businesses, BIAs, property owners, developers, universities, civic groups, cultural organizations, and others to improve local laneways in more than 30 neighbourhoods across Toronto and beyond. These projects have made it apparent that, while every laneway is unique, there are a number of elements and issues—including those raised in Danforth Village—that come up each time and are relevant to laneways in general.

Proper grading and permeable paving, shown here on Market Street in Toronto, can add character while helping to address drainage issues. IMAGE/ Urban Toronto

1) Effective Management of Waste and Traffic
Laneways provide important service access to properties, for deliveries, waste pick-up, and emergency response. Planning for efficiency in these “nuts and bolts” functions—using things like traffic plans, delivery schedules, and temporary waste storage area regulations—can ensure that the service needs of adjacent properties are met, while also creating more appealing, safe, and sanitary conditions for all laneway users.

2) Effective Maintenance and Care
Toronto’s laneways are currently cleaned and maintained periodically by Transportation Services—although, in contrast to what exists for city streets, there is no regular cleaning and repair schedule in place. This often leads to “broken window syndrome,” as a state of disrepair and lack of cleanliness cause further lack of regard for the space. Periodic and seasonal maintenance of laneways can help to ensure they are safe, welcoming places for all people.

3) Effective Mode-Share Planning and Traffic Safety Measures
Laneways provide midblock vehicular access to garages and loading areas, and also act as midblock routes for pedestrians and cyclists. At 3 to 6 metres in width, laneways do not have adequate space for separate vehicle, cycle, and pedestrian lanes; planning them as multimodal spaces and adding contextually appropriate traffic control and safety features would help all users to share the space safely.

4) Attractive and Well-Maintained Paving
Laneways are typically repaved every 25 years. Spot repairs are sometimes carried out in the interim 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, and expanding the range of standard paving types, could help to improve walking, cycling, and driving conditions, as well as address drainage issues for the laneway and adjacent property owners.

5) Pedestrian-Friendly Lighting
Toronto Hydro, which is responsible for the installation and maintenance of all street lighting in Toronto, uses a minimum-standard requirement to set lighting levels in Toronto’s streets. 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.

6) Beautification and Creative Expression
Encouraging and supporting the use of laneways as sites for creative expression—for murals, temporary installations, and performance art—draws attention to these spaces, adds cultural and community value, and promotes their continued use and care by local residents, businesses, and organizations.

7) Greening
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 that provides local-scale access to nature, improves stormwater management, reduces the local heat island effect, and improves the overall environmental sustainability of our neighbourhoods.

8) Laneways and Infill Development
There is no shortage of new infill projects in Toronto, many of which abut laneways. Typically, new developments pay little attention to laneways and focus streetscaping 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, increasing the amount and quality of public space available to the local and surrounding community.

These “No Brainers” suggest the base condition that we need to provide in our laneways to enable their continual use, maintenance, and improvement by local stakeholders as part of the shared space of neighbourhoods. Our hope is that they will act as a guide to planners, designers, and City staff working on laneways and laneway-side sites as they endeavour to create safe, vibrant spaces. We expect this quality in our other shared public spaces such as parks and streets—and as our cities continue their rapid growth, we have the tools necessary to provide quality public spaces in our laneways, too.

As seen with Toronto’s Graffiti Alley—winner of Tourism Toronto’s 2017 President’s Award—beautiful laneways can act as significant tourism draws. IMAGE/ Katrina Afonso



The Laneway Project recently released a set of resources—a laneway typology framework and revitalization toolkit (created in collaboration with Shelagh McCartney of +together design lab and Ryerson University); an interactive digital map; and a collaborative planning guide—that together give people the tools to analyze, understand, and undertake improvements to their laneways. The resources provide information to supplement and organize what people observe in the spaces: key typological aspects to note, a glossary of revitalization tools and an indication of which tools tend to be most appropriate in various contexts, and ways to ensure that laneway improvements gel with the neighbourhood and community. The laneway map also includes an interactive feature that people can use to add their own laneway improvement projects. For more information, visit www.thelanewayproject.ca.